A strong social network is important to our well-being.
But what if components of that network fail us? What if instead of uplifting us, supporting us, and making us better, they make us feel worse and drag us down?
The obvious answer would be to cut those people out. Stop talking to them altogether. But sometimes the answer isn’t so obvious. There are gray areas.
Maybe a friend pushes you into doing things you’re uncomfortable with, but has a great sense of humor and is fun to be around. Or a partner is thoughtful and means well, but simply isn’t relatable. It’s hard to cut the cord for a number of reasons.
So when is it time to say goodbye?
Here are 10 signs:
1. You feel emotionally drained after meeting the person.
How do you feel after interacting with someone? If the words “tired”, “drained”, or “I need a nap” come to mind, it’s time to re-evaluate where things stand.
Maybe you two met up over coffee and you felt relieved after parting ways. It could have come down to incompatible personalities, different lifestyles, or some intangible element that you couldn’t place your finger on. For whatever reason, seeing that person sapped away your energy.
Having someone in your life should make you feel reinvigorated. You become a better person and grow from interacting with the person. It should feel natural to have someone in your life, not a chore.
2. You feel anxiety at the prospect of meeting that person.
There’s something about that person’s behavior which causes stress. Even before you meet, all sorts of worries pop up in your head. Simply seeing or hearing that person’s name fills you with dread.
If this is the case, don’t wave away those thoughts. Your gut instincts are stronger than you think.
I like to use the “open” or “closed” theory to make decisions like these. Physiologically, your body gives signs of how you feel towards a person or situation. When you’re open, your body straightens up and you feel stronger, as if you can conquer anything. When you’re closed, your chest tightens, your body slumps, and you feel yourself curling up.
Do things that make you open, not closed.
3. You drift further away from your values.
After spending time with someone, does your behavior change for the worse? Are you getting farther from where and what you want to be? If you find yourself adopting certain attitudes, it could be due to the people you spend time with.
The New England Journal of Medicine performed a study on how obesity in one person affected his or her social network. They found that a person’s chance of becoming obese rose by 57 percent if the person had a friend who became obese.
For siblings, the likelihood of obesity increased by 40 percent. For spouses, the increase was 37 percent. Surprisingly, neighbors living nearby did not share these same effects.
Emotions are contagious as well. When a person is happy, their friend’s happiness level goes up by 25 percent. A spouse’s happiness goes up by 8 percent and a neighbor’s happiness goes up by 34 percent.
There’s an old proverb that goes like this: “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.” The people we surround ourselves have a great impact on the people we become. So, avoid those who nudge you away from where you want to go.
4. Reaching out is a one-way street.
Does it ever like you’re pulling a tooth whenever you try to get someone to respond? Maybe the person has politely told you she’s too busy. Or, the person agreed to meet but forgot to show up.
Here’s the thing: no one is “too busy” to make time for something important. Whether people have work, school, or other people in their lives, they can always find a time for something they want to do. If something was truly a priority to someone, would that person completely forget about it?
Think about your past interactions with the person. Does the other person ever take initiative? Does it take multiple times for the person to respond? Even if the person does get back to you, do you find yourself writing multiple paragraphs while the other person responds briefly with a couple words?
Your time is precious. Don’t squander it on someone who doesn’t value it.
5. The other person only reaches out when he or she needs something.
If a person only takes initiative when he needs money, help on something, or a favor, that’s a bad sign. It means the person is only thinking about what you can do for her. As soon as you offer what the other person needs, that person disappears…until the next time he or she needs something else.
Relationships are about give and take, not just about what one person can get. If one person is constantly giving and the other taking, the one who takes doesn’t value the other person. The one who gives ends up resentful.
At the same time, relationships shouldn’t be purely transactional. Just because someone did something for you doesn’t mean you immediately need to do something back as a form of payment. It’s not about keeping tabs.
Instead, it’s about both people looking out for each other and caring for one another’s well-being.
6. You don’t like how you feel about yourself around the other person.
Like a chameleon, you change depending on who you’re around. You become deferential when talking to your boss, professional towards your clients, and relaxed with old friends. At times, it feels like you’re a completely different person.
Sometimes, you have little say in the matter. For instance, you’re expected to act a certain way when you step into the office. You might be uncomfortable at times, but it’s manageable and necessary for your work.
But in a social context? Having someone in your life voluntarily should make you feel like you can fully be yourself. You should feel as if you can express your thoughts and act naturally.
If you feel awkward, self-conscious, or have a need to hide who you are from someone, then that person is not a good fit. Don’t try to force something that isn’t.
7. Your self-esteem gradually gets lower.
It can be hard to detect when your self-esteem is headed downhill. Little by little, a person can chip away at you. Before you know it, your confidence levels are at an all-time low and you’re second guessing yourself at every turn.
Sometimes, the person does subtle things to bring you down. She might make critical remarks, frown at your accomplishments, or simply be apathetic to the things you say. Maybe the person enjoys criticizing in general or puts you down to make himself feel better.
Whatever the reason, there’s no reason why you should carry that burden. Life is hard enough when you have to juggle work, relationships, and other obligations. Without people to lift you up, it’s easy to become a sinking ship.
8. The person doesn’t add value to your life.
Different people play different roles in our lives. Regardless, the person should somehow contribute to your life. Maybe that someone:
- Increases your knowledge and makes you wiser.
- Shares memorable experiences with you.
- Pushes you to meet your goals.
- Acts as a source of inspiration for your life.
- Does and says things that brighten your day.
Even if someone only does a couple or one of the above, your life is better off for having that person in your life.
But that doesn’t mean your relationships are without friction. When you and the other person interact, you are bound to have disagreements and times when you aren’t on the same page. Still, you know it’s because the person cares and isn’t afraid to be speak his or her mind when honesty is needed.
Yet some people do none of the above. When you’re around the person, it’s as if he doesn’t contribute anything. Even worse, you feel that she takes away value. If the person’s not bringing you up somehow, it’s time to maintain a distance.
9. You feel manipulated.
Manipulation and control can be subtle. When you’re engrossed in a situation, you can’t see something for what it is. Others see it and may even point it out, but we often refuse to take their word for it.
Manipulation comes in numerous forms. The person may use tactics to make you feel guilty if you don’t do something. For instance, the person gives you the silent treatment, gets angry, or acts like he or she is worse off when you refuse to give in.
Conversely, the person can use tactics that make you feel better for doing what he or she wants. The person might offer you a reward, give you a compliment, or compare you with others.
Some of these behaviors look harmless in an everyday situation. We see compliments as a positive reaction. We understand when someone doesn’t feel like talking after an argument.
But ask yourself: Does the person repeatedly try to make you do things you’ve made clear you don’t want to do? Do you feel like you can’t act freely around this person? Are other people pinpointing something bad is happening? If the answer to more than one of these is “yes”, there’s likely manipulation happening.
10. You keep in touch because you share history.
You grew up in the same neighborhood as kids. Or, you went to school together and met up every weekend. Or maybe you two went through something emotional at a pivotal point in your life.
Since your past is tied up with this person, it makes sense if your present and future are tied together. Right?
It depends. You evolve as a person as time goes on. You gain values and priorities that the other person might not share. If so, you don’t have to keep ties simply because of the past.
People enter your life for a certain reason. When they do, you learn from them in one shape or form. Sometimes, that role is temporary and the person exits your life. It’s okay to simply treasure the memories of what was.
Let Go To Let In
There are many reasons why we drift away from someone who was close at one point in time.
While we sometimes break things off because we don’t like how the person is affecting us, there are times when it’s nobody’s fault. Neither person did anything wrong. You just moved in different directions.
Things get busy. People get tied up in work, family, or personal dilemmas. Someone might be going through an emotional event and doesn’t feel like connecting.
You don’t need to end things with a bang. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. If you sense the other person needs time alone, put things to the side and give the person space to sort things out. If and when the person is ready, he or she will know how to reach you.
Loss of any sort is sad. It’s scary to let go and enter unknown territory. But when you let go, you find yourself becoming free. In the process, you let in something new.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed