friendship

'I'm 40 and I'm down to one close friend. But I don't want any more.'

Another friend announced over coffee today she’s leaving town.

My friendship circle has been steadily shrinking and now her shift away leaves me with just one local friend. How many friends do you need to be happy? 

That’s the question I was asking myself this afternoon after she left.

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Adult friendships are different and not always easy. 

We’re expected to fit so much into our busy lives. And, after some exhausting experiences with friends in the last few years, I think I might be friendship burnt-out.

The thought of putting time and energy into building another close friendship doesn’t do much for me right now.

Are there times when one close, real-life friend is enough? I’m worried I’m going to regret my self-isolation, but I’m just so tired.

"Do you think you need to meet a few more friends?" my husband asked a few months ago when my friend number dropped. 

After COVID cleared here in New Zealand, a lot of people felt the urge to change scenery and move towns.

"I don’t know... I’m down to two." Of course, people moving away doesn’t mean they stop being friends, but I’ve never been great at keeping up long-distance friendships. 

You also need those local friends to go out for a coffee, see a concert with, or add to your quiz night team — we all know now how valuable in-person interactions are. Zoom calls aren’t quite the same.

And now another friend’s going away party is in less than two weeks and I’ll be down to one. 

The weird thing is, I’m kind of relieved.

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My health has been awful this year. I have an immune disorder and some years I get a bad run of back-to back-illness.

As a working writer and homeschooling mum, I have a super tight schedule. Throw in a week of sickness and I’m always running behind. 

I’m also newly married. We’ve just hit our seven-month mark and new marriages always take a bit of adjusting to.

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Life-giving or toxic?

But it’s not just busy-ness. It’s friendships themselves. 

Friendships are important to me and I always prioritise a hangout with a friend over work. When my friend came over today I was working, but I stopped instantly and spent time with her. 

That’s one of the bonuses of flexible work.

But when I think about looking for and building up a new friendship, I feel sick. I trust the people I have in my life now, they’re amazing, but it hasn’t been that way for many years.

"Adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers," acknowledges one study.

But they also point out the flip side.

"While social relationships are the central source of emotional support for most people, social relationships can be extremely stressful."

I’ve had a pattern of attracting a certain type of friend who seems great and then turns out to be toxic and draining. 

I still feel really vulnerable with that. I know I attract these people because I’ve struggled with placing boundaries among other things, and I don’t know if I’ve learned enough yet to avoid making the same mistakes.

In the last few years, I’ve gotten divorced and remarried, and cleared out a lot of toxic people from my life. Do I want to bring in another close friend just right now? I’m not sure I do.

I’m sure it’s not just me.

Many of us are feeling burnt out and exhausted right now. Perhaps it’s okay for our circles to be small and gentle for a while. Perhaps there are times when you’re allowed to step back and take a breath.

"Globally, employees are both mentally and emotionally exhausted, and they’ll be finishing the calendar year with very little left to give," one report from last year states.

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It’s understandable if you still haven’t recovered. 

You can fill the social gaps with online friends and real-life acquaintances.

There’s something nice about chatting with your local grocery store checkout person each week, or talking about the weather with another mum while you wait for your kids after school. No expectations. Just a nice interaction you can walk away from when you feel like.

Close friendships are vulnerable. 

We expect our nearest friends to share their lives and problems with us. We expect openness. But sometimes it’s okay for you to hold your true feelings a little closer to your chest. There are times you need to take care of you first.

That’s what I’ve decided, anyway. There’s no pressure. One close friend, for now, is enough.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. 

Kelly Eden is a writer and writing coach living in New Zealand. Ready to tell your own story? Get free weekly writing tips.

Feature Image: Getty.

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