9 Signs You're Outgrowing a Friendship — and What to Do About It
In true social media fashion, I recently found myself scrolling through my newsfeed only to land on a wedding video. I started watching, and my husband peered over my shoulder. “Who’s that?” He asked. “Oh, just this girl I used to be friends with,” I replied. True story: she had actually been one of my best friends, at one point. So what happened? Well, we grew apart. And while the reasons we grew apart made sense in hindsight, I still felt a little sad thinking of her all these years later.
I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. We all deal with friendships that take a different turn than expected, and it can be hard to deal. Honestly, losing the thread of connection with a close friend sometimes feels more heartbreaking than the end of any romantic relationship. To help, we've compiled nine signs you’re outgrowing a friendship, and what to do about it.
1. You are both "too busy" . . . always.
You know that friend who never texts back? Or fails to respond to your emails, or doesn’t return your phone calls, or is always “busy” when you try to make plans? Yeah, me too. Considering one of the most basic tenets of friendships involves, um, talking to each other every so often, having that one friend who you simply can’t reach is problematic at best, annoying as f*ck at worst.
What I’ve learned, though, is to clarify the difference between truly mismatched schedules and a complete lack of interest. In other words: is it temporary or permanent? If that person is going through a big shift (i.e., marriage, baby, divorce, new job) or a difficult season of life, I tend to offer as much grace as I can muster. Sometimes, it’s practical, like they work crazy hours that don’t lend to phone calls or text exchanges. But if it is temporary, said friend typically responds to let you know. As in, “Hey, I’m swamped this week with a project, not ignoring you!” Or “I’m not feeling up to chatting lately due to my exhaustion/depression/anxiety/other negative thing, but I’ll be in touch soon.”
The most beautiful thing about outgrowing a friendship is that it opens up room for other, better connections.
Because real friends want to stay connected. They want to talk to you, and they want to spend time with you. So if you keep reaching out and you’re getting zero ROI, stop investing in someone who doesn’t ever prioritize you.
2. You don’t really care to connect.
In contrast, what if you’re the person going MIA on your friends? Be honest with yourself, and figure out why you’re backing off in the first place.
Do you even like this person? Do you want to drop $50 on drinks over small talk with him or her? Do you care to clear space in your calendar, or do you say no every time you’re asked to hang? It sounds harsh, but friendship is often a simple matter of “have to” versus “want to.” When I think about my friends, there’s no sense of obligation — I want to talk to them, and I want to spend time with them. I’m bummed when it doesn’t work out, and I look forward to reconnecting when possible. If someone is important to you, you make time for them. Period. And if you aren’t interested in furthering a friendship, don’t pretend like you are.
Now, this is the tricky part: deciding between an awkward conversation, bluntness that could hurt feelings, or going the vague avoidance route. My advice is to do what feels right in a thoughtful fashion. There’s no reason to burn bridges if you’re going to see this person often, for example, and the solution could be as simple as indicating that you don’t have extra capacity for friendship right then. Be honest, but kind. And then move on so you can dedicate time and energy to people who actually matter to you.
3. You crave new friends.
Sometimes I think of the old Girl Scouts sing-song refrain: “Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.” Real talk: you need both, and you never know where, when or how a new friend might appear. The most beautiful thing about outgrowing a friendship is that it opens up room for other, better connections.
One of my best friends these days is someone I didn’t know a year ago. How incredible is that? And she came about due to my experience of becoming a mother, since we had that in common. It’s not that my “old” friends no longer mattered, but due to other circumstances, I really wanted to build out a new group of friends that understood the day-in, day-out realities of parenting.
Anything can mark a desire for different friendships. Maybe you’re newly single, and wanting more nights on the town with others up for late nights of conversation. Maybe you’re caring for a sick relative, and needing people who’ve been in your shoes. Maybe you just got fired, and your successful friends can’t quite understand. Whatever it is, honor what you need, and look for friendships that add to your life rather than subtract from it.
4. The only thing you have in common is the past.
I once knew a group of women who, when together, seemed to only talk about one thing: the past. That’s not necessarily bad, of course — lord knows I love a good reminiscing session — but it becomes stagnant if you don’t have new memories to bolster the old.
For instance, I met my best friend in fifth grade, where we bonded over a mutual love for pixy stix and bouncy balls. We stayed close all throughout school, visited each other in college, and made a point to remain in touch every week since graduation. And when we get together, we can definitely bring up that time what’s-her-name flirted with my boyfriend after cheerleading practice, or indulge in gossip about lives of people we both knew back then, or laugh about nights filled with too much wine. But we’ve also both evolved; we can discuss everything from health care policy to date nights to favorite books. We’ve also supported each other as we’ve grown into the people we are now, and ideally, we’ll continue to do that moving forward. That’s what makes my friendship with her so valuable.
Newsflash: you don’t have to be friends with people you don’t like. Isn’t that cool? Move away from toxic relationships that bring out the worst in you, because it doesn’t do them (or you) any favors.
Dwelling on the past can be fun, but eventually becomes boring. Focus on friendships that can change with you, bringing new experiences to the table, instead of ones that hold you back in a certain place and time.
5. You constantly judge or criticize them.
We’re all guilty of judging or criticizing good friends at one point or another. In a healthy friendship, you’re emotionally close to another person so it’s normal to find fault with their words or actions once in a while. But when a friendship is no longer working, you may notice that you’re complaining about them 24/7.
Newsflash: you don’t have to be friends with people you don’t like or respect. Isn’t that cool? Seriously, though, move away from toxic relationships that bring out the worst in you, because it doesn’t do them (or you) any favors. When you steadily feel, think, or say a flood of snide remarks, ask yourself why you’re trying to be friends with that person in general. Like, really, though: why are you friends with someone you don’t respect?
I admire every single one of my friends. I respect the hell out of them, even when they drive me crazy or do things that cause me to dole out major side-eye. I know that sometimes, I do the exact same thing to them, and it’s okay. We’re human. But mature friendships understand that there’s a difference between talking shit and holding each other accountable.
6. You can’t get past a fight.
Arguments, or differences of opinions, are natural — but what happens when you can’t seem to move past a fight with a friend? Two things: either you find a way to resolve the problem or the relationship ends.
Ironically, conflict can strengthen friendships if both parties are willing to do the work. It depends on the nature of the issue; for instance, it is easier to fix a miscommunication about dinner plans than, let’s say, bridge the divide between opposing political viewpoints. If you want to work it out, try, but if you don’t feel inclined, move on.
7. You don’t feel supported.
Good friends are there for you throughout the ups and downs of life. Sure, it’s fun to celebrate each other’s wins, but it’s critical to be there for the hard parts as well. Friendships can’t exist on a steady diet of champagne and smiles alone. (Okay, they can, but they’re not real or sustainable that way.)
Even worse is when you make a great deal of intentional effort to support friends who flat-out don’t return the favor. (Roll your eyes if you’ve gone to one million wedding showers and then can’t get all those married folks to show up to brunch. C’mon now.) Friends support one another, and they communicate about what they need to feel supported. That last part is vital; what’s sufficient to one person may not be enough for another. But the bottom line is that it should feel like a two-way street, where both of you make an effort to care in a way that resonates.
8. You’ve run out of things to talk about.
Some friendships begin to dissipate very slowly, and the first marker is when you legitimately run out of things to talk about. Awkward. When small talk functions as the buoy saving your life over a dinner table, you need to decide if this is a person you want to keep around.
Friendships may fade, but they’ve likely served their purpose, which means you can take what you’ve learned and apply it to the rest of the relationships in your life.
The good news is that it may not be personal. I’ve hung out with people who I thought I’d click with, only to learn that we had zilch in common — not in a negative way, but more of an “oh, okay, so there’s no conversational chemistry here, got it.” If you can’t talk to each other, then chances are high you won’t enjoy spending time together, and without those two things, you can’t really call it a friendship. Move on and call it good.
9. You’re in different seasons of life.
To me, the most bittersweet type of outgrowing a friendship occurs when two people are just in totally different seasons of life. You’re going through a breakup, and your friend just got engaged. You are traveling across the country, and your friend is loving her life in a small town. You are pregnant, but your friend is struggling with infertility. You’re becoming politically active, and your friend feels more comfortable keeping quiet. You’ve got a freelance gig and a small child at home, but your friend is climbing the corporate ladder. Your wallet feels tight, and your friend just got a huge bonus. And so on.
It’s nice to feel like you’re on the same page as your bestie, and when one or both of you start to drift away, it can be disorienting, sad, and confusing. As the quote goes, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” Friendships may fade, but they’ve likely served their purpose, which means you can take what you’ve learned and apply it to the rest of the relationships in your life.