Friend furloughing: How to tell certain mates you don’t actually want to hang out come June 21st
While many of us have lost touch with loved ones simply due to distance or technophobia (there are only so many times you can remind someone they’re on mute) there are also those relationships from which a bit of social distance has proven to be a good thing. You know what we’re talking about: the mate who only ever calls you up at midnight when she wants to go out and the friend who’s ‘conveniently’ in the loo whenever the bill comes. If you feel guilty thinking that – whisper it – it’s been quite nice not seeing them recently, you’re not alone. Welcome to the ‘friendship furlough’ – the art of putting your more questionable relationships on ice.
“Before the pandemic, there were people I’d only ever see in clubs on a Thursday night,’ says Alex, 29. “They’d only WhatsApp me if they wanted to party and would expect me to pay the tab. Those are the kind of ‘friends’ I can do without when lockdown lifts.” Many of us have found over the last year that some so-called mates don’t actually add much to our lives – except when it comes to a Saturday night bar crawl. Will we have time for them when we get our freedom back? Alice, 26, doesn’t think so: “There are some elements of lockdown I’ve been enjoying,” she says. “I have fewer hangovers, more chilled out weekends and time for myself. I think I’d like to come out of the pandemic with fewer, but better friends – but I don’t know how to cut people out of my life.”
Wanting to drop a few friends after lockdown is completely normal, says Simone Bose, a counsellor with UK charity Relate. “People are re-evaluating how they want to spend their time when they get out of this and that includes their friendships,” she says. “Perhaps you realise that your priorities are changing.”
But how do we tell our friends we don’t want to see them for endless wild parties come June? If you’re trying to distance yourself from a party mate, Simone advises you explain why. “Keep things open, so you don’t hurt their feelings and maybe suggest you do something different,” she says. “Alternatively, try just telling them you can’t make it out a few times, and you might find that person fades away naturally because you knew them in certain circumstances.”
Sometimes, you’ll need to be a little more direct. “If someone is being quite persistent, it’s time to talk to them,” says Simone. “Don’t do it over text and don’t blame them. Be gentle and put it on yourself: explain that you’ve changed and grown out of the friendship. They have a right to feel hurt, but in the end, you’re not leading anybody on.” But what if – everyone’s worst nightmare – you think your mate has become a toxic influence?
“A toxic person is someone you don’t feel good around, who puts you down, criticises you or takes up a lot of space in the friendship,’ says Simone. ‘They’re not interested in you, they’re needy and control a lot of the relationship.’ If you’re trying to distance yourself from a faux-friend like this, tread carefully, plan what you’ll say in advance and be prepared for them to be intimidating or fight back. ‘They might try to manipulate you back into the friendship or get one up on you,’ warns Simone. ‘Just let it go, explain you’re not going to be in touch anymore and take them off your social media if you have to.’
Rethinking a friendship – whether it’s one you find actively damaging, or even one you just feel you’ve outgrown – is always a stressful experience. But if we can thank the pandemic for one thing, it’s showing us who our real friends are. And who’d want to hang out with anyone else?