Though we may not realize, our friendships are just as complex as our romantic relationships. As individuals, we can never fully understand the inner workings of another person – their thoughts, emotions, decisions – and there will come a time when life and personal growth lead to natural separation.
We have our childhood friends, those with whom we experienced every major milestone and continue to share adulthood. Other friends surface in different chapters – new jobs, new romantic relationships, new homes – and others have yet to surface. What remains constant throughout the shifting of friends and friend groups is the need for a support system; a group of people who will add value, love, emotional support, and genuine camaraderie to your life.
As we grow older, we find that some friends fade away, whether slowly and without a trace or dramatically and not without hurt. Though there are a number of factors that contribute to the quality, length, and wealth of friendships, conflict between two people is simply unavoidable. From conflict, however, generally comes resolution or apathy, which most often ends in separation.
Drifting away from friendships is natural, albeit distressing, at any age; however, it becomes common and can be difficult to handle in adulthood. To discuss the natural progression of friendships and friendship loss, I consulted with Texas-based Dr. Nicole Richardson, LMFT, LPC-S, and NYC-based clinical psychologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez.
If you find yourself losing touch with friends you once considered your very best, here are nine things to know.
1. Don't Be Stubborn; Make The Effort To Talk About It
Dr. Richardson draws comparison between friendships and a rubber band, saying, "There are times when the rubber band is stretched very tight; things are tense and the pair may feel very distant. And there are other times when the rubber band feels loose and easy, and the pair find it effortless to come together. It's important to remember that even in enduring relationships, this is natural."
In any relationship, particularly a friendship, there will be highs and lows; long periods of contentment and lapses of conflict. As Dr. Richardson notes, it's important to remember this natural evolution, so as to not jump to the conclusion that a relationship is not worthwhile or not adding value to your life, but rather talk it through.
"When things are tight, it is important to talk about it. Has something happened? Is there a real issue in the relationship? Or is it simply that life (geography, work, partner, kids, etc.) is pulling them in two different directions? If it's tension, and the relationship is valuable to you, it is worth trying to work things out. If it is life, are there ways you can each make an effort to work on things? (Like scheduling phone dates, having standing times for walks together, etc.)," Dr. Richardson expands on how we can best address those times we're walking on eggshells.
Often in conflict, one or both people involved will avoid confrontation out of fear or reluctance to admit wrongdoing. In the case of a friendship in need of repair, give yourself a short period of time to cool off and collect your thoughts before addressing the issue. Whatever it is, it can surely be talked through. When you're ready to have a civil conversation with your friend, Dr. Richardson notes, "It is important that both friends must engage in the maintenance of the friendship. It can be very painful when one friend wants to work on things and the other friend seemingly doesn't care."
2. Consider What This Friendship Is Adding To Your Life
Some friends may have been in your life since you were a child, while others just became regulars in recent time. No matter the length of the friendship, old or new, the people in our lives tend to have purpose, and if they are meant to stay, will solidify their place rather quickly through that purpose.
If you're not sure whether a friend is a positive, beneficial person in your life any longer, ask yourself some questions before determining whether to maintain the friendship or let it go. As Dr. Richardson asks, "How do you feel before, during and after time with this friend? Does she listen when you speak? Do you feel cared about and supported? Does she deem your opinion valid, even if it is not inline with hers?"
Look back to when you first met this person, or recall how this friend has been handling social situations since the tense period began. Dr. Richardson talks about how a person's treatment of others is a direct reflection of his or her personality and how he or she will treat you in a friendship.
"Do not assume that she will treat you differently than she treats other people. If she speaks negatively about others behind their back, assume she does that to you. If she is unkind to others, assume that eventually she will be unkind to you. If she exaggerates slights from others, assume that eventually she will do the same to you. We often believe that we are the exception and that we have a special relationship with someone, and they would never treat us the way they treat others – that is not the case," Dr. Richardson tells me via email.
3. Treat The Situation Like A Romantic Breakup
"[Close friendships] often have been built over years, and they are often the people we go to when our romantic relationships crumble. So when they end, it can be very painful. ... Do not call, do not text, do not bad mouth, do not visit their Facebook page daily and torture yourself," Dr. Richardson suggests.
Treat this friendship breakup like a romantic breakup. Just as you mourn the loss of a love, you should mourn the loss of a close friend. The choice to remove someone from your life for the betterment of you is a positive one, and you should not make it harder on yourself through these underlying methods of torture, like consistent contact and social media stalking.
What else do we do while getting over romantic breakups? We focus on ourselves and becoming the best version of ourselves to feel better and move on.
Dr. Richardson asks, "What can you learn about yourself and your friendships? Was it that the two of you grew apart naturally over time? Was it that there was conflict? Either way, it is important to take stock without being unkind to yourself. Remember that friends should not make us feel less than; they should be kind mirrors, lending support and sharing in hard times. Friends should not make us feel like we are less than, inferior or without."
Take the time to introspect. Recognize what made the friendship fail and choose to move on having learned what you need in a good friend.
"Self-care is critical at this point. Work out, eat properly, engage in hobbies and other things that make you feel good about yourself. It may take a while for you to feel like yourself again, but you will," assures Dr. Richardson.
4. Avoid Contact To Avoid Incident
"If there are other people in the social circle who are close to her, it may impact your relationship with the other people. It is important to know and accept that before you move forward," says Dr. Richardson.
As expected, whether this friend has been in your life for many years or a few months, it's likely you've spent time in the same social circles. Understand the implications of the changes in one friendship on your others and be prepared for what may result. Letting go of one friend may also mean losing one or a few acquaintances who are closer with the friend than they are with you.
When push comes to shove, Dr. Richardson suggests, "If you have tried to talk to her and work things out with her but you are simply unable to be around her, it may be best to limit your time with the group, or not attend events/gatherings when you know she will be there."
5. Distance Yourself
In addition to limiting your interactions in group settings, distance yourself in all areas. Even when incidental contact does occur in social situations, "Avoid spending time together one on one. ... Do not engage in conflict. If she attempts to start conflict with you, excuse yourself from the situation," Dr. Richardson states.
Choose to be the bigger, more mature person in the situation. If you've run through the appropriate steps to handling the situation, beginning with an attempt at a civil conversation, take the high road and be as cordial as possible.
Dr. Hafeez suggests the best way to do this is to "always be pleasant and polite but firm and true to your boundaries. Say hello and move on to speaking to the people you want to engage with."
6. Appreciate The Silver Lining
It's important to remember that friendship breakups most often happen for the best – for you and for your friend. No matter what sparked the decision to part ways, it's natural for many old friendships to fizzle out in order to make room for new bonds to form.
"As we grow and experience different situations and challenges in life, we see friendships that once were a match for us fall away and new friendships form. Personal growth, choosing to better oneself, and getting out of comfort zones often leads to 'out-growing' friendships and growing into new ones," Dr. Hafeez tells Bustle via email.
7. Allow Yourself To Cut Out Negativity
When we realize the presence of unhealthy, unnecessary relationships in our lives, we may choose to trim away at the negativity to make space for only positive influence. Think of it as spring cleaning, only hopefully not as often.
There are clear signs certain friendships no longer fit, or their purpose in your life was short-lived and has been outgrown. It's OK to swallow the pill and dismiss the bad in favor of the good; the old in favor of the new.
If you're finding it difficult to identify the problematic friendships, Dr. Hafeez says, "If a friendship is based on gossiping about others, that's a red flag. If they gossip to you and with you, they'll gossip about you. Also, negativity and complaining combined with a neediness can be a toxic and draining friendship. A lack of accountability and respect is a big indicator. It's important to pay attention to actions."
8. Focus On Healthy Friendships
"A woman can choose who she wants to spend her time with, and if there are others in the group she gets along with better, then she can focus on the healthy, joyous friendships. The toxic friendship will typically fall away," Dr. Hafeez states it simply.
We are the curators of our own lives. By our own choice and preference, we determine what makes life fulfilling and enjoyable, and we are entitled to changing our needs and desires as frequently as we like. Take control of your life in such a way that you do not allow negative people to permeate your happiness.
9. Accept That People Change & Go In Different Directions
"If two people meet at age 5 and are instant best friends, they will both do a lot of growing and changing in the next 20 years, and they will have to find new ways to relate in order for the friendship to remain in tact. But, just like in marriage, both people must work for the friendship for that to happen and even if they do, they may simply no longer find it easy to relate to one another," according to Dr. Richardson.
It's not difficult to relate or understand how a friendship might simply fade away as two people grow up, mature, and take different paths in life. Although you may be the same or similar in age, two friends can end up in completely different stages of life, unable to find common ground as they once did.
Dr. Hafeez also touches on the subject, saying, "As we proceed through life, our experiences and life circumstances shape our beliefs, personalities, and interests. This explains why the friend you made at an early age may drift away years later. This also explains why women often drift once one gets married or becomes a mother. Different lifestyles impact friendships. While many people can remain friends for many years and though various life stages, it is rare."
It's natural and fair to outgrow friendships; however, it's the responsibility of you and your friend to maintain and put effort into the relationship if it's one you wish to keep around.
As previously stated, our lives are ours to build and cherish, and if the loss or presence of a friendship will either benefit or hurt your happiness, take ownership of the choice to determine which way it will go. Some friends will come into your life for only a short time, while others will have a place there forever.