'Friendship Audits' Aren't Always About The Toxic People In Our Lives

by Susie b Cross
Originally Published: 

There are a few ways you can look at “friendship audits.” Garfield Hylton offers his take in “Why I Do ‘Friendship Audits’ Every Year,” and according to him, “friendship audits are my way of evaluating … connections in hopes that I haven’t broken promises to my friends.” Others, including me, traditionally use friendship audits as a means of taking stock and considering who makes the cut and who doesn’t. It’s the equivalent of investigating a bag of pre-washed romaine and plucking out the suspect, not-quite-up-to-snuff bits. It’d be great if every leaf passed inspection, but that’s just not realistic. And, that, in my estimation, is what makes friendship audits essential.

If you consider Dunbar’s Number (which, recently, I have, maybe too much), the friendship audit makes quite a bit of sense. The number itself is about 150 and represents the number of relationships a person can maintain. Of course, we’re not talking about close friendships. That 150 encapsulates every friendship connection a person might have — ranging from romantic partner (assuming that’s your top dawg) to the “weddings and funerals group who would come to your once-in-a-lifetime event. What’s most important, though, is that your inner circle, your closest confidantes, only accommodates 5. To nurture those few ride-or-dies takes a lot of time. In fact, if you ask Dunbar, to chess-piece a friend into that elite circle and seal the pact, you have to invest about 200 hours in the span of a few months. And so, as the Atlantic’s Sheon Han says, “close friendships are very expensive in terms of time investment to maintain.” Expensive is the perfect word.

If you only have minimal bestie spots and time is finite, you have to do a little polite purging, right? Well, to put it delicately, yes. And this is where friendship audits come in.

You, like me, probably grew up hearing this twee little ditty: “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver but the other gold.” It was a great idea, in theory, and those rhyme-y words seemed sage in the days when friendship bracelets and pricking our fingers and mingling blood were all the rage. What I have found in my half-century of experience, though, is that the ties that bound you 30 or 15 or 5 years ago do not always last forever — and this is for a reason.

In the early years, a lot of my friendships hinged on the unholy trifecta: cheap beer, cheap tequila, and cheap vodka. In fact, I remember a girl in Latin class who I adored, but who I was never going to hang with outside the walls of high school. Back then, my resistance made all the sense in the world; she didn’t drink. That’s it. At a point in my life when beer bongs were my best friends, I was not going to waste time on someone who didn’t share my favorite hobby. Those who did, though? If you consider the many, many hours we spent driving around looking for some sad-looking guy outside the 7-11 to buy us Smirnoff, we surely clocked in Dunbar’s requisite 200. No matter how we spent our time together, we were thick as thieves.

As the years passed, organic friendship audits took place, though, and the glue that epoxied us together eroded. Back then, when staying in touch was accomplished only through telephone calls and in-person visits, it was impossible to preserve our alliances.

Interestingly, the friends that I later cleaved myself from were the big drinkers. But, unlike the fellow delinquent sisters of my youth, these were drink-til-you-start-publicly-bickering-with-everyone friends. Of course, this was a decade-plus after my peak party days and at least a few years into being a devoted designated driver (I stopped drinking for a myriad of reasons in my early 30s). I hit a point where stuffing my van with sloppy-drunk-and-sometimes-weeping girlfriends made for a less than enchanting evening. These were lovely people when sober, but nighttime was when we gathered, and bars were always going to be their chosen destination. Since I was done babysitting, it was prime time for one of those friendship audits, a very deliberate one. No one survived.

And so, my next adult friendships were obviously not going to be fueled by bacchanals, since watching friends vomiting into bushes had long ceased to have a magical quality. I moved on to befriending like-minded teachers and the gals I met in art classes. Soon after, when my first son came from Korea, I connected with the moms who had bedhead — because they jibed with me and my signature bedhead. I bonded with parent volunteers and the other room mothers who also cursed themselves for signing up for the demanding-organizational-skills duty. But, as the years passed, the diaspora of kids began, as did the diaspora of moms. Without pre-organized school activities to corral me with my cohorts, we ceased to have much in common.

I found myself realizing that time was very, very valuable and I wasn’t going to cede it easily because of a shared history or because I felt guilty. And, at that point in my life, without ire or malice, I was ready for the third of many friendship audits.

I think when we hear of friendship audits, we immediately think of hatcheting out those toxic souls that seem to feed off their own misery or ours. Though a couple of my audits have leaned in that direction, it isn’t the norm for me. Really, so much of it boils down to the time I am willing to invest. I would say my inner circle is about six strong — which is pretty on target if you consider Dunbar’s number. I love these people (enough to tell them, which is a feat for me) and I’m willing to forgo some “me” time to make some “we” time. I might not be hitting that golden 200 hours (which, sorry Dunbar, is a ridiculously exorbitant number), but I’m making a concerted effort.

Maybe I need to revisit and revamp the ultimate goal of my friendship audits and embrace Hylton’s endgame of using his friendship audits to “ensure [his] promise of friendship hasn’t been broken.” If I’m lucky, my six-friend posse will do the same. Hopefully, then, by putting in the proverbial hours, we will survive the “test of time.”

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