Factors In Whether It's Worth It To Hang Out With So-So Friends When You're Lonely
If you're lonely you may have gotten the advice that it's better to hang out with people who aren't 100% your style than no one at all. The suggestion doesn't mean to spend time with anyone who's blatantly toxic or that you have zero in common with. It's saying that if you meet some people who you mostly get along with, but they're not your ideal friends, that there are more benefits to those so-so relationships than drawbacks.
Some sources will tell you the opposite, that it's better to be on your own than waste your time and emotional energy with friends who aren't a good fit for you. I think it depends. I'll cover the factors that determine whether hanging out with partial matches would be a good idea for any one person.
Whether your loneliness is more about a lack of social contact or a lack of deeper connection
Some people are lonely in the sense that they don't have social plans often enough. They're bored and isolated. They're starved for human contact. They may feel bad about themselves for having "no life". Someone with this kind of loneliness will probably feel better if they can get some regular company, even if it's with friends or acquaintances they're only 70% compatible with.
Other people feel lonely because they don't have any deeply connected, intimate, accepting relationships. They don't know anyone who truly sees or gets them, who they can relax and fully be themselves around. In this case hanging out with partially matched friends may leave them feeling even more alienated, disconnected, and dissatisfied. They might be happier on their own, while they hold out for relationships that truly nourish them.
Your tolerance for being on your own and not having social plans
If going too long without social contact makes you feel sad and bored then spending time with some okay acquaintances will keep those feelings at bay. On the other hand, if you're perfectly content to spend time alone, then hanging out with weaker matches may not feel worth it. You could have a better time by yourself.
How comfortable you feel around people you only sort of click with
Some people's main problem is they feel lonely, but they don't get nervous, awkward, or insecure around friends who aren't the best fit for them. They can handle those interactions just fine, and even squeeze some fun out of them. Other people do struggle with shyness or a lack of confidence. They only feel comfortable in very compatible relationships. They're anxious, clumsy, and feel judged around anyone else. A chance to socialize with an okay match isn't enough of a benefit to counter the stress it all causes.
Whether you want access to the benefits that come with having friends
There are social advantages to having friends, even if they're not a perfect fit for you:
- As I already mentioned, spending time with them can alleviate the lack-of-social-contact type of loneliness
- You get the confidence of knowing you have some buddies. You don't have to get down on yourself for having absolutely no life. You don't have to worry about possibly having to lie to hide the fact you have no social circle.
- Being around them gives you an opportunity to practice your people skills or face some of your social fears, if that's something you're looking for.
- It can help you meet even more people. You can be introduced to your friends' friends. You have invites or company so you can go to places, like parties or bars, where you could meet someone new.
If you value access to these benefits, then it will pay off to stay friends with people you feel lukewarm toward. It wouldn't be worth your while if you couldn't care less about these things, or know you can get them elsewhere.
Exactly how incompatible your so-so friends are
As I said in the intro, this article isn't about toxic people who are a flagrantly awful match for you. But there's still a range within the category of "Okay-ish friend". At one end of the scale are solid, lovely people whose company you enjoy, but they just don't check every box you'd want in a friend. Like you may share a hobby, and they're fun to joke around with, and you're into the same kinds of movies and TV shows, but they're not interested in having the kinds of more intellectual, philosophical conversations you crave. There's nothing terrible about them, but your social needs don't feel 100% satisfied when you're done hanging out. Odds are you'd be happy to keep seeing them, even if you're left wanting more at times.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who don't do anything horrible, but you have little in common. You can be around them, and keep a basic, cordial conversation going, but you don't get much from it all other than some basic human contact or company on an activity. Or maybe they are slight jerks. Not enough where you'd instantly ditch them, but to the point where their behavior will chip away at you over time. Depending on other factors you may be willing to stay acquaintances, or it may not feel worthwhile before long. Hanging around people who are barely acceptable warm bodies may start to feel too demoralizing.
How easily you can meet people and build friendships
It's easier to hold out for well-matched friends when you have lots of options. One way to have choices is if you've got plenty of new people you can meet, like if you just started university. Another is if you're good at forming friendships, that is, people tend to like you, and you know how to turn a person you've just met into someone you hang out with regularly. I think sometimes when people say, "It's not worth it to hang out with partial matches. Hold out for friends who are a better fit" they have lots to choose from and assume everyone else does too.
If you don't have as many options, like you live in a small town and aren't great at making friends, it's not that you need to throw all your standards out the window and put up with anyone who will have you. But depending on your needs, it can make sense to be a little pragmatic and take a so-so friend over nothing for the time being.
How much your okay-ish friends take up your time
One argument against having so-so friends is that they'll take up your time and interpersonal energy, and maybe make you feel barely satisfied enough with your social life, so you won't have any room to look for people who are a better fit for you. Though that idea assumes partially compatible friends will dominate your schedule. That's not always the case. You may have plenty of time to see who else is out there. If you realize your partial match friends are eating up too much of your time you can always decide to see them less so you have space to meet new people.
How long you expect you'll have to stay with your so-so friends until better opportunities come along
Let's say you're moving to a new city in two months. On one hand, that may increase your tolerance for your so-so friends, because you know you won't be stuck with them forever. You're happy to enjoy them for who they are, and have some things to do on the weekends, while they're still around. On the other hand, if you know you've got new options around the corner you may feel content to hang around on your own for the next several weeks, knowing life won't stay that way forever.
Now let's say for one reason or another you don't expect to meet any potential new friends for a while. You might decide to stick with your "meh" buddies for now, because they're better than nothing. Or it could be that you were happy to hang around them for a short time, but the thought of sticking with them longer term feels depressing. You'd rather cut things off now, and take your chances with being lonely. You hope that if you feel bored and isolated enough it will motivate you to rustle up another group somehow.
How choosy and critical you feel toward potential or newer friends
Some lonely people are overly picky and fault finding with possible friends. It's not that they're mean for no reason. Their judgy attitude may be an unintentional side effect of how unhappy their loneliness has made them. Their pickiness may be an unconscious defense mechanism, so they can avoid putting themselves out there and possibly getting hurt and rejected. They may have deeper baggage because their emotional connection needs weren't met as a kid, and now it feels like no one is good enough to fill that void.
If you're picky it can be hard to tell whether your seemingly so-so friends are an iffy match, or if they're actually a good fit for you, but you're focusing on every tiny foible so you've got an excuse to drop them. If you know you can be overly choosy it can make sense to lean toward giving apparently partial matches a chance, rather than dismissing them right away, and seeing if they grow on you in time. You can always move on down the road if a better connection doesn't develop.