How to lose friends and be OK with it
A sad part of adulthood that we don’t really want to talk about
There comes an awful day when the person who shared their Jim Jam biscuits with you in the third grade, the one with whom you sneaked your first beer and danced on table tops in college, gets replaced as your number one speed dial. They aren’t even in the top three. You haven’t spoken to them much in the past few months. When you do, it seems forced. Superficial small talk that makes you feel like you’re meeting them for the first time. And when you do meet, it’s even stranger. This is a day many adults have come face-to-face with at different milestones in their lives. When they finish college, start new jobs or a family, move cities or embark on a personal growth journey that makes them take stock of where they are, who they are and what they want to be. The realisation that you’re outgrowing your friends is a bittersweet one, tainted with missed calls, nostalgia and happy birthday text messages that replace midnight surprises with cake and balloons.
“When you’re the friend being ‘left behind’, the instinctual response is deeply personal. Even if, on some level, you feel the same drift. For the one that’s ‘moving on’, the guilt can be a heavy load on your heart,” says psychologist Anjum Singh Rathore of Delhi-based Mindheal Clinic and Wellness Centre.
Every friendship has a purpose. Some age like fine wine, others are low-maintenance, allowing you to meet every now and then for a good time. Then there are those who had been there right from the beginning, but you’re unsure of where you stand anymore. “You keep them around because you’ve known each other for so long. You’re outgrowing your friends because you’ve moved ahead from the things that used to bond you. It can feel like a breakup,” adds Rathore.
Your college friend, Rahul, caught misogyny from the internet and developed a deep admiration for Andrew Tate. Saira feels left out of the group now that she’s busy with parenting responsibilities (losing a friend to parenthood is common), and Dev still wants to party like you’re all 21 years old. Outgrowing your friends often happens slowly, but there are some harsh wake-up calls when you ask yourself, “Is this worth the effort?”
The end of a friendship, whether mutual or contentious, can elicit the same emotions of grief, pain and hurt as a romantic partnership. “You grieve a friendship, thinking about what it was, what it could have been and why it couldn’t work out. But with time you move on.” But that doesn’t mean that it’s any less kadwa going down.
Why do we outgrow friends?
You and your buddy might’ve started on the same chapter, but as the plot unfolds, you realise you’re reading different books. Your once-cosy bubble begins to stretch, and it gets harder to relate to each other’s struggles and successes.
As you peel back the layers of life and dive into your beliefs and values, you realise your perspectives have evolved, and that can affect your connections.
Maybe you’re planning your wedding while your bestie is living her best single life. Or you’ve embraced parenthood, and your friend is still swiping right. These different life stages can make it feel like you’re speaking entirely different languages.
Geography often becomes the kebab mein haddi of the friendship. Physical kilometres between you often turn into emotional distance, which is hard to bridge when you can’t grab chaat and chat about it. You may have once bonded over your love for ‘90s Govinda films, but now your friends only interested in sci-fi.
“As interests change, so does the common ground that once held you together,” says Rathore, adding that when something like this happens, it’s natural for the blame game to come up, but people grow in different directions and “that’s just life,” she laughs.
Outgrowing your friends is a sad part of adulthood that we don’t really want to talk about – with the friend or ourselves – but the changing nature of your friendship isn’t always something you have control over. As Tweak reader Pratigya Dhali put it, “As hard as it was, you can’t wear clothes that are small for you, right?”
To break up or not to break up?
It will take some introspection to figure out if you’re outgrowing your friends – it can be subtle signs at first, but easy enough to pick up on when you feel the relationship has lost its way.
“Do you feel obligated to meet them? Are you consistently at odds with this person? Do you feel you can’t be yourself, or that the relationship is draining rather than nurturing you in any way? These questions can sound selfish. You tell yourself that friendship doesn’t work this way, but all relationships have a transactional nature, they all serve a purpose, and when that is lost, it can be hard to figure out what place it has in your life,” says Rathore.
So, now what? This next step can be the most challenging part. Do you take the drastic step of having ‘the talk’ and ending the friendship? Do you start distancing yourself from the person and hope that it fizzles out on its own? Is there anything salvageable in the relationship?
Only you can decide the answer, says Rathore. The end of a friendship can hurt even more than your favourite boy band breaking up. Distancing yourself from someone you once held dear is tough, but holding onto them can be like trying to wrestle a greased-up pig.
Breaking up with this friend would require preparation and courage. An honest conversation where you lay your cards out on the table as empathetically as possible. “Prepare yourself for an adverse reaction. That is within their right, but if this is what you have decided is best for you, draw your boundaries and wish them well,” says Rathore.
You don’t have to sunset the friendship forever. Tweak reader @joyproject108 shared that they tried to find common ground with the old ones while making new friends. Aparupa maintained a relationship with friends she felt she had outgrown, meeting once a year and talking on the phone. Or if you really want to make things work, you can try what Swati Mehra did when she felt distant from her long-distance bestie, meeting up without their respective partners in tow for an exclusive girls trip.
Maybe your buddy just became a new parent, and they honestly can’t spare a thought for that Tinder ghosting incident you had. Or life’s thrown them a curveball, and your fight with Sheetal from HR doesn’t register on their radar long enough to have a conversation about it.
As reader Neha Sharma says, “When it feels like you’re outgrowing your friends, you might still want these people around, perhaps in a less involved role. At first, you feel like a bad friend for not keeping up with them as much, but I realised that more often than not, they are feeling the same way about the friendship running its course.”