I was recently in awe of the fact that my mother and her childhood best friend, after drifting apart and not speaking as much for years, found their way back to each other. Their friendship seems to be more real and similar to how it was in the beginning. Both of them are mothers now, successful women with careers and their lives have just become very different.
Often, I do not hear stories of people reconnecting and meeting again as two entirely new and different people who have both changed that are on these good terms, appreciating each other for their growth. This happens to many people in varying degrees of friendship, so why can’t we just love friends from afar after growing apart?
Instead, our society teaches us to stay in unhealthy relationships or friendships that we feel are harming our well-being or mental health, to try to force something instead of having genuine and meaningful friendships or end on bad terms because of hurt.
I feel as though I have grown and changed so much during college that I do not even know the girl I was freshman year. I still have so much to learn, but I feel like college is a time when you really begin to figure out who you are, what you want, and most importantly, you learn that you deserve to surround yourself with people who are lifting you up and not tearing you down, intentionally or unintentionally.
I learned that I am not selfish for setting boundaries or not wanting to be in friendships that were negatively affecting my well-being, and that I do not deserve to be gaslighted for advocating for myself.
Psychotherapist Katherine Schafler said to think about the music you listened to in high school versus now. They’re probably pretty different. “Just like music and clothing tastes naturally grow and change as we do, our social circle expands and contracts in similar ways,” Schafler says.
An evolving social circle is also likely a sign that you’re growing as a person, discovering new interests, making different choices about your life priorities, or are just influenced by the zeitgeist of the day. “As you grow, move cities, change jobs, have kids, and connect with new people, it’s of course only natural that who you feel you can best relate to also changes,” she explains, noting that for your well-being and likely your friendship, “It’s also very important to allow a friendship to change.”
Sometimes certain friendships are perfect at a certain time in life, but they are not meant to last forever, especially when drifting apart becomes too painful to sustain. No one is the same person they were in high school, and the same can be said about those who make growth a continuous process of their being.
In college especially, we meet a lot of new people and become friends quickly, without knowing who these people really are and having to trust that they will be good. A lot of my college friendships have been centered around partying together, and when partying got old, a lot of these friendships were not the same. Other friendships were not meant to last, but for other reasons. Many still last today, and these are with the people who are growing with me.
Something I wish I had been better about with college relationships is communicating how I really felt to a friend rather than try to try to avoid conflict, when we were clearly growing apart. This could have been said rather than avoided and never spoken about. It ends up hurting both people even more, and relationships need conflict and communication if they are going to grow.
Laura Millman, a marriage and family counselor, said, “When we outgrow someone, our values, morals or ethics become incongruent to what they once were with that other person. Nothing is static. People grow, change and develop new interests.”
Instead of ending on bad terms by taking this process personally, and in turn ruining memories and love that was shared, we can exit friendships by choosing to love from afar, and respect that that friendship was not meant to be as close as it once was.
Millman also said, “If you’re moving forward without this friend or that, make sure you remain respectful and courteous however you decide to cultivate your exit. You never want to burn a bridge or make someone feel untoward.”
Now, as I’m about to graduate from undergrad and have experienced friendships ending, I know that relationships do not need to end in hate, like a bad breakup between you and an ex when you were young. People can learn not to take drifting apart so personally and understand that, as humans who are evolving and changing, we are not always going to be able to sustain friendships, and we shouldn’t feel like we have to.
Fortunately, we are able to choose who we want to surround ourselves with, what energy we want around us, and this is an important revelation for me.
If you are in different seasons from your friends, letting each other grow separately can allow for the space that you have needed. Though friendships can fade or become unhealthy, they serve a purpose in a space and time in our lives, and this means we can learn from them and use what we learn to make the rest of our relationships in life meaningful and healthy.