wellness

"I'm suffering from friendship fade and I'm not trying to stop it."

Many things fell by the wayside this year. And when I say 'fell', I mean we clung onto them with naïve optimism until it was impossible to hold on any longer. 

We held onto our holiday plans and told ourselves ‘it was too soon to call it’. Then the travel ban was imposed and we were suddenly confronted with the prospect of *summering* in Sydney not Sorrento - god forbid.

We held onto event plans until there were restrictions imposed on the number of people who could attend, and then we put them on the back-burner too. 

We also let the routines and habits that steered our lives drop off as well.

Listen to Mamamia Outloud where Mia, Holly and Jessie discuss how we all now have a fear of going out. Post continues after podcast.

But even though we had to let these things go, there was always a sense that we’d pick them back up once this is all over. That we’ll start where we left off when this was done. 

But what about the things that you’re happy to leave behind?

Rigid working hours, probably?

The daily commute, perhaps. 

Social obligations, definitely. 

Friendships that have been sustained over multiple years due to convenience and comfort but not shared values, interests and aspirations?

Oh. 

Alas, it is here we begin the story. 

You see, the pandemic has widely been reported to have taken a toll on relationships and friendships. As interactions become more virtual, relationships with loved ones were strained and connections required more effort in order to stay afloat. 

When stress was high and our minds fatigued, we had a limited budget of social energy to spend and so were put in a position where we had to choose carefully who to spend it on.

We always do have this choice of who we surround ourselves with, but it’s not always laid out this clearly.

We came to realise who we wanted to talk to, comfort and support during this time, and who wanted to do the same for us in return. Like with any major life change, it becomes apparent fairly quickly who is willing to share your pain with you. 

When the world devolved into utter chaos and the structures that held life together rendered meaningless, I looked for meaning within my immediate vicinity.






View this post on Instagram









solitary paddles and a good book ✨🛶📖

A post shared by  🌻 ELLIE (@eleanor_katelaris) on

ADVERTISEMENT

It was then I realised that my friendship circle was not serving me in the way I needed. 

Well, actually I had always known, but had never been forced to do anything about it. 

I was happy to partake in a meaningless social life because it wasn’t causing me any harm. I had actively curated a circle of friends around me because I wanted to live out the narrative of someone in their 20s that had a solid ‘squad’.

I think I had internalised the warped societal attitude that places a premium on a woman’s ability to hold onto friends. 

What that resulted in was me taking on a sort of performative identity. I was willing to sacrifice part of me in order to ensure I had weekend plans and dinner reservations every Saturday.

I had convinced myself that it was more important to be surrounded by people and to keep busy, than not be surrounded by anyone at all.

But the reality of it was that I left those dinner reservations feeling depleted and disappointed every time. Whenever I would try to bring up topics of conversation beyond trivial discussion, I was told that it wasn’t the time or place and we were trying to have a nice night.

So what did I do? Time and time again I shrunk myself. My personality became a watered-down version of what it actually was. A mediocre Ellie, but an Ellie with friends. 

ADVERTISEMENT

I recently chatted to my friend Ollie about this as he’s a psychology PHD candidate and knows a lot about... everything. I was looking to him for reassurance that I wasn’t in fact a terrible person and that there was a method to my madness in sustaining these unfulfilling friendships. 

He drew on evolutionary psychology and Zahavian Signalling Theory and something about Gazelles escaping predation.

To summarise - he confirmed that I wasn’t in fact a heartless fraud - I was just partaking in a phenomenon he coined “comfort conformity”. 

“Choosing comfort through conforming requires less effort, less conflict and less cognitive dissonance in having to wrestle and reconcile with yourself about being untrue to yourself or doing something you find reprehensible,” he said. 

It all made sense then. The reason I had kept up this facade for so long was because it was easy. It was comfortable.






View this post on Instagram









Sitting at the lighthouse you can watch Sydney from the outside but you’re still so close. You can watch the world go by whilst still being very much in the middle of it. I watched ferries and small boats intuitively navigate the rules of the harbour, unaware of their distant beauty. I watched planes fly over the bridge and thought about where they were going and who they were collecting. I watched a lone fisherman tinkering with his line. I watched people coming to the headland to take a photo of the lighthouse and I thought about all the Instagrams I would be in (was I a colourful foreground for them or was I ruining their otherwise minimalistic photo?) When it was time to head home, I took off my shoes and climbed back up the ladder, but not before I got a photo of my own. ⛴

A post shared by  🌻 ELLIE (@eleanor_katelaris) on

There are only three options for how friendships play out; you fall-out, you fade out or you’re friends for life. 

Having a staged falling-out from these people wasn’t an option. I couldn’t point to one particular thing and be like ‘this is the reason we can no longer be friends’. Because there wasn’t one thing. But how do you explain that?

ADVERTISEMENT

You can’t really. Or at least, I couldn’t. 

Which is why coronavirus was a blessing in disguise. It provided the perfect foundation for the friendship fade-out that I had been forever avoiding.

Most people probably tried to over-compensate communication with their friends during COVID to avoid this dreaded ‘fade-out’. There are countless articles about how to keep friends as we navigate through this new territory. One article from The Atlantic even shows you how to use the pandemic to strengthen your friendships. 

But for me, I was going to do the exact opposite. 






View this post on Instagram









Brunch at @billsaustralia 👏🥰

A post shared by  🌻 ELLIE (@eleanor_katelaris) on

So the pandemic was the perfect excuse. It broke our usual routine of dinner/clubbing/brunch repeat, and flung us into a realm where the only thing that could sustain us was conversation.

What I got instead was emoji reactions to Instagram Stories, occasional tags in competition posts on social media and a trickle of memes.

I could no longer keep going with this ‘diet version’ of friendship. I wanted the real, full-fat version. The one that doesn’t leave you unsatisfied and craving more.

ADVERTISEMENT

I decided to finally confront this illusion of friendship and let them go.

But it’s not as calculated and scheming as it sounds.

Coronavirus was an accelerator for this friendship fade and I just wasn’t actively trying to stop it.

I leveraged the pandemic to my advantage to do something I already wanted to do. I capitalised on the enforced aloneness to finally break away from the people who made me feel alone in the first place. 

I didn’t actually do anything. It’s what I didn’t do, that determined the outcome.

I didn’t initiate conversations, I didn’t initiate catch-ups and I didn’t try and force togetherness. 

And that was that.

It was freeing.

I could finally shed the half of my personality that moulded to them and let what was left inside of me mould into whoever I wanted to be. 






View this post on Instagram









🏊‍♀️

A post shared by  🌻 ELLIE (@eleanor_katelaris) on

I had the energy to foster connections around me with people who really cared about me. I reconnected with people who I knew shared my same interests and got comfortable with the idea of not having a girl group. 

What happened next sounds like something out of a millennial New York Netflix series - AKA too good to be true. 

ADVERTISEMENT

About a month ago I met a new friend. We connected over Instagram after realising we had a lot in common. We’re both sober, both hikers, both foodies and both had long-distance relationships.

Over the next month, we got really close. It was like all those years I had wasted on unfulfilling friendships was being made up for in the space of a few weeks. 

We’re now moving in together and out of our family homes for the first time. It feels good to be starting this new chapter in my life with someone on the same page as me.

Make what you want of it, but from my perspective, you attract the energy you put out. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.

Watch Scarlett Johansson talk about female friendships with her co-stars. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.


I’m not one to be prescriptive or tell you what you ought to do or not to. I’m also not trying to say that if you do the same thing as me, you’ll find a rewarding friendship either. 

All I’m saying is that we all should dare to be a little more ruthless with who we choose to surround ourselves with. Culling your friends isn’t a sign of arrogance or that you think that you’re morally superior to anyone. 

It’s just an act of kindness to yourself -  and them - to take a step back when something no longer feels good to you. 

You are under no obligation to stay friends with anyone and there needn’t be any shame or guilt in walking away once you’ve outgrown them.

It’s by no fault of your own that you want to end a friendship. It may simply spring from the realisation that we are no longer who we once were. And that’s more than okay.

Feature Image: Supplied.

00:00 / ???