When Friendships Change, How To Cope

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If your friendships are going to last a long time, you simply have to accept that things will always change, and the changes that happen won’t always be comfortable.

Maybe your friend from peewee football gets really into brewing beer right when you get sober. Or maybe you’re living your best single life but all your friend wants to talk about is their wedding outfit. Or maybe every time one of you flakes out on plans, you just end up feeling relieved instead of let down.

Here’s a little advice:

1. Start with the friendship triangle.

If a friendship is feeling weird, there’s a good diagnostic tool you can use to figure out a bit about what’s going on. Shasta Nelson is a friendship expert and author whose book, Friendtimacy, outlines a concept called the “friendship triangle.” (Nelson also has a TED talk that is worth watching!) The friendship triangle is made of three equally long sides (I believe in geometry it’s called an equilateral triangle, but honestly geometry was not my strongest subject so you might want to Google it.) Anyway, the base is positivity, and two sides of the triangle are consistency and vulnerability. If you look at your friendship through this lens, it’s much easier to see what’s off balance and adjust accordingly.

2. Figure out what you value.

Another helpful diagnostic tool comes from Rachel Wilkerson Miller, whose book The Art of Showing Up will be released in spring 2020. Wilkerson Miller recommends looking at friendships through the lens of your TME — time, money and energy.

“Those are your most valuable resources,” she says. “Think about where your TME is going, how you’re spending it and who you’re giving it to.” If you’re being drained of these resources, it might be time to shift the relationship.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for things.

If you want a friendship that lasts a long time, you should get comfortable asking for what you need. Being direct can feel awkward, but if you get in the habit of stating your needs, you can avoid a pileup of resentments much later on.

Heather Havrilesky, who writes the “Ask Polly” advice column for the website The Cut, says this works.

“Ask for exactly what you need,” Havrilesky says. “Sometimes it can be healing — I hate the word healing, but sometimes it can be — to actually think of some small things that would make you feel good.” So ask!

4. Not every friend is going to be there forever.

Over the course of a long life, you go through a lot of different versions of yourself. That can mean that sometimes, a friend is only present for a certain chapter of what you’re going through — and that is totally OK.

5. Be intentional about your breakups.

The final piece of advice can be hard to take: Sometimes friendships end. Society doesn’t really have a structure for how to end friendships — there’s no paperwork to fill out, no friendship divorce court — but when things end, it’s good to be intentional.

Wilkerson Miller recommends being clear whenever possible: “I think you need to say, ‘I want to end this friendship,’ and talk about what that means in practical terms.” Don’t beat yourself up for breaking off a friendship. There are a lot of folks out there in the world and you have time to make new friends.

BY JULIA FURLAN