5 Clear-Cut Signs You Really Need Better Friends

Shannon Hilson

Life’s too short to waste it on people who drain you instead of making you better.

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Some people deal with their eventual mid-life crises by buying sports cars or hooking up with random 20-somethings. I wasn’t quite that dramatic about mine. (I don’t drive, and I’m perfectly happy being married to someone my own age.) But I did seemingly wake up one day tired of settling for less in areas of my life where I knew I deserved more. So, I started working out and taking better care of myself. I also developed some new skills.

And then I took a long, hard look at my social circle.

I hadn’t felt genuinely close to most of the people I called my friends in years, but I was doing what most people do when they’ve known folks a long time. I was hanging on to them because they were familiar. I also thought that was simply what you did with friends — stick with them forever, even once you’re not sure you like them as people anymore.

The funny thing about coasting into middle age is you’re suddenly aware that you don’t have an infinite amount of time left on the planet. You become increasingly bothered by the notion that you might be wasting what’s left of yours on the wrong things — or the wrong people. That’s how (and why) I eventually wound up taking a flamethrower to my entire social life and making some serious changes.

It also turned out to be one of the better decisions I’ve made in many years.

The people you surround yourself with affect who you are and how you see the world to a greater extent than you probably realize, so it pays to choose your friends carefully. Contrary to popular belief, not all friendships are meant to last forever, so sometimes it’s better to let them go gracefully. The following are some warning signs some of the friendships in your life are way past their shelf-life.

1. You’re winning, but they’re not clapping.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have moments where we feel a little envious of someone else’s success and wish it were ours. But when that person is a friend, you’re genuinely happy for them anyway. You don’t just show up to support them in their endeavors. You clap and cheer when they cross the finish line because that’s what people do when they love one another.

Everyone knows what it’s like to have haters, skeptics, and naysayers in their life, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about people who claim to care about you and insist on coming along for the ride every time you start a new project or seek to make a positive change in your life. They may even put on an excellent show of caring, saying all the right things, and appearing to be behind you.

But when you do score that win — when you land the dream job, get in shape, or otherwise achieve a goal you’ve set for yourself — these people are standing there with their arms folded instead of clapping. If they think they can get away with it, they may even try to sabotage whatever it is you’ve accomplished. And they’ll show up next time to do it all again. That’s not friendship. It’s toxic behavior you’re better off saying “no” to.

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2. You’re growing, but your friends aren’t.

Mark my words. Nothing shows you who your real friends are quite like making up your mind to better yourself and fix the things that are wrong with your life. This time five years ago, I wasn’t in a good place at all. I was deeply depressed, not taking care of myself in the least, and well on my way to becoming a serious alcoholic.

I didn’t care about anything or anyone, including myself, and it showed. But, to many of my friends, my apathy looked an awful lot like a knack for sarcasm and an inspiring refusal to follow society’s rules. They liked me that way, especially since I was the kind of drunk who manages to make it look good instead of coming across like what I was — a hot mess in desperate need of help.

My being that way also helped them feel justified in making bad choices of their own.

When I decided I was sick of flushing my life down the toilet, there were a few people in my life who were happy for me and encouraged me to get better. The rest didn’t want to see it happen, so they’d do the opposite. They’d actively try to discourage me from keeping up with my workouts, spending my money responsibly, or sticking to my plans to get my drinking under control — especially if it looked like I was in the middle of a bad day that found me struggling.

I’m not even sure some of the friends in question realized they were toxic. They really did seem to think they were encouraging me to “fight the power” and “just be myself.” But the more progress I made, the clearer it became to me that these so-called friends didn’t like being made to question their own choices. My doing better and getting healthier put them under incredible pressure to do the same. They weren’t ready for that, so I had to let them go.

3. You often feel drained after spending time with them.

When I first met some of the friends I wound up parting ways with, they felt like soulmates in every sense of the word. We had a lot in common back then. We saw the world the same way, had similar worldviews, and made each other feel wholly understood without having to try very hard. I even distinctly recall feeling a rush of joy whenever I saw I had messages or social media comments from these friends.

As we all grew older, that started to change. We chose different life paths. I started a business, while my friends started families. I leaned into my introversion as I aged and preferred spending more of my time at home, while my friends remained very social. We developed diverse beliefs and started seeing the world differently than we had before. Suddenly getting together, even just to talk, didn’t feel so effortless anymore.

In fact, if I’m honest with myself, it became downright draining and not just for me. I often got the impression some of my old friends felt the same way and didn’t honestly want to include me to the same extent they used to. And that happens sometimes. People sometimes grow apart through no fault of their own and find that they’re no longer friends anymore. In cases like that, it’s often best to just let the friendship go and move on.

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4. You suspect your friends don’t really like you for you.

Everyone’s familiar with what it feels like to be taken for granted. Occasionally, even the best people get a little wrapped up in their own lives and forget to give back to the extent that they should. However, there’s a big difference between a good friend who’s temporarily a little self-absorbed because they have a lot going on and one who wants your relationship to be one-sided because they just don’t care that much about you.

I used to have many so-called friends in my life who seemed more interested in what I could do for them than they were in the person I was. I heard from them when they were down on their luck and wanted money, favors, a shoulder to cry on, or help finding work. But they were nowhere to be found when my husband was in the hospital with pneumonia years ago, or when my mother’s health problems and advancing age meant a lot of responsibilities I wasn’t ready for started falling squarely on my shoulders.

These people just plain didn’t care what I was going through because they didn’t care about me. To them, I wasn’t a friend. I was a useful resource to keep in their back pocket just in case. If you have friends like this, you likely already know it. They’re the ones who always have a handy excuse for why they can’t be there for you the way you always are for them, and that’s not right. Friends worth having don’t make excuses. They make time, especially when it counts.

5. Your friends aren’t where you want to be in life.

For better or worse, we are who we hang with. When making new friends, we tend to gravitate toward people who occupy the same social niches we do, especially professionally— people with similar incomes and like goals on complementary career paths. It can also mean subconsciously choosing not to progress in life unless most of your existing close friends are already on the same track.

I stayed poor, unmotivated, and unambitious for far too long in life — long past the age where I could still get away with saying I was “finding myself.” I eventually got tired of that and wanted more, but my friends didn’t. I wanted to build something, make my mark, and earn good money doing it so that my loved ones and I didn’t have to worry so much about the future. My friends were fine stocking shelves all day and folding tacos for a living for the rest of their lives. I thought they needed to raise the bar. They thought I needed to relax and continue to just coast through life.

Now, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with folding tacos for a living and not wanting much out of life. But that approach became woefully incompatible with the lifestyle I wanted — and eventually started progressing toward — for myself. So, if you’ve felt like you’re not on the same frequency as your friends anymore, it’s time to ask yourself some questions.

When your friends give you career advice, is it halfway decent? Are their lives good examples of the type of life you’d like to be living? Are they going places, or are they on the road to nowhere? If you don’t like the answers to those questions, it might be time to rethink those friendships.

History doesn’t necessarily equal compatibility.

When I decided to clean up my life a few years ago, I’d been aware that some of my friendships weren’t what they should be for a long time. In some cases, I realized they never really were, and in others, it was obvious my friends and I had grown apart. But I hung on anyway because I’d known some of these people “forever,” and in hindsight, I realize that wasn’t enough.

We sell ourselves a lot of bullshit about how human relationships need to be if they’re worthwhile. This includes the belief that a particular connection has to last forever to be worthwhile. Some friendships do last us our entire lives, blessing us year after year. Others are only meant to last a little while, but they’re often blessings, too. Even toxic friendships and negative connections can have valuable lessons to teach us.

One of the more valuable lessons I’ve learned in my life is when to let go of relationships that aren’t serving me anymore. Once I got that straight, my life improved a lot, and so did the quality of my connections to others. The people you choose to surround yourself with have a far-reaching effect on your life and who you ultimately become. Make sure they’re the right ones.

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Professional copywriter, blogger, critic, and journalist. Evergreen content on self-improvement, fitness, food, relationships, dating, freelancing, and productivity. Occasional hot takes on news, trending topics, movies, music, and television.

Monterey, CA
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