Deleting friends who are a drain on your resources - time, money, empathetic capacity - is important.
You are a good person, probably, and driving yourself mad trying to fit in people who don’t deserve it is a surefire way to grey hair and dark eyes and your stomach filling up with dread. And besides, you are totally just stringing these poor suckers along. You’re not helping them, certainly not helping you.
In the 1990s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar first suggested that humans have a cognitive limit for how many social relationships they can maintain – about 150 of them – before everything starts going to shit. This became known as Dunbar’s Number.
"This limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size,” said Dunbar. “The limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained."
“Putting it another way,” he added, “it's the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar.”
Next time you act the big flake and cancel plans with someone, don’t blame yourself: this is just the fault of that stupid neocortex. But while Dunbar’s Number has been criticised as an oversimplification, there’s no denying that deleting crappy friends from your life is an important and legitimate form of self-care.
You need to unfriend your mates, mate - make 2017 the year of no more awkward pints shared with people you actually despise. Just do it.
Here’s who to dump first:
THE BROTHER OF YOUR EX- WHO IS YOUR MATE FOR SOME REASON
Starting as a way to win favour with your then-current girlfriend, your friendship with her brother managed to outlast your relationship proper and, in an inadvisable fit of pique, you kept him around so you could keep tabs on her. What did you expect to get out of this? Shorn of the social anchor that was your partner, her brother is now just Some Bloke who likes all your Facebook photos and occasionally invites you to the pub for a catch up where he can tell you how great his sister is doing. While you’ve mostly moved on, nobody wants to hear that stuff and neither do the friends you’re inflicting him on.
THE EX-COLLEAGUE WHO YOU DON’T REALLY LIKE BUT LIVES NEAR YOU
He was the annoying guy in the office who ate baked fish and rice from a Tupperware box and loudly bragged about Fantasy Football in April, roughly five months after everyone stopped caring about Fantasy Football. You bonded over a night bus back to North London one time, sneaking beers out of a work party and realising that you only live a hundred yards from each other. This is meant to be, you thought, ducking behind the thermoset polypropylene seat to sloppily neck a bottle of Sol with no lime in it. But it wasn’t. You went to the pub to watch the football a few times, the chemistry never picked back up again but the die was sadly cast: if one of you needed a quick pint but had nobody else to go with, they were one to call. Like a sad pint booty call. Even when you left that job the routine remained. A notoriously difficult person to lose entirely, your best bet is to just find a new pub.
THE GUY WHO GETS INTO FIGHTS EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU GO OUT
What was a charming quirk when you were younger is now a major liability, with performative hardness and a seething, preening desire to be mad is a major buzzkill, part and parcel of a classically destructive relationship with someone you used to play five-a-side with. Once easily reasoned away with “oh, they get a bit lairy after a few ciders” or “girls think it’s hot, for some reason”, now with the helpful critical distance of having rent to pay and a job to not lose, you realise that dragging away your mate out the pub at 6pm on a Saturday afternoon for threatening to “fucking glass the fucking cunt” is not something that you need to be dealing with anymore.
THE BOYS FROM SCHOOL WHO HAVE HELD YOU HOSTAGE IN A WHATSAPP GROUP CALLED “VEGAS 2017!”
You get a pop-up on your phone: it just says the word “eggs” with four crying face emojis next to it. You don’t understand. What is going on? “Hahaha!” comes another message. “COME ON EGGS” another. You are stuck in Dante’s eight circle. You are in Dante’s Group Chat. It is a twenty-four hour push notification onslaught of hypothetical stag-do planning, toilet cubicle selfies, and indecipherable banter about nights out you didn’t go to. You’ve thought of leaving several times but the announcement alert – “[WHOEVER YOU ARE] has left the conversation” – is way too dramatic to make for a viable option. The best you can hope for is that you are allowed to stay muted and hidden in plain sight, like playing dead in front of a bear, until the boys just move on with their lives. Or just delete WhatsApp. Delete it and never look back. Blame it on confusing conspiracy theories about data collection and get it gone, leaving you free from having your battery life sucked to death by endless copy-and-paste jokes from betting banter Twitter accounts for another year.
THE REALLY, REALLY, REALLY TIGHT BLOKE
Not the one who is genuinely skint – we’ve all been there – but the moocher who orders a double on your tab and fucks off to the toilet when their round comes up. They think they’re being clever when really they are just proving that they think you’re too thick to realise. In this economic climate, we all need to help each other out and that starts with not getting your calculator out when the bill comes. Unless previously discussed, group dinners are a socialist enterprise and anyone who thinks otherwise is not worthy of wasting your money or your neocortical bandwidth, tbqhwy.
THE UNNECESSARILY INTENSE FRIEND WHO STRONGLY BELIEVES IN ‘ART’
The guy who is a dickhead to everyone around him because he thinks it will make his writing better, like he’s Hemingway if Hemingway were dead into writing typo-ridden blog posts about forgotten footballers, French house, and oyster stout.
THE ONE WHO IS RUDE TO SERVICE STAFF
Sociopath. Fuck ‘em.
THE ONE YOU JUST HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON WITH
It’s okay, you’re allowed to have this one. They know it as much as you do, when you’re stuck together at the bar and they say “uh… so, how’s things?” and you just pretend you didn’t hear them but buy them a drink anyway, they know that there’s just nothing to say. Instead of spreading yourself so thin, it’s time to just smile softly into the face of those who you barely know but are still somehow socially entwined with and say, well, maybe we don’t have to do this anymore. Release yourself from the shackles of stilted conversation about… *desperately looks around the room for inspiration* ...stuff.
THE ONES WITH VERY STRONGLY-HELD VIEWS ON IMMIGRATION POLICY THAT HAVE BEEN GLEANED SOLELY FROM RADIO CALL-IN SHOWS
There’s enough stuff to deal with this year without hanging on to people who overhear a bad opinion and then pass off that bad opinion as their own, blindly throwing themselves into the murky water of immigration from the bridge of reality because some blokes called Terry called up LBC Drivetime in a huff.
THE PEOPLE WHO ONLY TALK TO YOU WHEN THEY WANT SOMETHING
Friendships require a fair deal of give and take, emotional profits and overheads, but there’s always someone who wants to drag to you to the furthest reaches of town, to drink in the most expensive bar, have dinner in the most expensive restaurant, that mate who you thought you’d already gotten rid off rears their lurid head once more to ask if you wanted to go to their new club night – it’s only twenty-five quid a ticket, mate, and it’s in Eltham for some reason.
Please stop going to parties you don’t want to go to out of moral obligation to someone who you haven’t spoken to in a year and when you did, they spent the whole time talking about how much money they were going to make in the year of our lord two thousand and seventeen. You deserve better.
(Main Image: ‘David with the Head of Goliath’ by Michelangelo Caravaggio / WikiCommons)