I am blessed with really beautiful friendships. Vivid memories of laughter, adventures, and long talks where we share our dreams and fears are sprinkled generously throughout my memory. As a highly relational person, friendships and community make me into the fullest version of myself. Without them, I struggle.
Over the last few years, my friends and I have been on quite the rollercoaster ride. After college, we all went in different directions. New cities, new jobs, new relationships—in a very short period of time, our lives changed drastically. Within a few months of graduation, I was immobilized with fear and worry about whether or not my friendships would survive.
Though it’s been a few years since our initial parting, the fear over the survival of my friendships is something I am still contending with. I shared this with my husband one day over coffee recently, and as I griped about how my friendships were being separated and severed by distance and change, I realized that change is the very thing that defines our 20s. There is no escaping it.
We leave our parent’s homes, go to college, get full time jobs, move across the country (or the world), get married, have children, buy homes, start business. All in one decade. Expecting friendships to stay the same when we are changing personally in huge, transformational ways is completely unreasonable.
Friendships can and will change in this time of our lives. Knowing this, though, doesn’t make it more comfortable or less challenging. It is unsettling and sad when a friendship starts to pull apart at the seams and drift away. We can feel confused, wonder what we did wrong, or get angry and bitter at the seeming lack of commitment.
Despite the challenge, it is possible to maintain friendships as we change and grow, and to piece them back together from the wreckage, if that is the case. And even though it is hard, it is possible to go your separate ways with grace and kindness.
Here are a few tips:
1. Make the Effort
When friends move away, get new jobs, get married, have kids – all of the changes can be really overwhelming, especially if you haven’t experienced them yourself. Try to understand what life is like for them by asking a lot of questions. Commit to calling them once or twice a week, and maybe set up a time that works for both of you to get together for coffee, or if you’re far apart, to “hang out” on the phone or via Skype. Send thoughtful cards or goofy texts to brighten their day. If the friendship is really important to you, commit yourself to riding out the changes. Even if you aren’t going through the same thing that they are, it will be helpful to have them around when you do. If it feels like you’re the only one making the effort, see #2.
2. Ask for and Share the Truth
If you aren’t sure why your friendships are faltering, ask your friend for an explanation. Leave room for grace. The answer may trouble you or upset you, but knowing the truth is the only way to move forward. Friendships must be built on authenticity. In the same way, if someone asks you why you have been distant, be honest. You are honoring the friendship you’ve built by sharing your concerns with them. If you both approach the situation with grace and hope, you have a better chance of working it out.
3. Be Generous with Grace and Respect
When friends are drifting away, be sure to give them a lot of grace and respect. You are not the only one whose life is changing in big ways. We are all trying to figure out how to navigate the unknown, and we’re doing the best we can. Grace, whether it is in an argument or a period of silence, might just save your friendship in the long run. When someone is experiencing a lot of change, knowing that they are able to make mistakes, ask the hard questions in a safe place, and be respected for their decisions will make them more apt to want to be and remain your friend.
4. Have hope for the future
If a friendship is fizzling out, despite your efforts, place your hope in the future. New friendships are ahead of you, just waiting to be discovered. To make new friends, try taking a class in a subject you really enjoy. You’ll be around people who share your interests, and are most likely looking to meet new people.
And you never know, you might reconnect in five, ten, twenty years, and will be grateful that the grace and authenticity you gave them all those years ago served as the kindling to restart things. Friendships await you everywhere!
Image via Tomboy Style