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Character is so largely affected by association, that we cannot afford to be indifferent as to who or what our friends are.

-- Anonymous

'W here's Mary?" Carolyn asked as revelers began to arrive.

"Not invited," I said.

"What? How can you just not invite her? You guys are, like, best friends, aren't you?" She was flummoxed.

"I'm cleaning house, and she's on the list," I said. "It's no big deal. There are plenty of people coming. If she shows up, I'm sure I'll cope."

"Cleaning house" is a term I picked up from a self-help book during my "quest for emotional independence" phase. For me, the phrase means reevaluating the people in my life and determining whether or not I want them to be there. When I lived in L.A. I met scores of prospective friends -- and found myself cleaning house every three months. It's true I'd hung out with Mary frequently, partying hard, staying up late at night, high out of our minds, analyzing our lives by picking apart people we knew. Then one day something changed and I thought: I don't want this person in my life anymore.

Lately, I've been in this pensive state of mind, redefining what friendship means to me, and discovering there are fewer people than I had imagined who fulfill my felicitous, symbiotic-friendship need.

Whether it is because I have matured or am busier than usual, I'm hyperaware that I do not want to waste my time on one-sided relationships; I'm ready to clip back the bush in order to allow selected buds to thrive and bloom. I don't have to spend time with people I don't care for -- time-wasters, energy vampires, my dad would say. "Black holes, devouring every bit of time and energy you have, and giving only blackness in return." Perhaps it's not that dramatic, but there's still some serious spring cleaning to be done.

The first step in my process of evaluation is to ponder the traits my friends can expect of me: kindness, laughter, insight, and inspiration. Certain people float above the rest -- good friends who exhibit all of these traits and more. Then another handful of names comes to mind: fun folks I want to have around but maybe not every day. Finally, I'm left with a few names that don't fit anywhere; thick grains left at the bottom that refused to emulsify. These are the people I must scrub away.

Just as you need different cleaning products for different areas of your home, various methods must be employed to wipe from your life different breeds of toxic people. Blunt honesty works best for those who betray.

"I am no longer your friend," I said to someone over lunch a few years ago. Prior to this eye-opening meal, she had begun to act strangely. I'd overheard her lying about inconsequential things, witnessed her exacerbating tense situations by playing people against each other, and other such juvenile behavior. The day it all came to a head -- when I caught her lying to me -- I felt betrayed and abandoned. For two days, I mourned the friendship as though I'd lost a sister. The following week I told her, "I am no longer your friend. I don't even care what the truth is anymore." And that was it.

When I outgrow a friend -- when our values diverge drastically but no actual offense has been committed -- I casually transition the person from the revered spot of "friend" to the distanced spot of "acquaintance." My ex-friend Lori is a perfect example. We were tight for two years, and then she started saying things like, "Oh, thank Goddess you're here" and changed her name to something ridiculous, like High Priestess Lilith Pashmina. In my opinion, she had gone off the proverbial deep end. I have no interest in putting up with anyone who takes herself and her newly discovered pseudo-spirituality/sexuality/lifestyle too seriously.

You can't come right out and say, "I think you're full of shit" to someone you outgrow because chances are a friend who has convinced herself that her behavior is on par with the divine path of righteousness rather than what it is -- self-gratifying, egotistical nonsense -- is not likely to come to her senses anytime soon.

What you can do is stop putting forth any effort. I wouldn't care if I were to attend a function and run into Lori -- or whatever the fuck her name is nowadays. I'd smile, go through the social pleasantries, and make my escape. She has thus been effectively cleansed from the clutter of my mental living room and placed neatly on a shelf in the garage.

There is nothing wrong with choosing your company. Those who are not selective about whom they let into their lives tend to waste the most time and experience the most drama. One year, I was trapped in obligating circumstances for weeks at a time, and I have sworn never again to put myself in such a position.

"Sure, you can stay with me" is the stupidest sentence one can say to one who is an insidious parasite. Helpless people are -- you guessed it -- impossible to help. After being put out time and again, after bitching to others about how so-and-so is ruining my life with her dependence on me, I am able to sense an oncoming leech from a distance, and my tolerance for them is nil.

The words "I was never able to do BLANK because BLANK" are enough to make me delete someone's info from my cell phone. I have no room for self-proclaimed martyrs. When cleaning house, it is always ridding myself of perpetual victims that takes the most elbow grease. Because of too many exasperating experiences with "victims," I spot them quickly and avoid them like a bad hair day.

The way I see it, if you are in unhappy circumstances, chances are you're the one who put yourself there, and you're the one who's going to have to lift yourself out. Constantly moaning for sympathy and singing the "Oh, poor, pitiful me" song is not going to effect a change in your life situation. If I see you making a serious effort to help yourself up again, I will be the first one by your side to lend an arm.

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