Choosing friends: the 2.1 rule

How many times have you broken up with someone?
Or left a job? Or fired a flatmate?

These are awkward conversations. But they open a door to something better in the most important areas of your life.
So how come this doesn’t happen with friendships?

It’s rare to hear about friends “breaking up”.
When friendships don’t really work, they usually wither, are ghosted, or broken by events. They’re rarely stopped.
Usually, they coast along.

Levels of intensity

So, what triggers a break-up?
Whether it’s a relationship, a job, a client, or a flatmate, usually two things happen:

  • The level of pain we associate with continuing that particular relationship finally overtakes the pain we link to the actual break-up. The idea of not having that conversation becomes unbearable, and overtakes any fear of the change ahead.
  • Our expectations rise above the current situation. In other words, we feel like we’re missing out. Like quitting that job, firing that client, or quitting a relationship will actually make space for a better one.

choosing friendships

In short, the level of intensity of that connection is so strong, that we can’t bear coasting along.

Now, let’s go back to friendships.

The weight of friendships

Friends are probably the biggest influencing factor in your life: they form the largest part of your peer group, which we’re biologically wired to follow and conform to.
They show you what’s possible.
They set standards.
They set expectations.
They set boundaries.
They set rules and values.

Besides, friendships truly enrich our time.
They make us connected.
They make us stronger.
They show support and love.
They share a journey.

And yet, with such an important role, break-ups between friends are rare.

Most people feel a sense of obligation towards friendships.
Like they have to say yes. Like they have no saying in the matter. Like choosing friends isn’t an option.
The key here is to realise that cultural teachings and your own chemistry are taking over: back in the good old days, ‘choosing your tribe’ could cost your survival.
Once you understand you have the luxury to upgrade your friends, the next step is to realise that…if someone’s not right for you, you’re probably not right for them either. You’re following separant paths.

Let me be clear.

I’m not suggesting you turn your back on friends.
And I’m not saying your friends should all be the same either.
In fact, I am proud to be regularly in touch with friends that live in different countries, and to be surrounded by friends with different life experiences and ideas. They challenge my views and keep me growing, and make my life rich with their contribution.

Make sure your friendships add to your life rather than subtract, and that when you support a friend…they actually want to be helped. There are better and more meaningful ways to feel significant than martyrdom.

I call it the 2.1 rule.

The 2.1 rule

A couple of weeks ago, I was in London having dinner with a friend. While I was devouring the middle-easter starters, she told me about this friend who felt extremely drained every time she saw a particular person. Things were so extreme, a couple of times she even took medications to cope with the negative load.

“She needs to use the 2.1 rule” I said.

When you are on your own, what’s your base happiness and energy level? How do you feel when you’re in your own company?
That’s your baseline, 1.

Everyone’s baseline will be different, but it’s their 1.
Some people will be higher-energy, while others might have a low base happiness level when alone.

Together, if the sum of your friendship isn’t at least a solid 2, something isn’t working.
In the case of the person above, the sum was 0. She felt depleted every time she met with the other person.
Eventually, the level of pain and expectations will raise so much that she will break free of this negative connection.

The real danger are relationships that hover around or just above 1, because they make you settle: they’re not bad enough to trigger a break-up, so they coast along.

choosing friendships

As a mental exercise, I regularly check to make sure all my friendships are at least a 2.1. That is, the sum is greater than its parts, and we both become better people just from being friends, and the relationship itself is constantly strengthened.
That is a fantastic position to be in!

What to do next

It’s your turn to do a sanity check (and don’t lie to yourself) using the 2.1 rule.
Which relationships are holding you back and draining you? Which ones are just coasting along the way?

What to do next is simple.

Just spend less time on those relationships. Say no to that extra pizza night. Use the extra time on growing the most positive relationships.
If you don’t have any, meet-ups and social media are a great place to start finding interesting people in your city. Once you know one (or a few), it’ll be easy to introduce each other to more positive connections, and grow them into friendships.

Just don’t settle for 1.1. Or 0.9.

– Matt