How to Graciously Reduce Your Social Circle

Updated on January 2, 2017

So, you wanna ditch some friends, eh?

Most people enjoy having giant social circles, but they aren’t always for everyone. Sometimes it’s too stressful and overwhelming to constantly keep up with so many people while your own life may not be where it needs to be. It’s draining both emotionally and physically to talk to more people than necessary when all you are trying to do is manage your own life. The key thing to remember in all of these suggestions is that age-old tenet we learned in kindergarten – The Golden Rule. And in case we forgot, its do unto others as you would have them do unto you . Or, simply put: Treat others as you would like to be treated.

In the past, I have mentioned that you shouldn’t feel obligated to apologize to people, well, the same holds true for maintaining social relationships that aren’t vital. You must remember though, if you aren’t going to be someone’s friend, don’t expect them to be there for you as a friend normally should.

Have you ever seen the movie, The Cable Guy ? Jim Carrey annoyingly tries to work his way into Matthew Broderick’s life, and Matthew Broderick politely told him, “Look, I appreciate you helping me out with Robin. But you have to understand. I'm going to have to work *extra* hard to not screw this relationship up again. You're a very nice guy, but I just don't have any room in my life for a new friend. Okay?” He wasn't wrong to say that, he was being sincere, and if you have the same feeling, it’s okay to feel that way too.

Some things to consider...

So, number one is to not feel bad. You aren't doing yourself a favor by straining your own life to make room for a new friend; and you aren't doing them a favor by not being able to give them your full friendship. Plain and simple, things just don’t always work out. If you are too busy or your social plate is too full for new friends, don’t make any new friends. The best way, especially if you meet new people often, is to not give out your contact information. Reserve your business cards strictly for business. Don’t give you your last name, your phone number or your email address. This doesn't always work if you are a friend of a friend and they figure out how to contact you, but it should work well for the most part. Often times these days, when we meet someone, they add us on Facebook. Sometimes they have done it from their phone before we have even left the social engagement. Facebook and other social networking sites have it set so you must approve of the “friendship add,” – you can always reject this by clicking ignore or cancel, or whichever option they give you. Do so, if you don’t want a new person in your life.

Another thing to do is to reduce the number of friends you have on your social networking sites, as well as the contacts stored in your phone. Go through and weed out the people you never talk to. This alone will make you feel better much like cleaning your room makes you feel better when you are done. It’s just a form of reducing clutter, which in turn could reduce the social stress you are feeling. This would purely be psychological, but offers a small peace of mind.

Now, as far as actually reducing the number of friends, you need to consider what will happen if you just shun one friend from a group. That probably isn't a good idea. Friends can be like hands, they come with a group of fingers, and slicing one off hurts, bad! There is no reason to cause unnecessary drama. In general, either you accept the entire group or you reject the entire group. Honesty is always the best policy, but being passive in this situation isn't always a bad thing, that is, if the communication has consistently been passive anyway.

For example, if a friend you want to drop occasionally calls you once a month, its not like he’s making a huge effort to see you anyway; it’s fairly passive on his end. If you just simply stop taking the calls, he will likely get the hint without incident. If he does ask you why you haven’t called him back, be honest and be polite. He will appreciate you not stringing him along and will find it less rude in the long run if he indeed didn't get the hint initially.

When dealing with a more active friendship, you don’t have to tiptoe delicately, you just need to carefully decide what you will say. It will be akin to breaking up with a significant other, but on a much lower level (or at least it should be!). To avoid a huge blowout, you can be honest without sounding like a jerk by just explaining that you need to work on your own life, and are too busy to hang out. If you have a personal issue with a friend, think if it will be beneficial for them to hear that or not. Again, choose your words wisely and expect some blowback no matter what. More than likely, the ones that are your true friends will tell you that they are there for you if you need them. That’s like shaking hands after a duel and you can walk away knowing no one’s feelings are hurt, and in fact they do still care for you.

Remember that if you've burned any bridges, it may be unlikely you can get them back. So, while honesty is always good, you don’t necessarily have to reveal everything, especially if it’s going to be hurtful to your friends/ex-friends. The reason for this is again, you don’t want unnecessary drama. After all, isn't the reduction of stress the whole reason for diminishing your social circle? Ultimately, if you tell someone off for personal reasons, burn the bridge and move on, you may lose more friends because you look like the bad guy. However, if you are courteous, respectful and just explain that your current life is too busy for all your friendships, they are human and will more than likely understand.

Alternatives that aren't so drastic...

Another option is to just reduce the amount of socializing you do, especially with those that you aren’t really into. That way, you don’t have to end a friendship. You can still explain that you are too busy, but rather than “break up” with them, just tell them you’re too busy this time, but perhaps next time. It leaves the relationship open and it’s a common reason given when people are legitimately too busy to socialize. There’s nothing fishy about it. You should, however, really only do this if you want or don’t mind maintaining a relationship with said friend, but just aren’t interested in being best friends or socializing all the time. Like I stated before, it isn’t fair to string people along if you have no intention of reciprocating some form of friendship. You certainly wouldn’t like it.

Sometimes you are the one being ditched!

On the flip side of all this, if you are the friend being “broken up with” in this situation, and the person isn’t inducting you into their social circle, not answering calls, getting back to you or communicating with you in any way, shape or form; take a polite hint. Either they are too busy for you, or they just aren’t interested. I’ve had interactions in the past where I thought I was going to become friends with someone I met. I made efforts to get to know them further, and was ignored. I took the hint after a few tries and moved on. It’s not worth the effort if that person isn’t going to reciprocate. I didn’t take it personally, because I have been in the situation where I’ve been too busy to maintain new friendships myself. Its part of life and it happens. This is just one of the many dynamics of us as humans being social creatures.


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