How to Maintain a Friendship When You’re in Different Life Stages

One thing that becomes clear as we move through our 20s and 30s is just how easy it is to end up in a very different life stage from our friends. There are real things— big things— that can separate us from each other, like deciding where to live, committing to graduate school, investing in our careers, settling down, and even starting a family. There’s less time to spend with friends, other relationships might take priority, and it can start to feel like we have less in common than we used to. And while being in a different stage from our friends can be tough for so many reasons, it doesn’t have to signal the end of our friendship.

Here are few ways to keep your friends close when you feel like you’re in different places:

1. Remember what brought you together

It probably goes without saying, but remembering why you became friends in the first place goes a long way toward making your friendship last. Talking about the history you have together, like your inside jokes and past experiences, can help you feel close when you’re in different places and might not be able to see each other as often as you’d like. That’s why finding opportunities to reminisce, laugh, and even cringe about old stories and memories is so important!

 

Source: Berry Curly

 

2. Make time for new memories

It’s always fun to remember the past but any relationship, including a friendship, won’t last unless you set aside time to make new memories. Trying out a new activity together a great way to stay up-to-date on each other’s lives while getting in some much needed leisure time. Being spontaneous probably wont work as well as it used to, so planning ahead helps make sure that your time together doesn’t get sidelined by other commitments or responsibilities.

 

Be vulnerable. Talk about your struggles, celebrate your successes, and share your hopes for the future. Authenticity will bridge the gap between your different situations in life.

 

Of course, making new memories isn’t just about doing things together, although that certainly helps. It’s also about having meaningful conversations that bring you closer together. Social media definitely makes it easier to stay in touch (especially for long-distance friendships). But it also makes it harder to have real conversations and it’s not always a substitute for quality time.

Regardless of whether you’re able to catch up in person or over the phone, focus on having conversations about what’s really going on in your life. Be vulnerable. Talk about your struggles, celebrate your successes, and share your hopes for the future. This kind of authenticity will help you better understand what the other person is going through and bridge the gap between your different situations in life.

 

3. Label your limits

Finding time to connect isn’t the only issue. There are plenty of other obstacles that make it difficult to maintain a friendship when you’re in different life stages. Maybe one of you has kids to juggle while the other is balancing regular travel for work. It’s also more than likely that finances will influence the kinds of activities you’re able to do together or even how often you’re able to see each other.

While it helps to be accommodating and flexible, it’s equally important to be upfront about how much you’re realistically able to bend and to be realistic about what you can expect from your friend. Not only is this the starting point for finding solutions or compromises (like outings that are less expensive), it helps avoid misunderstandings or conflicts (like a friend assuming you don’t want to see them when you turn down dinner plans because finances are tight). It also never hurts to take initiative and suggest an idea or alternative that takes your friend’s situation into account. This kind of thoughtfulness is often deeply appreciated.

 

 

4. Be prepared to be surprised

When you’re in different life stages, it’s really common to make assumptions about what the other person is going through. The problem is, more often than not, our assumptions end up being wrong. They can also hold us back from dealing with situations and lead to even more distance between friends. Say one of your friends has a tendency to talk at length about her kids whenever you get together. And as much as you love her babies, you find it difficult to get a word in edgewise (and there’s only so much you can contribute on the topics of diaper genies or preschool waitlists). You might worry that she’ll be upset if you (gently) bring up your desire to talk about something (or anything) else. She might be. But she almost might be thrilled to talk about your recent vacation and welcome a bit of an escape! Instead of jumping to conclusions, keep assumptions in check (and check-in with your friends when you’re not totally sure where they stand).

 

 

5. Avoid social comparisons

We’ve all compared ourselves to our friends from time to time. But when you’re in a different life stage, it’s possible to get carried away with trying to determine who is doing “better” or who seems further ahead. This is especially true when you’re the friend who feels behind. As uncomfortable as it is, jealousy is a completely normal reaction.

However, getting caught up in social comparisons can get in the way of your friendship and take away from the life stage you’re actually going through. Instead of noticing all the ways you feel behind or being overly self-critical, remember that everyone deals with their share of ups and downs. You never really know what someone is struggling with, even a close friend. And you don’t know how challenging an experience (even a positive or welcome one) can be until you’ve gone through it yourself.

 

Instead of noticing all the ways you feel behind or being overly self-critical, remember that everyone deals with their share of ups and downs. You never really know what someone is struggling with, even a close friend.

 

6. Change your perspective

If you’re feeling upset about how hard it is to keep a friendship going when you’re in different places, it can help to focus on the advantages of your current life stage. Like having the flexibility to do what you want and the ability to be spontaneous, or feeling grateful for knowing the value of a dollar.

Tweaking your take on the situation as a whole is another option. As hard as it is, going through this can sometimes be helpful, in that it gives you a glimpse of a different life stage. Whether you’re thinking about moving in with your partner, getting married, accepting a promotion, or having a child, watching a friend go through a similar experience can sometimes help you decide whether it’s something you’re ready for.

 

Source: Francesca’s

 

7. Make new friends (and keep the old!)

Ultimately, it’s really common and (even expected) that friendships will change or drift as we go through transitions in life. And so in addition to adjusting the terms of your old friendship (like what you talk about or the kinds of activities you’re able do together), you might decide to branch out and make new friends who are in a similar stage as you (like single friends, new mom friends, or work friends). Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to give up on your old friendships! It also doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong or that you’re being a “bad” friend.

Staying friends when you’re in different life stages or reach milestones at different times isn’t easy. That’s why there’s something really special about those long-term friendships that last with the help of a little renegotiating and a lot of patience and understanding!

How have you kept up your friendships when going through transitions or different life stages?

  • This post is timely for me as my husband and I are the first of our friends to be welcoming a baby this summer. While I’m not worried about being the only ones (so far) entering that stage of life, I know things will change somewhat. I think your point about not making assumptions about each other’s lives/priorities is spot on!

    • So glad this article resonated with you!! It’s so easy to assume we know what someone else is going through or thinking, isn’t it?! I hope you found some helpful tips in here and that you have a great end to your week!

  • These are great. My best friend and I went very different paths in life because I moved abroad soon after we first met. If anything it has strengthened the friendship because we are there to be open, support, give feedback, listen – rather than do the same things, meet and spend loads of time together. Whatever works!

    • Great to hear that you found this helpful! You’re definitely right in that while distance can make it harder to maintain a friendship, it can also show us which friends are worth fighting for and make the moments we do have together really meaningful!!

  • This is a great post, I’m just about to graduate so maybe a little early for this post but I’m already seeing personalities widen in terms of people’s plans and priorities and I’m noticing a difference amongst my old school friends. I love these tips to maintain a friendship and I’m sure we’ll be able to! I especially love the tips not to compare yourself and changing perspective!

    JosieVictoriaa // Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle

    • I’m so happy you enjoyed this article and that you found some helpful tips! Congrats on your upcoming graduation!!

  • Nikki Laraja

    Great post! All of my friends are married and starting to have babies, while I am recently single, so I can seriously relate!

    http://www.shopthecoconutroom.com

    • Thanks for your feedback!! I think this is something so many of us can relate to, regardless of our life stage!

  • Jonquilla Jq Holmes

    Great read!!!

  • disqus_kDW20jhGlH

    Love this!! Made me think about a specific group of friends that I have.. We’ve been friends about 15 years now, and have gone through marriages, divorces, deaths, births, layoffs, new endeavors, etc. I value their friendship so much. I always say people are in your life for a reason or a season. We have to be sure to nurture all of our relationships; not just our romantic involvements, but friendships as well. I really appreciate this article, thank you!

    • I really love that saying! It’s so true that some friends come and go — and that’s perfectly okay. But its also really special to have those longterm friendships. And you’re right that as nice as it is to know that some friends will always be there for us (and us for them), maintaining friendships takes effort and care.

  • Toni Blackman

    This is so real and on point! I’ve been experiencing this on so many levels for years. We need to talk about this stuff. Misunderstandings and a lack of communication can lead to so much unnecessary hurt. Great piece. Hopefully it sparks conversation and healing…

    • Thanks for your feedback! I’m glad that some of these points resonate with you and definitely agree that it’s so easy for miscommunications and misunderstandings to happen when we aren’t open and honest about our feelings, needs, and experiences.

  • JJC

    I definitely lost a friend or two during grad school. I believe it’s because they couldn’t accept the fact that there was going to be periods of no communication as other things in life become priority over socializing. For me, that period was grad school. It was so demanding on me and I had friends who understood and were thankfully there when I came out on the other side. I can’t say that I miss the ones that didn’t get it.

    I can count my close friends on one hand. As you get older, you win some & you lose some. The one thing that is understood between us is that we can go weeks, sometimes months without speaking and nothing changes. We just pick up where we leave off whenever we get together. If it’s urgent, we call. We’re all 27-29 years old and aren’t big social media people so when it’s time to catch we’re usually talking for hours and hours.

    • Thanks for your comment. I can definitely relate to how hard it is to maintain friendships during graduate school! Between not having much free time and unpredictable working hours, it’s not always easy to keep old friends close.

      Some of my closest friends are those I met in grad school — it definitely helped that we had similar schedules and could understand what each other was going through.

      But you’re also very right that theres something to be said for those friendships where you can pick up right where you left off, no matter how long it’s been. Quality over quantity definitely stands true when it comes to having the conversations and interactions that keep our friendships going!

  • Ronnett Shadon

    Thank you for sharing this article. My friends and I are very unique and different. We are all at different stages in life doing what’s best for ourselves. It is easy to compare and make judgements about yourself or other’s.That serves no purpose, however. In fact, it is the main reason for distance in most relationships. Jealousy interrupts the flow of communication, which is key a healthy relationship. Be motivated by your friends accomplishments and always be grateful for what you have. It’s about acceptance of self and other’s, having mutual respect for one another, and cultivating love through understanding.

    • Absolutely! Sometimes, it’s easier said than done… So recognizing those kinds of emotions (and being self-compassionate) can make all the difference when it comes to not letting them get in the way.

      Focusing on connection instead of competition is the way to go when it comes to friendships!

  • Michelle Underwood

    This really helpful. My and my bestfreind has been freinds since h.s she is a mother of three and is in a very serious relationship. While I am very much single and just a awesome aunt lol. Its nice to know that were not the only freindship that goes threw this. Also we have been more honest about our bounderis and making time in our busy very different lives.

    • Definitely not the only friendship to go through this! I’m so glad you found this article helpful. It sounds like you’ve found a great way to handle this situation already!

  • Launa

    One of the best posts I’ve read about this topic! I’m the only one in my group of girlfriends who doesn’t have kids. They all had them around the same time and bonded over the shared experience of motherhood. Ladies brunches and dinners became unbearable as all they talked about kid things. I couldn’t relate and have drifted away from them. This post has given me pause to try to reconnect.

    • Thank you for your kind feedback, Launa! I’m glad this article has been helpful and empathize with what you’re going through. This situation can sometimes be made even more difficult when, as you said, a few of our friends are in a similar life stage and we might feel like an outlier. That being said, there will always be similarities we share with our friends and I wonder if focusing on these commonalities instead of the differences can help? Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation!

  • The Sadiddy Heaux

    in retrospect to the last tidbit about branching out, is there a good way to make friends once you’re in your late 20s and 30s. i struggle to make lasting new friendships.

    • It’s such a great question because it’s definitely not always clear how we should go about making friends as an adult. This is actually what my research is on so I could talk about this topic endlessly! But here are a few quick tips:

      A great place to start is to use your existing social network. Ask your friends to set you up! People are often much more receptive to this than we expect. Of course, this isn’t always possible, especially if we’ve moved to a new city and don’t know anyone yet (The Everygirl has a great article on this topic!).

      That’s why finding activities you enjoy doing is so important. Trying out a new activity (even in a new neighbourhood) is a great way to expand your social circle while making sure you have something in common with the people you’ll meet. Websites like Meetup have tons of options, and they even have events especially created to facilitate new friendships.

      There are also more and more friendship apps out there (Bumble BFF, Hey! VINA, peanut for new moms). These are helpful because they take the guesswork out of the equation (i.e., its clear these people are looking to make new friends too!) and make it easier to make the “first move”.

      If this all sounds a bit like dating, it’s because it can definitely feel that way sometimes! Meeting new people and making new friends takes time and effort. In terms of holding onto friends, it’s an ongoing process. Just like any other relationships, regularly setting aside time to see, speak to, and support each other is essential. But it’s also perfectly normal for friendships to drift, and I think so many of us can all be a little hard on ourselves when this happens (self-compassion is key!).

      I do have an article on how to make friends when you don’t have “playdates” up on my blog that might be helpful. But you can definitely find some other great resources about this topic on the Everygirl!

      I hope this helps!

      Miriam

      • The Sadiddy Heaux

        thank you!

  • VegasDiva702

    I LOVE meeting people of ALL AGES. Most of my friends are YOUNGER than I.

    • Age is but a number and definitely doesn’t have to affect who we are friends with! Especially as we get older.

      I also think that being in a different life stage from our friends can be somewhat independent of our age!

  • Number 5 is definitely the hardest to do. While all my friends are off getting married and having babies, I’ve been working on developing my career. I’m so happy with where I’m at and know that if I had gotten married at 22 when my ex proposed, I wouldn’t be where I’m at or the person I’ve become.

    • I definitely agree with you that this one can be the most difficult. Sometimes, it’s easiest to feel content with our life stage and situation when we’re able to get a bit of distance or think about it retrospectively. Hindsight is 20/20! Love the perspective you have on your own situation and growth!

  • This is great! I’ve traveled all my life, and making friends wasn’t ever the problem for me, it was keeping my old friends. I think moving around so much made it hard for me to choose a “best friend”. Many of us went very different ways in life, but luckily this summer, we were able to meet up in Texas for a small reunion, and it felt like nothing had changed. Even though we all had our differences, it helped, because when we came together, we could talk about it and help each other out. Together we make a great unit, and that’s what matters most to us, <3

    • It’s so true that our friends who are in different places or stages can sometimes offer advice or a different perspective that we might not have thought of ourselves. And I love the idea of making time to reconnect through traveling together!

      • Yes! It makes a big difference because one of us is focused on school, another is focused on the career (me!), and then the other was focused on family life because she’s got everything else figured out. So being able to find a balance between all of us is just comfort all in itself.

  • Love your articles! A lot of helpful info and answers about life. Thank you for sharing!

    xo, Joling

    • Thank you for your kind words! I love how supportive The Everygirl community is! I’m so glad you are finding some helpful information here!

  • Natalie Redman

    Great post! I do believe though that some friendships just aren’t meant to last. They should all be celebrated though either way!

    http://www.upyourvlog.com

    • I definitely agree with you that some friendships fluctuate, change, and, even come to and end and that’s totally normal and expected! And even short-lived friendships can have a meaningful impact on our lives!

      Even though this post is about how best to maintain friendships, it’s interesting to think about the different signs that it might be time to let go. You’ve got me thinking about this— Thanks for the food for thought!

  • Olg

    I could not have written it better. Descriptive.

    • Glad you enjoyed this article and thanks so much for your feedback!

  • I’m sorry to hear you’ve been going through this difficult situation — It can definitely feel hurtful. You bring up an interesting point… The situation can sometimes feel even more complicated when it’s not just a one-on-one friendship but a group of friends. And striking a balance between turning to the friends we can count on without totally giving up on the ones we are drifting from is easier said than done!

  • Maestra

    I had a friend who I met when we were in our early twenties. We maintained contact through moves, boyfriends, career changes…all of it. After almost a decade of friendship, she became a police officer. Sadly, she changed, and not for the better. The people I met through her were overwhelmingly mean, racist and generally unpleasant people. Over the last few years I watched her change into someone unbelievably self-centered and intolerant of everyone and everything….I think the people she’s been around have really had an effect on her. It came to a head on an out of town trip when I was ill and she decided that I’d ruined the trip for her. She and the others on the trip sent me snarky Facebook posts for days after we got home until I finally unfriended them on the social media site. Months later I had to go for major surgery related to what had made me sick on the trip. I really could have used a friend during that time. You can do all you can to keep up with life changes, but if someone has transformed into a person you no longer wish to be around….well…you have to cut ties.

    • Absolutely. You’re very right that the tips and strategies discussed in this article really only work so long as both friends are committed to making the relationship work (or at least trying to!).

      It’s so tough when we see our friends change and friendships dissipate, especially when we’re going through a tough time. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to protect ourselves and recognize when a friendship has run its course. Not always easy to recognize or admit, but it can free up space for us to focus on maintaining the friendships that do fulfill us!

  • Emily

    Hello ! I can see some benefit from this article, but is there anyway to maintain a friendship when your in different life stages for teenagers ? I have a similar issues going on with my friends each and one of us being separate going to different schools. Although they may say something like real friends are always there , the distance may be alot from some of us, the amount of classes or school work can be different, it’s really hard to explain but I’m trying to work with each and everyone’s life but for the other two their emotions just pile up , it’s really hectic . I apologise if it doesn’t make sense