It’s ingrained in us from birth: friends are forever. We visualize our high school BFFs as our bridesmaids and our college friend group as future neighbors (in a culdesac, of course). But the hard reality is that, like a lot of things, friendships are not constant and it’s normal for them to change.
It won’t happen overnight. Unless there are some serious issues brewing beneath the surface, you’re not going to have a friend breakup the moment you cross the stage at college graduation. In fact, you and your friends will probably pretend you’re still in college until it’s not sustainable anymore.
Then one day, you realize that you haven’t spoken to that friend who moved to LA in six months. Or you’ll notice that your former best friend is slowly phasing you out and spending more time with her new friends from work. You might realize that you and your friends are evolving at different rates and no longer relate to one another.
Why Do Friendships Change?
Think about it: up until college graduation, you and your pals were moving through life at a similar pace. Together, you went to prom, toured colleges, started freshman year, and applied for your first jobs. You had life events in common. And unbeknownst to you, those were the glue holding together some friendships.
After graduating, everyone chose their own adventure. Some friends jumped right into a graduate program while others moved to another country, and some even started a family. All of these changes and differences might make you wonder if you and your friends ever had anything in common in the first place.
If you’ve noticed that you no longer connect with certain pals anymore, know that that’s completely normal and part of growing up. Unfortunately, scientists have yet to discover a “pause” button for life.
What To Do When Friendships Change
So, you feel yourself growing apart from a friend (or several), and you feel torn. If you’ve already put in the effort to keep the friendship alive and you still feel like things are changing for the worse, here’s what to do next.
1. Check your expectations.
To some extent, every friendship is going to look different during college versus after college. After all, one version of the friendship was within the false-reality we call college and the other involves full-time jobs, bills, and seemingly endless chores (Mom, where are you?!).
Before you confront your friend about how you only see her once a week, check yourself. Everyone has a lot on their plate in post-grad and spending every waking minute with friends is no longer realistic. You also can’t expect your friends to have the same energy levels that they used to.
So if your friend declines an invite to hit the bars on a Thursday, don’t write her off just yet. Home girl has gotta work.
2. Have a conversation.
Okay, so you’ve checked yourself and believe your expectations are within reason. The next step is direct communication. Sometimes, a conversation is all it takes for a friend to realize they’ve left you on read three times in a row and the relationship is feeling one-sided.
Try something like: “Hey, I know you’re really busy, but I miss you! When’s the next time we can pencil in some friend time?”
The conversation will look different if your concern is around changing dynamics. Maybe your friend is treating you differently, or perhaps they’ve made it clear that other friends are a bigger priority. This situation warrants a heart-to-heart about how you’re feeling. If this person is mature and wants to continue being your friend, they will be receptive.
If they aren’t…
3. Accept the new dynamics.
One of the most difficult things when friendships change is accepting the new reality. It is challenging to internalize that the person you used to spend every night on the couch with is now more of an acquaintance — and there’s no discounting that.
First and foremost, you’re allowed to mourn the loss of a friendship. As we do with romantic breakups, give yourself time to be sad about a friend you’ve lost or grown apart from. It’s disappointing and in some instances can even call your own identity into question.
Once you’ve felt your emotions, it’s time to accept the new reality: this person will no longer be in your life like they used to. That’s not to say they’ll never make a comeback, but it’s best to accept where the friendship stands now.
4. Find new friends who you are more aligned with.
The best solution to growing distant from old friends? Find new ones! We all change drastically in early adulthood, so the people around you are likely also in the market for new pals. Take advantage of this time period to bond with others who are friend-shopping.
Finding friends as a fully-formed adult gives us the opportunity to meet people who are aligned with our current values and interests. After all, you’re picking them without high school popularity or college booze clouding your judgment.
The friends you meet in post-grad might be some of the most authentic friendships you have. We have a whole article on how to make friends in a new city for suggestions on how to put yourself out there.
5. Remember that it’s normal for friendships to change.
Changing friendships can cause an identity crisis – especially if that person was your best friend. You may even harbor guilt over the loss of the friendship. When these emotions start to bubble up, it’s important to remember that this is a normal part of adulthood that virtually everyone experiences.
Losing a friend doesn’t make you a bad person, a loser, or responsible for the end of the friendship. Oftentimes, it’s a result of two people taking different life paths or holding opposing priorities.
When friendships change, it’s important to free yourself from the responsibility of the loss, and remember these relationships will continue to ebb and flow throughout the rest of your life.
Friends Grow Apart… And That’s Okay
The truth is, some friends are better left in college. It can be painful to let go of friends you thought would be in your life forever, but it’s part of the normal cycle of life.
Think about your parents’ friends – chances are, many of them came from later stages of life.
Losing a friend is not easy, but remember: you still have yet to meet the best friends of your lifetime.