Retiring Old Friends to Make Room for Better-Fit New Ones

About a year ago I wrote a post How Friendships Evolve and the Quest for Platonic Intimacy. Among other things, it addressed the challenge of 18-30 year olds who seek to add an intellectual dimension to long-standing emotional relationships.

I continue to encounter people in their 20’s and 30’s who over time discover that they are thinking about life differently than their good buddies from high school and college. Thanks largely to blogs and other mediums they are meeting new people from different geographies and age brackets and backgrounds. Despite surface level differences they bond over a burning itch to know (curiosity), shared interests, and a general commitment to improving one’s mind and life situation and ping-pong prowess. They relish the history they have with long-standing friends and the corresponding emotional closeness, but they are not being intellectually stimulated in the way they now desire and can be by their newer connections. What to do?

I receive emails from readers on this. Here’s an excerpt from one:

…it kinda sucks to see this mentality in close friends — a substantial chunk of my mental and emotional energy is devoted to making a life I’m proud of, that fits with who I am, and all the while they’re still operating on auto-pilot….

The correct move is just to briefly grieve but then move on and distance myself from [my friend who’s devolving]. Which I’ve already started doing. I just want to note for the record that at this stage in my life I’m really on the hunt for allies in this growth process — not necessarily people who share my interests and goals, but who do care about evolving and making concerted moves to control their lives and become self-governing, autonomous human beings.

He is confronting this difficult reality: it’s impossible to form new friendships unless you retire old ones. We do not have infinite emotional bandwidth, let alone infinite time.

Inertia causes us to maintain relationships that should be let go. Or it allows relationships that really ought to be revved up to just sit in and flat line as a weak tie. Active, critical thinking about the current situation is step one anytime one wants to overcome the status quo bias.

If you undertake this process, remember timing is everything: you don’t want to turn off all your current friendships and start from a clean slate. Rather, you want to seek out new people who stimulate the current entrepreneurial you. As you increase intimacy with those people, through inaction slowly transition the old friendships into more casual, less demanding weak ties.

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