“My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.” -Helen Keller
“Intimacies between women often go backwards, beginning in revelations and ending in small talk.” -Elizabeth Bowen
I have never been the quickest to make friends. I approach friendship cautiously, tip-toeing into intimacy until I can be sure I can trust someone. But then, after a shy, guarded, initial few times hanging out, I decide to take the leap and put myself out there. It is probably a good method; I can judge whether the friendship has the necessary staying power: things in common, similar values, someone I can talk to without worrying I’m being judged.
That being said, I feel like I have and maintain a small group of really excellent women friends. I feel lucky to have found people I can really be myself around. We have been there for each other, in the midst of dealing with sleepless postpartum nights and toddler meltdowns. We get together to wax poetic on the trials of potty-training and discuss our future career goals and what our hopes and dreams for our children are. We attend plays and symphonies together because our husbands don’t desire to be as cultured as we do. We complain about our parents, we vent about the idiotic things our better halves do. I can honestly say, as someone who battles clinical depression on a daily basis, they are as vital to my mental health as my antidepressants are.
But sometimes, things change. People grow apart. Life stages change, and you suddenly find out you have less in common than you previously assumed. What then?
This has been a rough year for one of my previously close friendships. I met my friend, “Melanie” shortly after she moved to town several years ago with her young family. She attended our church moms’ group and we became friends because we had children the same ages, our husbands were employed at the same company, and we had many other things in common. I was enthralled by her calm demeanor and seemingly effortless wrangling of her many children. I wasn’t sure what her secret was, but I knew that I wanted to be her friend and possibly learn from her! She was a mentor of sorts, not really older than me but I was pretty sure wiser since she obviously had it all together.
She and our other friends formed a Bible study and met regularly while our children played, usually at her house. The kids were all really great friends with each other, which was awesome. I felt like all of us bonded in ways that strengthened both our faith and our friendships. We shared our anxieties about parenting and our feelings about God and his plan. We talked about everything. We were all so close.
Our families hung out often. We went camping together. Our husbands were all friends. I had visions of us being like a real-life Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood group of friends.
Then, last year, out of nowhere (from our estimation, anyway), Melanie and her husband suddenly split in a huge, contentious, acrimonious divorce. It through all of us for a loop.
Many things transpired with the friendship of Melanie and me, but to make a long story short, I was trying to be supportive of her. My husband and I were also trying to be supportive and friendly to her ex, who was good friends with Hubby. Ultimately, it proved impossible to be friends with them both, as each one felt it was disloyal on our part to be friends with the spouse they now hated. We now no longer have a relationship with either of the estranged spouses, since it proved too difficult (and confusing) to be friends with either.
I grieve for the loss of my friendship with Melanie. I still love her and care about her very much. I know she is going through something very difficult that I don’t understand. It doesn’t mean I don’t still wish to be friends with her. I just think that her life has changed so much that it is not feasible for us to be in each other’s lives any more.
But it is awkward. I still see her at church and around town. I know she thinks I betrayed her somehow. I believe she doesn’t like me anymore. Any kind of apology would make no difference, since I am not even really sure what to apologize for anyway.
Friendships do change. Even without the divorce, Melanie and I may have grown apart anyway. She had recently gone back to work, creating a difference between us that wasn’t there before: SAHM vs. working mom. I didn’t see her that much after she made that transition. Perhaps we would have just drifted apart due to our lack of seeing each other.
A stay-at-home mom might find her mom friends leaving her in droves to return to work. A single girl might suddenly feel alienated once her best friend gets married. Young couples who did everything together suddenly find they are not as important to their friends who have a baby. It’s hard to accept the change and not to grieve over it.
So, what can you do? How do you navigate these changing adult friendships that seem to be for the worse instead of the better?
- ACCEPT THAT IT MIGHT NOT BE ALL ABOUT YOU. It is most likely not your fault. You can’t help that life circumstances for your friend (or you) have changed. If you had a huge argument with a friend and have now fallen out, remember that it takes two to tango. If an apology is warranted on your end, apologize. But realize that the ball is now in their court. What they choose to do from here is not up to you.
- IF THE FRIENDSHIP IS WORTH SAVING, VOCALIZE IT. Your best friend just had a baby and now she has no time for you. Call her up and tell her that you miss her. Tell her you value her friendship and want to come up with a plan to make time for each other. The baby is her main focus right now, so make it easy for her. Bring her a coffee while the baby is napping and catch up. Be creative. It is worth it to keep this friendship going. Plus, she will be a great resource when you find yourself in a similar stage of life.
- IF THE FRIENDSHIP IS FLOUNDERING, YOU MIGHT NEED TO LET IT GO. Don’t feel guilty. Sometimes relationships just run their course, and you need to let it be. Not all friends are friends for life. People move away, circumstances change, and people can be fickle. It is what it is. And if you aren’t “feeling it” anymore, don’t be afraid to end the friendship. It can either die a slow, unremarked-upon death by fading into the sunset or you can compose a gentle “break up” speech. Either way, friendship shouldn’t be work. If you feel exhausted or always unhappy after you’ve spent time with a friend, it may be time to sever ties.
- PRAY FOR YOUR FRIENDS. Sometimes nothing can be done to save or improve a friendship. You can always pray for your friends. For example, with my friend Melanie, I just say something along the lines of, “God, I don’t know what she needs right now, but please help her with whatever that is and let her know she is loved.” I may not be able to change our friendship/ lack of friendship, but I leave it to God to figure out how to move forward.
- SEEK OUT NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Most of my good friends have kids that are older, namely at the same ages as Junior and Bellie. I met them when I was a young mom and we were in the exact same stage of life. I love and treasure these friendships but can’t always talk to them about the rigors of having younger kids. They don’t really want to hear about my potty-training challenges. (Well, they listen politely but I can see their eyes glazing over. I don’t blame them!) If we’re talking about elementary-school related things, ferrying kids from one activity to the next, or our fears about children soon entering puberty, they are my guys! But the nitty-gritty-stay-at-home toddler stuff? I find that once you outgrow that stage with your kids, you forget a little. And sometimes become less interested in having it as your main topic of conversation. (I loved breastfeeding my kids, but now that they have outgrown that I don’t think I could spend an entire hour at moms’ group talking about it like I once did!) The solution? Seek out new kindred spirits. You might have to travel out of your comfort zone to discover new friends, but they are out there! Your group of friends are now married and want to stay home all the time? Find a book club where you can find some new things to discuss and wine to drink. You need someone to talk to about your 3-week-old because your other friends don’t have kids yet? Join a MOPS group. You’re going crazy because all your friends have gone back to work and you have no one to talk to during the day? Take a Mommy and Me fitness class at the gym. It might take a few tries, but you’re bound to come across some new opportunities for friendship.
How have your adult friendships challenged you and how have you navigated those challenges? What are some tips you have for making new friends in adulthood? I’d love to hear your thoughts!