Spring clean your friendships

When the spirit of spring takes hold, we find ourselves wanting to clear the clutter from every area of our lives. We don't just long to dump the junk from our closets and dust the corners that were barely noticeable in the dark days of winter; we want to streamline our lives in more meaningful ways, too. Shasta Nelson of GirlFriendCircles shares tips on how to strengthen our existing friendships and cast off the ones that aren't working anymore.

When we're crazy busy but still want to maintain the friendships that we treasure, first thing's first: how can we keep those relationships that we treasure going strong?

Consistency is key. Instead of the scheduling emails that can go back-and-forth for a week ("I can't do Tuesday but are you free for Wednesday lunch? How 'bout two weeks from next Thursday?"), set one regular date and stick to it. Nelson suggests making a standing date for brunch the third Saturday of the month, or cheap manis every other week.

Get deep. Our friendships sustain us not when the conversation skims the surface of boyfriend updates and work woes, but when we feel like we're connecting with someone in a meaningful way, being heard and understood. If you can't talk about the meaning of life face-to-face without feeling like you're in Philosophy 101, turn it into an email exchange, suggests Nelson. "Email each other a question to answer like what are three things you wish you had more of in your life, what is one of your favorite childhood memories, or what is one thing about your life that surprises you right now?"

And what about those toxic friendships? You know the ones. Either you have a friend who has turned terminally negative, doesn't support your dreams and endeavors, who frequently breaks plans or causes you more stress than joy. Sometimes a real friend can practically turn into a frenemy. How can we spring clean those relationships without guilt?

Let go quietly. It's important, says Nelson, "to recognize that not all friendships are for life and it's okay to not force something that isn't there anymore." Sometimes the make-up of our lives changes significantly and certain friendships don't withstand the shift. If our friends are there, in part, "to enhance our current experiences in life," says Nelson, "sometimes life just changes the dynamics." In situations like these, you don't need to risk burning a bridge. Generally the feeling will be mutual. Stop initiating plans together until you see each other less and less, and the friendship has phased out.

Give awkwardness a chance. Even the best relationships go through rocky periods, and it's important to remember that a friendship can be strong and vital after conflict --- perhaps even more so. "Our relationships are often 'pseudo-community' until we have some crisis or difficulty that can facilitate a deeper bond," says Nelson. "It's important not to simply walk away every time someone disappoints you."

Have a conversation.
If the friendship can't be patched, either because you've been seriously wronged or you feel patently misunderstood, having a conversation --- no matter how awkward ---is better than a cold turkey end to a friendship. It gives each person the opportunity to say their piece and could potentially increase understanding on both sides. "Worst case scenario," says Nelson, "it turns into a break-up talk but you know you tried. Best case scenario: you become better friends with valuable shared history saved."

Have you ever had to break up with a friend? How did you do it? And how do you keep the friendships you value going strong?

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