I Feel Guilty Ditching Friends For 'Me Time' – And Burn Myself Out Instead

I give up my evenings alone to be a better friend. But do I actually feel better for it?

Group Chat is a weekly series where HuffPost UK writers address the diary dilemmas we all face and how to reclaim our social lives in a busy world.

What day are you free next week, they ask. Tuesday and Friday, I say. Only with slight reservations because yes, I am free Tuesday and Friday next week, but I am only free Tuesday and Friday next week. And it’s taken me nearly 29 years to realise that filling up my diary with social events every evening does not bring me joy.

It’s not that I don’t want to socialise. I love evening drinks, spontaneous theatre trips, brunch on the weekend, coffee meets, yoga classes with pals and dinner around a friend’s house. I don’t want to spend every evening at home with a cup of tea in bed at 9pm – but I need a few of those evenings, nestled in between the busy ones, to make me feel my best. It’s my winning formula.

Those evenings – the ones spent alone, doing sweet FA – recharge me like nothing else can. Sometimes they involve writing in my journal or doing life admin. Other times I lie on my bed, staring into space for an hour, before I realise it’s time to cook. And most of the time, they end in a solid dose of uninterrupted sleep. I feel instantly refreshed after one night of it – doubly so after two. And then I’m ready to meet, drink wine, laugh far too loudly, and forget it’s a school night with my friends again.

So it seems simple – give yourself days off for “me-time” and see your friends when you want to see your friends, right? That’s where it gets tricky.

nadia_bormotova via Getty Images

My friends are scattered around, from every little corner, milestone and journey in my life. It’s not a case of one big meet-up each week with my pals in one go, then happily using the rest of the week to do Absolutely Nothing by myself.

In the city I live in, I have friends from my old job that I’ve never lost touch with; flatmates I lived with for three years who moved on, but whose lives and news I still want to know about; school friends who I don’t see as much as I’d like to; uni friends who live around the corner; friends I work with now who I want to see outside the office for once; pals I met travelling and promised to stay in touch with; and family who work near me but who I end up seeing only on birthdays or celebrations because “I’m sorry, I’m just so busy at the moment”.

God, it sounds smug doesn’t it? “I’m sorry, I have so many friends that I just can’t keep up.” But it’s not that at all – I feel like an outgoing person who loves to socialise should have no problem. But this is me – someone who needs an evening or two of downtime to balance out an evening or two of socialising – and I find it hard to strike the balance.

What day are you free next week, they ask. I look at my diary and see I’m already busy three out of five school nights. I know, deep down, that adding in another social activity will make me fear work come Monday morning. But I don’t want to let them down. And I want to see and catch up with them, of course. So I give them a day, we agree to meet, and by Sunday night, I feel a sense of underlying anxiety that I only have one evening to myself this week.

You see, when I do palm off fun social activities for the sake of “me-time”, I end up feeling guilty – like I’ve dropped the ball on my friendships. I sit at home (doing Absolutely Nothing), telling myself this is for the best. It’s for my wellbeing. It’ll make me feel better in the long run. But I'm laden with guilt. And I don’t know how to say it, either – “Yes, I am free next week, but actually, rather than seeing you, I just want to be on my own”. So I end up making a shitty excuse – I’m too busy right now, can we reschedule?

When we do finally meet up, three months after I last saw them, I blame myself – because I am the one who has failed at being a social butterfly. I promise not to do it again, and I give up my evenings alone to be a better friend. But I don’t feel better for it. What’s the solution? Honesty?

What day are you free next week, my former flatmate recently asked me. I looked at my diary. It was busy (for me). I looked at the next week, just as busy. “Can we do something in a few weeks time? I’ve got a few things coming up and I just need some chill time for myself, too,” I replied.

“Absolutely,” she said.