What Do You Do When Your Friendships Change?

I have several incredible groups of girlfriends who have been my foundation.

Some are sorority sisters who I may have met over a stainless-steel keg, but whose bond was forged in something so much stronger than steel.

Some are former coworkers who were right beside me in the trenches through the good, the bad and the, “Did he really effing just say that?!”

Some are the post-college crowd who helped me find out who I am and what I’m made of. They were there when I realized I didn’t need a man to complete me, that I was a whole person on my own, and cheered me on and truly felt happiness for me when I met the man that would show me I could be more than I already was.

Those women have been with me at the precise moments in life where I needed them most and hopefully I have done the same for them. We lift each other up, we support each other’s dreams and we carry the load when one has grown weary and needs a shoulder to cry on.

My life has been full of changes in the last few years. I got married, moved from the West side to the East side (Gasp!! People do that?!), had a baby, lost my job, started my own business, got a new job. I like to call these changes “life.” Everything I just listed is pretty typical stuff. It can be completely overwhelming, life-changing, core-rocking stuff, but it’s all stuff that happens to many women at some point in their lives.

When these or other changes happen, we change as a result. If you’re of a scientific mind, I offer you Charles Darwin’s thoughts, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

So you adapt and congratulations are in order because it means you’ll survive!

Then the question becomes how do your friendships, adapt to the changes? You became friends because of some common thread and perhaps that thread has unraveled when change set in. How can you be friends with someone who isn’t the same person they were when you met?

I have found there are 3 factors to consider if you’re trying to adapt to a friendship that has changed over time: evaluation, compassion and honesty.

  1. Evaluate the friendship. Ick, that sounds very clinical and cold, but hear me out. Take a step back and evaluate the relationship. You’d do it if it were a romantic relationship and you certainly do it if it were a business relationship, so offer your friendship the same courtesy. What are you giving? What are you getting? Does the cumulative effect of this relationship make your life better in some way? I’ll sidebar here for a quick second and tell you what my Grandpa used to say. He said that every relationship is 100 percent and that the two people in that relationship have to make up that 100 percent. Sometimes you’ll be giving 80 and they’ll give 20 percent. Sometimes you’ll be giving 40 and they’ll give 60 percent. It will probably never be 50/50, but at the end of the day if there’s 100 percent going in, there’s 100 percent coming out. (Not bad for a kid from Cleveland who worked for Otis Elevator for 50 years.)
  2. Have some compassion. It’s so easy to see things from only your perspective and it’s completely natural to do that, but push yourself a little harder here and try to see what’s going on in their world. Life might just be chewing them up and spitting them out. They might be barely keeping their heads above water, personally or professionally, and in that case they need you more than ever. You may need them too, but I promise if you put up that 60 or 70 percent and they’re a true friend, they’ll give you every bit of the 40 or 30 percent they have to offer and meet you at 100. Try to look at what’s going on in their lives and see if that might shed some light on why they may be seemingly ghosting you right now. Contrary to my belief, my mom says it’s not all about me, so I try to look a little deeper. While you might feel like your whole world is crashing down, they just might be even more of a mess. Look at it this way, reaching out and helping them instead of wondering why they aren’t helping you might distract you from the crazy stuff in your life!
  3. Trust and be honest. So this one is the toughest in my opinion. You have to have some faith in the friendship and the things that brought you together in first place. Trust that the person you care about is going to appreciate the honesty and not judge you for it. Sit down and have an honest conversation about life. We all have perfect jobs and perfect husbands or boyfriends or girlfriends and perfect kids or pets or families, right? Nothing does more damage to a friendship than false honesty. Be real with each other. We all have enough bullshit to deal with everywhere else, our friendships should be a safe haven for truth. If life sucks, own it. If you’re scared, hurt, frustrated, or just need someone to listen and NOT try to fix it…then say that. You’re not helping anyone suffering in silence or projecting the perfect life when it’s far from that. It’s okay to not have all the answers.

The second part of the honestly portion of this is being honest about how you’re feeling about the friendship. If you feel abandoned, say that. You don’t have to do it in an aggressive, accusatory way, but you should still tell them you miss them. Tell them you need them. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit you need a little love and support from someone who has demonstrated in the past that they love and support you.

The truth is that life is going to keep happening and we’re all going to keep changing. Friendships are like living, breathing things. They need care and watering. They are born, grow and change. Some of them will die and that is a hard truth, but you should treat them with kindness and give them the chance to be successful. Do your part. BE a friend and see if she can meet you part of the way there.

There’s a saying that goes, “A good friend will bail you out of jail, but a true friend will be sitting next to you saying, ‘that was fun!” We all love the ride or die friends, but consider that your life is still much better off because the good friend just couldn’t make the party that night, but answers her phone when you call and has bail money.

Be kind to each other and respect your differences as much as your similarities.

About author View all posts

Julie Symonds

Resident of Believeland. Director of Marketing @refinerydesign. Self-titled awesome wife. New mom. Embrace each day with kind tenacity.

6 CommentsLeave a comment

  • So well written and spot on. Becoming an Ohioan, a mom, freelancer and farmHER has changed my village tremendously. I’ve held near and dear as well as added those friendships that keep it real. Challenge me, love me, set me straight, lift me up, check in when I go radio silent and remind me that every sunrise is a goshdarn gift! Those who take life by the horns and see a purebred horse in a pile of manure are my lifeline. But we all hold a shovel at some point to balance out the 100% ?

    • Exactly! Thanks for the comment Rachel! If we can’t be honest with each other, then why are we friends? We should challenge each other and lift each other up!

  • I recently had a falling out with one of my closest friends of nearly 20 years. It was so painful, but it also needed to happen. She had become such a negative, brutal force on my life, dragging me down with her & basically just… holding me hostage, it felt like. I miss her so much, but I don’t miss feeling like that all the time.

    • Kate- Ugh that’s so tough. We know how to break up in romantic relationships (though those don’t always go well, lol) but breaking up with a friend is tough and there’s really no blueprint for it. Good for you for being able to recognize it wasn’t healthy and do something about it.

  • Thank you for this wonderful post, Julie. My life over the past five years has gone through some extreme changes due to cancer and a major career change. As a result, relating to my long-time friends has been a bit challenging. The previous common threads have been missing. They are supportive, of course, but nobody can necessarily relate or understand the complexity of my health struggles. I need to have the compassion to see that their lives have their own complexities that I may not be aware of.

    • Thank you for your comment Susan! It’s so nice to know the article resonated for a few people! You’ve been through so much, keep in mind it’s ok to keep working on trying to help them understand. I can’t speak for your friends, but I know if it would me, I would want so much to try to understand what it is like for you so that I could find ways to support you more. The more we can each understand the other, the more we all win. Thanks again for your comment!

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