While it’s definitely possible to make friends in adulthood, most of us still have a handful of friends we met either as children, in high school or university, or as young adults just starting out. Inevitably, life happens and someone you used to have so much in common with may now be in a completely different stage in their life. Drinking buddies turn into responsible parents, people get incredibly involved in their work with little time for anything else, or in some cases you simply grow apart.
If you happened to meet this person now, it’s unlikely that you’d be friends, or even crossed paths in the first place. But that’s not the case, and you want to keep them in your life, at least to some extent. Here’s what to know about maintaining friendships through life changes, and how to know when to walk away.
Identify the changes
In many cases, it’s the circumstances of a friendship that change — not necessarily the core friendship itself. “A lot of times with long-term friendships, we’ve established a rhythm,” Danielle Jackson Bayard, friendship expert and coach and author of Give it a Rest: The Case for Tough Love Friendships told Well+Good. “We have a lot of practice being friends in a certain environment, and then you throw in something new.” Instead of ignoring this new dynamic, bring it up with your friend and talk about how your relationship is evolving, and where (or if) you each fit in.
Be open and honest with each other
Instead of assuming that your friend who now has kids no longer wants to hang out, talk to them about it. “Sometimes these perceived disconnects [between different life stages] are exactly that: perception,” Amber Trueblood, LMFT, family therapist and author of Stretch Marks told Well+Good. “That sometimes causes a greater disconnect, because we assume and don’t talk about these things, but there’s a lot more in common than we realise.”
This also includes changes in your personalities and politics. You and your friend may both be at the same stage in life, but have grown apart over the years, and no longer share the same values or interests. In this case, having a frank conversation about where you’re at in the friendship and what you each want out of it is important.
Put in the effort
Being friends as adults isn’t the same as when you’d run into each other in the halls of your high school or college dorm: It takes some planning and effort. This not only means scheduling times to see each other, but also doing the same thing for phone or FaceTime calls. As Bayard points out in the article in Well+Good, relying on spontaneous communication isn’t the way to go if both people are busy, because when one person decides to make a call, it may not be a convenient time for the other person, and after a while, the friendship can fizzle out.
Understand that not all friendships were meant to last forever
Not every friendship was built to last, and, as Lifehacker Deputy Editor Jordan Calhoun pointed out, some “only last a season of your life.” So if there’s someone who was a close friend in your 20s, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to put the effort in to keep them in your life into your 40s if you’ve reached the point where you’ve truly grown apart. (That’s where the communication part comes in.) In those situations, it’s also important to know that is’s OK to let them go — not every friendship is a lifelong commitment.