I collect friends like some girls collect fancy shoes. There’s nothing more exciting to me than meeting someone with some kind of interesting story—whether it’s about a bad date they had the weekend before or skydiving out of a plane in a foreign country. Everyone has their own story and I don’t think I’ve ever come across someone with a background that wasn’t fascinating in some way or another. We don’t necessarily need to understand or agree with their life story, but we can certainly learn and take cues from each and every person we encounter. Some people are drawn to others who are in the same type of life situation as them: married, single, divorced, parent, pet-lover, world-traveller, student, party animal, etc. The list of random things we could have in common is endless. I also find myself oddly attracted to people who are in a completely different situation in life so that I can learn something from them, or they feel they can learn from me. Being opposites in a friendship can be an enticing dynamic.

Now here’s the tricky part: when can we comfortably let go of old friendships that have slowly dwindled away to dust? When can we just admit that we don’t want to meet up for coffee sometime with a friend we barely have anything in common with anymore? One who doesn’t even glance in our direction when they clearly saw us walking towards them on the street? Can we actually consider them “friends?” The answer to this can’t be found on Google. In fact, even Dr. Phil would give a confusing run-around answer to this. It’s the sort-of situation you need to assess for yourself and decide whether the friendship is worth putting any more effort into. It’s OK to admit that we’ve grown apart from someone who is in a different stage of life than us. Some people in their late twenties or early thirties are saving for a home while others are saving for tequila shots in Vegas. Even if we have obvious similarities but secretly don’t enjoy each other’s company anymore, how do we let go and not beat ourselves up about it?

When we’re younger, we almost subconsciously choose friendships based on our own short-term desires and needs. Many of us can admit we’ve become friends with someone simply because we were scared not to be. We’ve also formed friendships with someone to get connected to a new social scene or even because of a common dislike for another person. Those are the odd friendships we build when we’re growing up and, on looking back, are self-centred and egotistical. Unfortunately, for childish reasons, we’ve also let go of friendships that we cherished and sometimes we aren’t lucky enough to get them back. But that’s probably how the world works: if we weren’t smart enough to appreciate someone we had in our life, then we have to deal with the consequences of pushing them away. As an adult, these rules still apply but the lines become blurred from all the grandiose events that zip in and out of our lives.

Figuring out which friends we want to remain close to throughout all the changes and bumps in our lives and who will become a piece of  our history is no small undertaking. Consciously separating the two is far more difficult than slowly drifting apart and years later realizing you’re no longer in touch. It seems as though there’s always one person who refuses to loosen their grip, not wanting to give up. But, should we feel guilty if we’re the one trying to let go? There are some friends we make who will have us asking ourselves whether we’re being used or abused. Abusive friendships can be well-hidden in the beginning and it’s only after a series of unfortunate events we figure out maybe someone isn’t good for us. I’m certainly not the only one who has had friends who make subtle remarks that leave me feeling awful about myself. If someone specific comes to mind, clear them out. Don’t trash them and alienate them, just stop putting effort into trying to be an amazing friend if they’re not willing to go the extra mile you’re prepared to. As Robert Tew once said: “Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out!”

At the same time, there are friends who make mistakes and we can  find it in our hearts to forgive. The expression “through thick and thin” is an important guide, but we need to learn who we can open our hearts to during the tough times and who should be kept at arm’s length. Don’t reject support from those who call themselves friends, but be careful who you confide in. Take to heart the advice given to you by close friends you’ve learned to trust, and ignore questionable advice given to you by others.

My own yardstick for keeping close friends is to remember who has stuck by me. Those who have watched me go through my worst case scenarios and helped me through them are the people I respect more than anyone. They’ve seen me at my best (usually accompanied with some or other grand achievement) and my worst (unable to get out of bed and face the outside world) and have been instrumental in my success today. Friends should be building blocks to accomplishing whatever we dream of, even when our fear of failure seems crippling. Anyone who knocks us down and delights in our failure doesn’t deserve our time or effort.

We should never have to prove anything to those who are supposed to celebrate us the most. And perhaps we should all be more careful in calling someone a friend, when close or distant acquaintance is what most people really are.