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Friendship Break-Up 2: Saving a Drift, Avoiding a Rift

Friendship break-ups can be so hard. And painful. And sad. And, oh, ever so complicated! In the last post we looked at the two main types of friendship break-ups, with most of the focus being on The Drift--a more slow and unassuming process of two people drifting apart.

A Rift is often a more easily defined reason (than simply chalking it up to not having as much in common) for why we want out of the relationship. It almost always involves us feeling disappointed or hurt by the other-- as though they messed up, aren't healthy, or owe us an apology.

A Drift Can Turn Into a Rift

In a drift it might be because life either changed for them or for you (i.e. you retired, she went through a divorce, you moved away, she changed religions, you got pregnant) and while you may feel some resentment, there is a piece of you that understands the shift was nothing personal. We know they didn't leave the job because of us or get married to spite us. And we usually start off thinking we're still going to stay in touch... a Drift most often happens slowly... over time.

Both Drifts and Rifts have their valid reasons and times... but sometimes if we don't see the Rift coming, or don't understand how easily it can sneak into our relationship uninvited, it can turn into a Rift with hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

What brings the wounding in these situations is often expectations that didn't get met in the midst of the change. You felt sad that she was getting married when you liked being two single gals together, but you also didn't fault her.  However, when we interpret her calling less as loving us less or not making time for us anymore, we may start to feel she is to blame.  We miss her and don't know who to call to go out with so we resent how her life change is affecting our friendship. As our needs escalate, our insecurities get provoked, and our sadness feels more complicated; it becomes all too easy to feel like they're navigating it all wrong.

And they probably are.  As are we.

When you have two people in transition, trying to figure out a new way of being together-- it's almost guaranteed that it can't become something new without disappointing one of us along the way.  It won't just immediately arrive at some new pattern that we both like.

Preventing Drifts from Becoming Rifts

To prevent a Drift from turning into Rift-- there are three things I have found helpful:

  1. Tell her you value her. The very best thing we can do in those moments is to tell the other person that they are important to us. That their friendship matters to us to go through the awkwardness with them. To verbally commit that we intend to get through this change as friends, if possible.  I've said, "I just want you to know I love you and want our friendship to survive this change.  It may be hard at times, but you're worth it to me to figure it out."
  2. Acknowledge that it will change us. Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves and others that there will be a change in our relationship.  We cannot have a baby and show up as though we haven't.  We cannot go through a divorce and still show up as a couple at parties.  We cannot leave our jobs and think that not seeing each every day won't impact how close we feel.  To try to pretend otherwise only seems to hurt feelings.  Instead, say something like, "I know it's going to take us some time to figure out our new normal... but I'm committed to that process." Saying out loud that we know things will change (what we talk about, how often we talk, how we spend our time together, etc.) helps normalize it for everyone.  It also acknowledges that we aren't likely to slip into a perfect pattern automatically.
  3. Be as generous as possible. Both of you are still trying to figure out your own lives, let alone know exactly how to incorporate the other in meaningful ways. How fabulous to say, "Let's just both try to be as generous with each other as possible while we figure this out.  Let's try to always assume the best of each other, even if we don't always do it perfectly. We know we don't want to hurt each other."

Almost every time we hear that someone we love still loves us and wants to make it work-- we're more likely to feel generous, gracious, and hopeful about the other.  Those two statements can come from either person-- the one who is experiencing the life change or the one who is feeling left behind.  Both of us have the opportunity to help give this gift of clarity to the relationship.

It Takes Two to Show Up Differently

It's rarely only the responsibility of one person to be open to the change--even if you think it's her fault. It takes two people willing to let go of how it was and willing to practice what can become. But one can always be the first and help invite the other into this new space.

  • If I leave the job we both used to hate together-- it may take practice to learn how to share with her my new business in a way that doesn't leave her feeling stuck there or pressured by me to leave; and it may take some getting used to when she stops sharing all the company gossip since I no longer work there and I am no longer invited out to company happy-hours.
  • If she starts dating a new guy while I'm still single-- it may take practice for me to get used to him getting all the attention I used to get and it may take some intention on her part to still make time for just us girls.
  • If I have another baby after her kids are all in school-- I will have to acknowledge she may not want a baby around every time we get together and she may have to practice showing the excitement for my life that I deserve even if she feels like she's past that point.

And I've found it so much easier to give that grace to each other if I have already built up a strong circle of other friends.  It means I make less demands of her.  It means I don't need her life to stay the same in order for me to love her.  It means I take responsibility for my own joy and health, rather than hold her to blame for my loneliness.  It means I have support from others when she's consumed.  It means I can love her for who she is, even if we don't have this big thing in common any more.

Every relationship change requires two people willing to hold the relationship with some kind of an open hand-- a willingness to let it become something new. It cannot stay the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship Break-Up 1: A Drift or a Rift?

A TV producer called me last week because her afternoon TV show is hoping to interview some women who are currently going through BFF break-ups. She said that when the show idea was discussed, nearly every woman around the table had a story. As do we all. Changing friends is normal.

If you're a faithful reader of my blog, you'll recall that I often remind women that research suggests that we replace about half our friends every seven years.

To see if it's true in your life, list the five to seven women that you'd invite to stand up with you at your wedding if getting married today. Now think back to where you were seven years ago and see how many of those same women would be standing up there with you?  Most likely, with perhaps the exception of family members, two or three of the women might have been different if chosen back then.  And chances are that two or three of them might be different if chosen seven years from now.  Our lives do change. And with that change comes some movement in our inner circles.

The word replace speaks of two directions-- new friends coming in and old friends going out.

Many of my posts have to do with how to start new friendships since there are few platonic pick-up lines, winking seems inappropriate, and there aren't bars for female friends.

So in honor of the fact that we aren't just making new friends, but also having to let go of them, I'm going to write a series (number of posts still TBD) about friendship break-ups.

The Drift vs. The Rift

Friendship Break-Ups typically fall into two camps: The Drift and The Rift.

The Drift is when two people have less in common due to life changes or personal preferences.  There's typically no big break-up or blow-up, it's just two people moving apart.  That's not to say it doesn't hurt or that you're not aware of it though!  On the contrary, we often carry guilt, anger, or fear as these relationships drift.  We sometimes feel betrayed that they are leaving the job, moving away, having a baby, or going through a divorce that we feel threatens or changes our friendship. We know that our relationship is shifting.... even if we don't know yet whether it will survive or what it will look like.

The Rift is when an event or behavior causes damage to our relationship leaving us hurt, angry, or confused for what we'd consider a grievance or mistake.  I differentiate a Rift from a Drift when we feel that there is a behavior or action that would need to be discussed, forgiven, or changed in order to continue to be friends. Our pain can come from unmet expectations (i.e. she didn't ask us to be her bridesmaid and we thought we were close friends), blatant mistakes (i.e. she gossiped about our failing marriage to other friends, betraying our trust), or what we might call character flaws (i.e. she never calls us and we're tired of being the ones who always have to initiate). A Rift is when we feel justified at being mad at her.

I'll talk about the Rift in an upcoming post. This post is about the Drift.

The Common Causes of a Drift

One of the reasons we replace, or need to replenish, our friendships is because our lives all happen in different ways and in different times. Often, we drift apart. While there can be a hundred variations of why we no longer lean toward the same people, most of those reasons fall under these six common categories:

With so many of us switching jobs or starting companies comes the obvious fact that we are losing the friends that were associated with those specific workplaces.

If there was an era where we all followed a similar path: get married out of college, have kids two years later, live in the suburbs, etc.  We're definitely not there now. Now you're just as likely to be new mom at twenty-one as you are at forty-one.  We're not doing life in the same order or at the same pace as our friends which leaves us often wishing for new friends in our new stage of life.

On location alone, with Americans picking up and moving every five years it's no surprise that not all our friendships can survive the distance. Even if you stay planted, chances are high that a friend will move away in the next couple of years, forcing you to either drift apart or be incredibly proactive and intentional about staying connected.

And in that last sentence is where you'll find what I think is the most important choice in a Drift: decide whether this friendship is important enough to you to go through the transition.

Responding to the Drift

  1. Relationship Changes Are Normal. Every change-- in her life or yours-- will likely require the friendship to shift.
  2. Awareness is a Strength. The worst thing is to lose friendship unknowingly! Or to have to deal with anger down the road because you didn't take the time to see it coming or to do the work of readjusting your expectations. Don't live in denial!  Seeing it coming gives you time, wisdom, and increased generosity.
  3. Feel Your Choice. There are two kinds of Drifts-- the ones where we simply let it happen to us and the ones where we chose to let it happen. I don't believe we need to hang on to every relationship; nor do I believe we should simply let-go of relationships with people we love simply because life changes. While the actions of both choices may end up looking similar (i.e. call less, hang out less, slowly lose touch), one happens out of negligence, whereas the other happens with our blessing. There's a big difference.

We are called to learn how to hang on to some relationships, even when awkward; while also letting go of others, hopefully with intention and eventual peace. The trick is to know how to make that choice.

Leave your comments: How do you know when a friendship is over? What helps you decide? How have you handled friendships drifts before? Do you tend to "hang on too long" or "let go too soon"?