You and your bestie thought you could weather any storm. From that freshman-year dorm fiasco to navigating a big-city move together, you knew this person would be there to make you laugh with one of your eleventy-million inside jokes. But it’s been five years since you were last roomies, and your lives have taken you in very different directions. Having a friendship go the way of Issa and Molly’s on Insecure sucks, and that feeling that you and your friend are drifting away from each other can come with a lot of guilt over not being able to make the friendship work.
"There are many reasons why drifts take place: from a move/relocation to a friend getting married and/or having a baby to simply being busy. Friendships ebb and flow so any change or life event can cause some type of drift (big or small). Sometimes we may not even notice the drift until we realize we haven't seen or talked to that friend in a while," Nicole Zangara, LCSW, author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, tells Bustle.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had lasting effects on friendships; one survey by Swinburne University academics in 2020 found that on average, adults had progressively shrunk their social networks throughout COVID. Without physical contact, like hugs, people felt more unmoored from their best mates — and many casual friendships collapsed entirely.
You don’t have to keep every friend you’ve ever had, ever. And sometimes, the vibes might be off just temporarily. But if you notice any of the 16 signs below on an ongoing basis, you may be drifting away from a friend for good.
1. You Spend Less Time Together
While you don't have to hang out with your buddy all the time, you no longer care to give an effort to do so — heck, you don't even remember what their face looks like or what's going on in their life. (OK, not that dramatic). "You two don't talk as much anymore or the calls/texts/emails become less frequent,” Zangara says. She adds that if you’re used to texting twice a week, a small reduction isn’t a big deal — but if you drop from calls once a day to a .gif every stray Saturday or so, it’s a signal that the friendship’s on the decline
2. You Don't Reach Out To Them As Often As You Used To
Let's be real: just liking your friend's Instagram post doesn't count. If you don't remember the last time you actually had a conversation with them, then you might want to re-evaluate the friendship. “I realized the friendship was seriously deteriorating when I felt too tired to tell them any news. Any news at all,” Briony, 28, tells Bustle.
“Sometimes, you can feel it,” Cynthia Catchings LCSW-S, LCSW-C, a therapist with mental health platform Talkspace, tells Bustle. Once you were sending each other constant opinions about the Bachelor, but now episodes pass without a peep.
"Maybe you're the one who usually reaches out to schedule a coffee date, but you've stopped doing that. The more you back away, the more the distance of the drift," says Zangara.
3. Cancellations Happen Constantly
If one of you “constantly cancels the plan at the last minute,” Catchings says, that’s a signal of a growing gulf. Several months of plan ping-pong, where you send suggestions back and forth but can’t actually commit to a meet-up, or automatically feel like bailing every time the day comes around? It’s a symptom of distance.
4. There Are More Negative Interactions Than Positive
You might be drifting apart from your friend if you feel like nothing positive is coming out of the friendship. "Research shows that healthy relationships need a positivity/negative ratio of 5:1, meaning that we need five deposits in our love banks for every withdrawal,” Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, tells Bustle. “When our friendships start feeling more draining or exhausting, we can often start pulling away. If we are harboring feelings of frustration, annoyance, or obligation — chances are high that unless they are intentionally addressed, your desire to stay engaged will start to drift apart."
It can be hard to deal with these feelings when you’ve got so many good memories together. But Liz Kelly, LICSW, also a therapist with Talkspace, recommends you don’t push away those emotions. “Paying attention to how you feel with certain people can help you be more intentional about the relationships you want to cultivate in your life,” she says.
5. You're Holding Things Back
A great friendship relies on being vulnerable with one another. So it's natural for someone to drift away from a friend if they hold things back and just have a surface-level relationship. "If we sense ourselves holding back from sharing things about our lives — that’s often a sign that something isn’t feeling safe in the friendship," says Nelson. “I just didn’t want to talk about anything, good or bad,” Briony says.
6. You’re Not Interested In Any Of The Same Things
You used to be closer than two peas in a pod and chat for hours about the stuff you both adore, but now you’re becoming more like Lila and Lenu in My Brilliant Friend. Heidi McBain, LMFT, a relationship and grief therapist, tells Bustle that if you get together and simply don’t show interest in the same things, or don’t have a lot to talk about, things are drifting apart.
7. You Feel A Disconnect
You don't know why, but you feel like you don't know who your friend is anymore. And even though you feel this way, you don't have a desire to fix it. This can be a sign you and your friend are drifting apart.
“I came out as bisexual and the girl I thought was quite a good friend started drifting away,” Lita, 30, tells Bustle. “A wall went up. I don’t know whether that was the thing responsible, though, because we never talked about it.”
"If we catch ourselves clamming up, or sense that she is, then the friendship is at risk of either plating or drifting apart because all of us ultimately want to be seen and accepted by our friends," says Nelson.
8. You Feel Tense When You're Around Them
When you hang out with a friend, you want to feel accepted. It doesn't make sense to be in a LTF (long-term friendship) with someone if you no longer feel like yourself when you're around them. “Are you energized and uplifted? Or are you drained and feeling down or irritable?” Kelly says. “If you feel negative after spending time with a friend, that is a sign that the friendship may be drifting apart.”
9. You Don’t Celebrate Their Successes
They’ve got a promotion, bought a house, achieved their biggest dream — and instead of throwing a Beyoncé-level bash to celebrate their amazingness, you have to muster up the energy to like their Instagram about it. People in gradually severing friendships can feel jealous or envious of the other person’s success, McBain says. It may also be a sign that the relationship is becoming a bit toxic.
10. Your Lives Have Changed
It's completely normal for you or your friend to grow. “Friendships can and do change depending on your stage of life,” Kelly says. “For example, you might rely on your best friend from college less once you both graduate and now have full time jobs and other responsibilities.” But sometimes that means people grow in different directions.
“Maybe [the distance] was because I started to go out to queer clubs and events, and my friend didn’t want to come along,” Lita says.
"It's not good or bad, it just happens, so it's important to be aware of these changes," says Zangara.
11. You’re Annoyed After Seeing Them
You come away from a standard brunch or museum date, but unlike the old days, your friend’s words and actions rub you the wrong way. “You’re not enjoying each other’s company,” McBain says. Irritation or exhaustion after hanging out show that you’re becoming more distant, Catchings says.
12. Your Life Has Become More Important Than The Friendship
If your life is taking precedence over the friendship — as in, you’re always too busy to hang out or get in touch — then that might be a sign that you're drifting away from your friend. "It often starts off unconsciously, but friendships where we don’t keep up with each other will be susceptible to drifting apart,” Nelson says. This can happen when people move or change jobs — or, say, after a pandemic suddenly cuts everybody off from their friends.
“The big question in these moments is to be aware of choices: do want to stay connected to this person right now and invest the time it will take or do we feel peace with letting distance show up right now?" says Nelson.
13. None Of Your Shared Jokes Land
Once you traded loving jokes and quips faster than Abbi and Ilana on Broad City, but now you’re just not feeling each others’ vibe — and the belly laughs aren’t coming, no matter how hard you try. Not having a shared sense of humor any more can be a symptom of drifting, McBain says. There are some humor gaps you can get over — you can support your friend’s obsession with John Mulaney’s stand-up without being into it yourself — but a total lack of laughs between you can be harder to fight.
14. You Don’t Want To Make Time For One Another
Trying to make plans and consistently cancelling is one thing, but Catchings says there’s another symptom of a growing space between you: not wanting to make time for one another at all. If the thought of devoting room on your calendar to them fills you with exhaustion or dread, or you feel as if they stonewall you every time you suggest plans, the distance is real.
15. You Harbor Your Feelings Instead Of Fixing The Relationship
You know a friendship is over when you have no desire to fix it. You rather hold things back because you feel like it's pointless to address the issue than reconnect with a friend over coffee. "If we are harboring feelings of frustration, annoyance, or obligation — chances are high that unless they are intentionally addressed, your desire to stay engaged will start to drift apart," says Nelson.
Catchings says it’s a good idea to talk to your friend if you feel like you’re the one actively drifting away. What about the friendship isn’t working for you? Can you try to fix it? If you don’t have a desire to have these conversations, though, it could mean the friendship is already over.
16. You’ve Already Started Grieving The Friendship
It could be that all signs on this friendship point to do-not-resuscitate. Grieving a friendship can mean you refer to your relationship in the past tense (even if you technically have plans next week), or you find yourself pained by reminders of your previous BFF-dom. If you feel like you're not invested in your friend as you once were or you constantly hold things back when you're around them, then it might be time to either re-evaluate the friendship or simply slip away.
“Not all friendships have to last forever,” Kelly says. “But even if you drift apart from a friend, that doesn’t make the friendship and the memories you have any less meaningful.” If you’re really struggling with it, or want to try and fix the relationship with some new, healthier boundaries, McBain suggests talking to a therapist who can help you through your emotions.
Cynthia Catchings LCSW-S, LCSW-C
Liz Kelly LICSW
Heidi McBain LMFT
Nicole Zangara LCSW
Lippke, S., Fischer, M. A., & Ratz, T. (2021). Physical Activity, Loneliness, and Meaning of Friendship in Young Individuals - A Mixed-Methods Investigation Prior to and During the COVID-19 Pandemic With Three Cross-Sectional Studies. Frontiers in psychology, 12, 617267. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.617267
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