drifting apart

Advice: Drifting Apart: Give Up or Try Again?

Dear Shasta Request for advice! I read your advice on emailing a friend about a drifting friendship and am looking for help! I have a 'commitment' friend (15 year friendship). Our friendship has been drifting for the past 5 years, despite being in each others wedding parties and both having babies recently. The things I attribute the drift to are: - geographical separation (though, c'mon - 30 min is not that far!); busy lives (toddlers and full-time jobs); husbands with slightly different interests (her husband seems to have all the friends he wants). This last point is what I blame the drift on the most, with busy lives and kids I feel it's tougher to connect and I feel more resentful that they don't welcome my husband into their lives. Fearing that we are lost forever (my last-ditch effort to reconnect with our babies has officially failed), I need some advice. The sadness I feel from mourning her loss in my life (and jealousy of the new friends she focuses all of her efforts on) is on my mind constantly. I was a zombie of sadness (not at all like my old perky fun self!) at our last group gathering when I attended her son's 2nd birthday. I even feel that my daughter is getting pushed out. Do I email her? Help?!

Dearest Zombie of Sadness,

Oh my heart breaks for you! It is SO painful feeling like we're losing a friend.  Much like a break-up except sometimes worse in that we don't have the conversations that help bring closure and we try to keep up appearances for so long, unsure what the status really is.  It makes sense that you feel sad-- something feels lost and sadness is the healthy and appropriate response!

And in answer to the question you asked: "Do I email her?" My answer is a resounding yes!

Here's why:

  • You're commitment friends.  My rule of thumb is that the more we've invested in each others lives, the more I'm willing to do what I can to repair the friendship (or at least end well).
  • You still like her!  This isn't a drifting apart case where you two don't like each other-- you're both still in each others social circles and want to be closer!
  • You've both gone through a lot of changes.  Weddings and babies-- either one of those changes can be tough for us to even figure out, let alone all our friends who have to figure out the new normal, too!  It makes sense that it would feel different and a bit hesitant since neither of you have practice at this yet! Be gentle on both of yourselves, if you can!
  • You have a lot in common.  Besides all the history you have, it's actually amazing you both are married, had kids at the same time, and are choosing to keep working.

But.... my read on this (and granted I don't know what you mean by last-ditch effort failing OR how she's feeling and what she's noticing) is that if I were you I'd focus less on the problems right now and more on trying to add more positivity to the friendship.

My next book (Frientimacy) covers this big time because a friendship has to have a positivity:negativity ratio of at least 5:1 which means that sometimes we can't eliminate all the stressors (busy lives, disappointments, jealousy) but we can add more joy.  And as we get that number back up (enjoying each others company, laughing, playing) then we have more room to have tough talks.  It's not to say you can't have that talk now or that you have to keep it bottled up, but it is to say that ultimately what you want is to feel closer to her so the highest priority is strategically figuring out the best way to accomplish that goal. To feel mad at her for her husbands choices (which possibly causes friction in her marriage) or for her making new friends (which is actually healthy and normal and probably a good idea for you, too, no matter what happens with this friend!) may not lead to you feeling closer.

So what I'd suggest, in this case, is an email that isn't focused on the frustrations, but rather on your end-goal: more time together.  Your goal in this email is to solicit her help brainstorming suggestions for your time together-- you show care to her by reaching out and prioritizing her preferences and schedule, and depending on what she writes back you have more information as to what, if anything, she's actually willing to do to keep this friendship in her life.

“I miss you… and I was wondering what you feel like works best for us in terms of staying in touch? In your opinion is it easier/better trying to do more family time together with our husbands included or is it easier/better on you when it’s just us girls or do you prefer trying to include our kids more?  Does it feel better on your end knowing that we have something scheduled regularly that we can count on (i.e. meet for drinks once a month, talk on the phone every Thursday on the way home from work) or does it feel better to keep it organic and spontaneous and just both take on the responsibility of reaching out when we can?  So much in our lives has changed and I'm just trying to figure out what our friendship can look like in this phase of our lives. You’re important to me and I want to do what I can on my end to keep our friendship healthy!  I know it’s realistic that our friendship will ebb and tide, and shift as we keep going through all these life changes, and yet as I hear about so many friendships that simply drift apart, I also would hate for us to lose touch with each other or have our time together decrease in meaningfulness for either one of us…I look forward to hearing what feels easiest and most meaningful to you these days."

The good news with this approach is you're not opening a can of worms or starting a big fight.  You're not blaming or accusing.  You're simply saying that her opinion matters to you and that you want to be intentional about your friendship!

Best case scenario-- it opens up the door for you two to figure out how your friendship needs to change to accommodate your new lives. And hopefully you both feel more valuable to each other in the process!

Worst-case-- you have clarity that she's not going to make time for you right now (which isn't to say that next year couldn't be different.  Remember you have both gone through SO many life changes recently and are both just trying to do the best you can to adjust!) and you can set your expectations accordingly.

I have so much more I could say but I'm already above my word count (no surprise there! ha!) so hopefully that at least gives you my vote that I think it's worth you writing her.

My prayer is that someday you can write me back and it would be signed, "My old perky fun self." With or without her-- you WILL get there.

xoxo,

Shasta

p.s. What about the rest of you GirlFriends-- what advice would you give her? Should she write?

p.s.s. Want my advice? Fill out this form!

Friendships Change: Growing More Comfortable with Endings

It hasn't happened suddenly, but from where I stand now I am noticing how many of my friendships have changed or dissolved in the last year or two. To be more precise, it's actually the structure of those friendships that has changed because it's not that we aren't friends anymore, as much as it's about that fact that we aren't practicing our friendship in the same way anymore.  The container has changed.  What wove us together has unraveled.  The routine has shifted. Schedules have changed.  Life got full of other things. Needs have fluctuated. Our time together looks very different and feels very different.

This isn't a post about friendship break-ups as much as it is about being aware and honoring that friendships change and shift over time.  I feel that it's important to put into words because so often women feel guilty, take it personally, or panic if a friendship drifts a bit.

Friendships Change. Frequently.

But the truth is that our friendships have to change; and by definition, when you have a change, it means there is an ending to one thing and the beginning of something new.  And sometimes there is a gap between that ending and that new beginning which can feel like a friendship fatality; and sometimes the new beginning doesn't feel as satisfying right away so there's an element of loss and grief that accompanies the change.

Since my book came out a year and half ago, and was written nearly three years ago, it's amazing to me how much my friendships have changed since then.  I want to own that publicly because I think it's normal and needs to be part of our conversation.  It's important, I think, for a "friendship expert" to voice how much friendships can drift and change and fluctuate even when everyone is doing everything "right."

  • Back then I had Tuesday Night Girls Night which for two years was five of us getting together every week. A little more than a year ago, two of the women no longer felt they could commit to the weekly commitment, (and I do want to say that how they handled that was amazing-- voicing their love for us, expressing

    womens hands and hearts

    honestly their need for evening time for other priorities, and their willingness to still get together even if less frequently) so our remaining group of three went through a process of "do we want to invite new women to join us?" or do we keep soldiering on just the three of us? We opted for the latter due to wanting to keep the intimacy that we had established, but an unforeseen consequence of that choice was that our gatherings were canceled more frequently than not due to the fact that when two people were traveling on the same week we only had one person left instead of three.  The ideal was still weekly, but the reality is that the three of us get together once a month. It took a while for us to admit that and come to peace with it. Ironically, it's more difficult to schedule something irregularly than it is to plan on something regularly, and we definitely aren't as aware of what's going on in each others lives in the same way, but travel has increased in all our lives and once a month is what we can pull off right now.  Still love all four of those women, but our time together has changed, our lives feel like they've sped up, and I miss the idea of a weekly get-together, even if I can't really commit to it.

  • Back then I also hosted "chosen family" dinners on Friday night whenever I was in town.  There were about 7-8 of us who got together pretty frequently, but needs change, and that ritual slowly dissolved. (In part, due to some intentional conversations about the desires from some for more alone time with us rather than group time, and in part due to life just getting busy and us not hosting as regularly.) We still see all those people, but at different times and in different ways.
  • And interestingly, along these lines, my monthly business women's group that we've had going for three years looks like it might be transitioning, possibly, into a quarterly group.  We have that conversation in two weeks as we all talk about what we each need and want going forward into 2015.  With some people having moved away, some people's commitments changing, and some people not showing up as frequently-- the questions needs to be asked:  1) what do we each need? 2) And what is the best way to get those needs met?

During the same time, several other groups have begun and other friendships have created rituals of their own, but in this post I really just want to honor that meaningful friendships have ended in some ways.  Sometimes it's been precipitated by something obvious: someone moving, or a job that requires more travel, or a life that just gets too full.  Sometimes it's just someone asking an intentional and thoughtful question like, "Is this still working for everyone?  Meeting everyone's needs in the best way?" And sometimes the reality of the ending only becomes clear later... after things have already started dissolving a bit, the recognition dawning slowly that somewhere along the line this form for time together isn't working anymore.

I get weary of feeling like "starting over" and sometimes I wish I could just freeze time and keep us all in the same place forever... I'm tempted to grasp, cling, or beg.  Letting relationships change isn't easy. I hate people moving away.  I want to hang on to what is meaningful. But life changes and so do people... so endings or perceived endings are part of the process.

Changing the Structure; Not the Love

There isn't a one of these situations where I don't still consider these people to be friends of mine.  There was no blow-up, no harm done, no fight, no break-up... just a container that wasn't working for everyone in the same way anymore. I still love them all.

In a super thought-provoking interview with Esther Perel at Slate.com on why spouses cheat, she makes a powerful statement about marriage that I think is applicable to friendships, too.

Most people today, for the sheer length we live together, have two or three marriages in their adult life, and some of us do it with the same person. For me, this is my fourth marriage with my husband and we have completely reorganized the structure of the relationship, the flavor, the complementarity.

Isn't that profound? In marriages-- who were are together (the roles we take on, the rituals we co-create, the way we interact) looks different at various stages of our lives.  To have to figure out who we are together at different stages in our marriages (i.e. with kids, when he/she becomes the bread-winner, when a new role outside the marriage takes one person in a new direction) becomes easier if we have the expectation ahead of time that we will continually need to be recognizing that some of our marriage structures will end, and new ways of being together will need to be formed.  For most of us it happens without conscious awareness... but how much more powerful to not take it personally when it happens, to see it coming, and to decide together to figure out what works best for each person now as opposed to trying to keep things the same.

The same is true of friendship. When only 1 in 12 friendships will be with people that we will stay in touch with over the course of our lives, and most of us seeing that about half of the people we are close to today are different from those we were close with 7 years ago-- there is much that is ending.

But the reality that my stories reveal today is that even with the women we still call friends through various stages of life, how we are together (i.e. how much time we spend together, the frequency of our get-togethers, what we do when we're together) does shift.  It has to.

Today I just want honor the reality that not only does every friendship not last, but even the ones that do often have to re-invent themselves, many times over.  And reinvention comes with some things ending as other things begin. We will ebb and flow. We will change what we share and how we share.  Our time together will look different.

My love for them doesn't change; but the container of how we practice our friendship right now may have to look different.

I can't stop change.  I can only be responsible for how I am going to respond to it.

I, for one, want to keep myself as emotionally healthy as possible so:

  1. I am prone to take less things personally and more courageous to show up knowing what I need;
  2. I can make sure that I am fostering enough friendships in my life so that when some become less frequent or intimate, that others are available for deepening;
  3. And so I can do my very best to show up in every friendship with eyes to see whether there's a structure that needs to be reorganized. No need to hang on to something that isn't working for someone within that relationship.  I'd much prefer that we become practiced at journeying through life in different ways, at different times.

For everyone grieving a friendship changing, or clinging with hopes of keeping it from shifting.... I pray for peace for all of us, that we can feel our love even if it comes in different forms.

p.s.  Here's a prayer I wrote about learning to let go of friendships that may be meaningful to some of you... Open Hands.