4 steps for coping with changing friendships
One minute you’re seeing your best mate all the time and the next you’re lucky to find any free time for each other. Friends drift apart for a range of reasons – maybe your bestie has been spending more time with new friends, they may have started a serious relationship, or you may have no idea what has changed.
While it’s normal for relationships to change over time, it can still be hard to adjust to. If you’re struggling to deal with this, know that you’re not alone.
We chatted to a bunch of young people on the ReachOut Online Forums and put together some ideas on how to cope when friendships change.
1. Give it some time
Changing or leaving school, clashes in study or work schedules or new relationships can make it much harder, or even impossible, to catch up regularly with your former bestie. Seeing less of someone you’d come to rely on to always be there for you, and you for them, can really leave you feeling not quite yourself.
You might feel confused, sad or even angry. Give yourself time and space to work through any emotions that come up. Change is a natural part of life, but that’s not to say it’s always going to be easy to accept. It’s completely possible to maintain the strong friendships you have made, but it might require some adjustments.
Everyone's at a different stage of life, despite being the same age. I live out of home with my partner, but a lot of my friends are single and still living at home. That’s totally okay! It just means that sometimes it can be hard to relate.
Allow yourself and those around you some time to get used to all the changes that are happening. Most big changes tend to get us thinking and feeling a lot. It’s totally normal, and actually very positive, to reflect on different stages of your life. You might find yourself thinking about the impact a friendship has had on you, which can raise some big questions.
What did this friendship teach me?
What do I look for in a friend?
What kinds of friendships are important to me right now?
This could be a good time to focus on you and to think about what you need right now.
2. Try to see the situation from a different point of view
When someone disappears suddenly from your life, you might find yourself thinking they don’t care about you anymore or wondering if you did something wrong. If you find yourself stuck in this sort of negative thought loop, it can really help to try and see things from another perspective.
I think it can be helpful to reflect on why they've drifted away, and to realise that it's not always our fault. If they've moved away or started a new job, then that's totally out of our control. It can also be helpful to focus on existing friendships.
To help get a fresh take on what’s happening, try:
reminding yourself that a changing friendship doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a bad person – it’s a hard, but normal, part of life
reflecting on other past friendships that changed but led to your making new friends
reconnecting with friends you haven’t caught up with recently.
3. Talk about how you’re feeling
Whenever you go through some big feels, it’s a good idea to talk with someone. Keeping it all locked inside can make you feel like you’re carrying around the weight of the world. Whether you spill it to your journal or a mate, know that getting stuff off your chest will ease that pressure.
Something that has personally helped me is recognising that people can “outgrow” each other. I've had to end a lot of friendships with people who were just using me or couldn't be bothered staying in touch. Writing about my feelings also helps me.
It could be a good time to reconnect with an old friend or a different friendship circle you’re part of. Going outside your core group reduces the risk that a mutual friend might pass on your private thoughts about the change in your former friendship, which might result in some drama!
You could even open up to a trusted family member or counsellor about how you’ve been feeling.
While it’s not easy, you could consider sharing how you’ve been feeling with the friend you’re not seeing so much of anymore. Let them know how you feel about it. You might find they feel the same way and you can work out a way to stay a part of each other’s lives. If you need some help with tackling a difficult conversation, check out our tips here.
4. Be open to meeting new people
We’ll be the first to say that this step isn’t always the easiest one. Just the thought of having to make new friends can make you want to vom. Even though it’s hard to push past the initial awkwardness of meeting new people, it’s possible, and it’s definitely worth doing.
Life is full of opportunities to meet new people. Taking up different jobs, hobbies and study usually gives you the chance to make new friends.
It’s worth remembering that everybody feels nervous about social situations at times, but there are some practical ways you can overcome those initial awkward moments. Asking people questions, and taking an interest in them, can go a long way in turning new people into potential new friends. Some young people we spoke to shared what worked for them.
Acknowledging things can be so powerful. I often find that saying "sorry if I seem a bit awkward" actually frees me up to feel less awkward.
I try to enquire about people around me and build a connection by small conversation – e.g. at work with a colleague, I always say hello and ask how her day/weekend was.
Paying attention to body language, finding some things in common, and just asking about their day [helps] to get things started.
If you’re finding this hard, though, there are many different ways of connecting with others. Just know that you’re not the only one who feels this way. Many people find online communities to be a safe and less daunting space to make friends.
While it sucks to notice that a friendship is changing, it can also be an opportunity to discover which friends you can rely on and to make new friends who better reflect who you are today.
I like to believe that people appear in your life for a reason, and I always like to keep an open mind about who might reappear.