Published On: Thu, Nov 23rd, 2023

I have too many friends. I can’t keep up! Carolyn Hax readers advise.

I have too many friends. I can’t keep up! Carolyn Hax readers advise.
I have too many friends. I can’t keep up! Carolyn Hax readers advise.

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: I have a different friendship problem than we usually see here: I’m a mid-30s woman, and I have too many friends. I’m in probably close to a dozen group chats, see the same people every week or so, and rarely have a night without plans. It’s exhausting.

My husband and I are trying to pull back and at the same time have recently committed to attending religious services that will put us in contact with a lot of new potential friends. We freaked out this week because we’re drowning in our social lives and, not to mention, work.

I see so many questions about how to make friends, but I have no idea how to balance all of these lovely people and obligations without hurting feelings or losing touch! I already say no to about 50 to 75 percent of invitations. I know that opting out more is the answer, but I have no idea how to do that kindly and successfully.

— Social Butterflied Out

Social Butterflied Out: Start by figuring out how you came to have more social connections outside the home than you feel you can handle and what you get out of these nightly outings that you are afraid to lose. Is it deep, meaningful connections with a few individuals in these various circles? The affirmation of feeling popular and being busy? Perhaps there is something you are avoiding dealing with — whether it be disappointing others or a challenge at home. Once you understand your own feelings and motivations, you can better identify which friendships are important to you and why, then prioritize accordingly.

Also, why let everyone else make the plans? If there are people you want to see from different social groups, get them all together and consolidate. Host a monthly party or gathering where your big tent of friends and connections comes together. See people when it suits your calendar. Not everyone will be available every time, and that’s okay. If you are creating the opportunity to see all the people you want to once a month, it might take some pressure off you to say yes to everyone else’s scheduled plans.

Social Butterflied Out: I can relate to this! The sense of belonging, fun and camaraderie is great, but sometimes the combination of group chats and lots of group socializing can create a special level of pressure and FOMO that’s hard to get out of — especially if you are a recovering people pleaser. The good news, if your people are usually hanging out in groups, is you probably won’t be missed as much as you fear if you opt out more often.

Why not start small and commit to at least one night at home each week to enjoy the quiet. And mute the group chats; deal with your phone for only a few select hours a day. You need time to bond with your husband as well as to attend to your own self-care and work.

Social Butterflied Out: This is a boundary issue more than a friend issue. Somewhere in your life you learned that saying no wasn’t okay or loving or even socially acceptable. “No” is a healthy word when used appropriately. It would be a good start to let people know that you and your husband need some “we” time and that you need some “me” time (this is not selfish) and that even though you care very much about your friends, time for yourself and for your husband has become a priority.

Social Butterflied Out: Are you sure ALL of these people are “friends?” Some may be in your life because of mutual interests. While this is a valuable way to meet people, it doesn’t hold the same weight as, say, “lifelong” or “close” friends might.

Obligations are not obligatory! Turning down invitations, if done gracefully, is fine. At some point, if you truly feel overwhelmed, you will start to treat those lovely people to the irritation of your exhaustion.

Social Butterflied Out: I have no idea how to balance all of these lovely people and obligations without hurting feelings or losing touch! You are going to lose touch; that’s part of the deal. You can’t keep track of that many people in any meaningful way and have time for yourselves. And you already know how to say “no” since you already do for 50 to 75 percent of the invitations you receive. The real challenge here is you letting go of trying to be friends with this many people and accepting the losses that will come with that.

Start there. Letting go, accepting the fear of missing out, accepting that you can’t do it all, and making some hard choices about with whom and how to stay in touch.

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Thursdays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself, and they are edited for length and clarity.

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