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Why I Had To Remove So Many Friends From My Life

I simply followed Marie Kondo's advice.

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image of woman removing friendship photos off shelves
Monica Garwood
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A few months ago, I did something completely out of character. After decades spent attracting human strays — my former therapist’s label — I decided to clean house.

No joke: I was inspired by TV personality and author Marie Kondo, who in the past has encouraged us all to question whether the things in our lives still “spark joy.” Her “spark joy” mantra is supposed to help us organize ourselves and shed our clutter for a more minimalist and quieter approach to a happier life. And yes, I know she meant getting rid of material things like those table lamps I inherited when my aunt died and maybe Grandma’s good china, which lives in a box in my closet and gets no visitors.

But I also took Kondo’s advice one step further: I began to think hard about every person — from longtime friend to recent Internet acquaintance — who engaged with me.

The problem, you see, is that I attract people to my life who need fixing; hence, the therapist’s label. Maybe I suffer from a savior’s complex, or maybe I just like helping those who need it.

But in any case, Kondo convinced me that it was time to pull the weeds from my garden and make room for more flowers to grow.

To start, I targeted the takers who never give back. Then I went after the people who travel through life with a dark cloud of misery over their heads and expect someone else to offer some sunshine.

Last, I pushed away the people who were simply annoying, like the woman who discovered voice-to-text and would send me a running commentary of her day the size of a short novella.

“You aren’t sparking my joy,” I told her. “Oh,” she voice-to-text-messaged back. “I didn’t know I was supposed to.”

OK, point taken.

For the record, none of the folks I purged from my life were serial killers or headed for prison or anything close. Nor would I necessarily describe them as toxic people. It’s more that engaging with them either stopped feeling good or never really felt all that good to me in the first place.

At the core of all the friendships I shed, there was one common trait: There was an imbalance in the relationship that felt weighted against me. I was a sounding board, a safe haven, someone they turned to when they felt overwhelmed, sick or sad about something. They came to me because I made them feel better (sparked joy?), but it was a one-sided seesaw.

Take the woman I know who was summarily dumped by her husband of decades for someone he had just met. Her pain was palpable, and upon hearing of the situation, I rushed to her side with my medical kit for the brokenhearted. I listened to her for hours, often daily, as she cried tears of self-pity and tears of rage. I listened to her recount what her counselor said — not about her but about her soon-to-be ex. And when the time was right, I helped her write a dating-site profile and encouraged her to use it. A physically beautiful and super-smart woman, she met some interesting men, entered a relationship with one of them, and from then on, I rarely heard from her.

Her universe had been restored to order and, once again, she was at its center. I was her foul-weather friend, to be pulled out like an umbrella when needed. Friendships should be a two-way street, I told her, and she was a dead end.

And then there was my always-down-in-the-dumps friend whose life has been a series of hardships. A heavy-drinking ex-husband, multiple health issues, a series of miscarriages that dashed her hopes for a family. Of she and her siblings, she was the one who stepped up to be the caregiver for their parents, and now those same siblings don’t speak to her and accuse her of cheating them out of Mom and Dad’s money.

It seems that every time we talk, there‘s something new plaguing her. If she buys a car, it‘ll be a lemon. If she takes an island vacation, there will be a hurricane. She travels through life under a dark cloud, and it always rains on her. She would come to me seeking solace.

Here’s the thing: Bad stuff happens to everyone; what shapes us is how we respond to it. I have tried and failed to make her life more joyful, but it’s beyond my capacity to fix her. What I didn’t realize is that her hopelessness could be contagious.

In an act of self-preservation, I now limit my exposure. Setting boundaries helps avoid the clutter in life.

So, yes, I’ve stepped back from the greedy, the needy, the humorless and the unreliable, the untrustworthy, the haters, the gossips and the nerve graters. I’m steering clear of the temperamental, the unintentionally insulting, the insufferable and the plain old uninteresting. Harsh? Maybe. But it was my own need to save lost souls that allowed most of those people into my life in the first place. All Marie Kondo did was encourage me to lose them.

Have you ever had to drop a friend? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Relationships