Outgrowing Friendships

Mariel Witmond
Mariel Witmond

23 September, 2022

Why do we outgrow certain friendships?

Who you surround yourself with can elevate you as much as it can drag you down. Friends influence our opinions and choices and help shape who we are. As we age, friendships are going to change, much like we do – and that is ok. 

  • Sometimes that means leaving things that no longer serve us, or hold us back, behind – maybe our lifestyle has changed or we are focussed on personal growth when they might not be. 
  • Sometimes that means that our paths have diverged – due to work or family or a new romantic relationship. 
  • Sometimes they outgrow the period they were formed in – childhood friends may no longer fit into or have anything in common with your now adult life making it hard to relate with one another.

There’s a beautiful reading by an unknown author that says that people come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Those that come into our lives for a reason come to teach us some important lesson, and then leave. Those that enter for a season, come for you to impart wisdom and growth as well as enjoy their company. These are real and they are meaningful, but they are only there for a season. Then there are those lucky few who are with us for a lifetime.

All friendships, regardless of how long they enter our lives for, serve a purpose.

Is it always a bad sign/negative thing?

Not at all, but it can feel like a negative thing. Much like with romantic relationships, we often attach illusions to our friendships, and when they end, it’s the bursting of the illusion and the disillusionment of the ego that can hurt the most. We might attach some of our worth to that relationship and when it ends, depending on how it ends, it can feel like a loss of self to a degree. It’s easy to assume something has ended because something is wrong with us. 

Most friendships that end are ultimately blameless, they just grow in different directions. However, if you keep losing friends for the same reason, then you might want to consider the role you are playing in the relationship and what you might need to work on to be a better friend. 

What are some signs a friendship might be shifting?

It may take some reflection to catch the signs, but no matter how subtle, you will soon know when a friendship is no longer serving its purpose. Some signs include:

  • You might be feeling a sense of obligation due to the longevity of a friendship and all that lay behind you, but maintaining a relationship when all that keeps it together is the past isn’t healthy. 
  • Every time you try to meet up, they have other plans that don’t include you. This can feel hurtful, but you don’t want to be in a relationship that doesn’t want to be with you.
  • You might feel that you can’t be yourself around them anymore and that you no longer share much in common. When we work on ourselves and discover the importance of authenticity and self love, it becomes imperative for us to feel comfortable to be who we are around those closest to us or the relationship becomes draining.
  • Speaking of draining, some friendships just feel exhausting. The moment you dread seeing or engaging with someone is a sign that you are forcing something that isn’t meant to be.
  • If you notice you are constantly giving but rarely receiving in return, then you might be in a one-sided/fake relationship. This imbalance may leave you feeling unsupported and mean that the friendship is on its last legs if the other person remains unwilling to contribute.
  • You keep arguing, can’t see eye to eye, and boundaries keep getting crossed are other steadfast signs that the friendship may be deteriorating. 

As painful as it may be, holding on usually becomes harder than letting go. If you don’t feel good when you’re together (whether it’s about yourself, your friendship or your growth), then it’s time for things to end.

How can we stop a friendship from being outgrown?

The trouble is that friendships receive less cultural prompts for care and nurture than other relationships do, so friendships are often the first thing that fall to the wayside when life gets in the way. If you would like to stop a friendship from being outgrown, you need to start making a concerted effort to consciously cultivate the bond you have. 

You can tell your friend how you are feeling and that you would like to work on mending the relationship – as is the case in all relationships, communication is key. Instead of expectations, focus on making agreements – express your boundaries and the kind of support you are looking for in a friend, and see if your friend is willing to meet you where you are at. 

If you have lost touch, you can make the effort to see and speak with your friend more often. It is important that both sides are willing to put in the time and effort. 

How can we come to terms with an outgrown friendship – both being the ‘outgrower’ and the ‘outgrowee’?

Friendships can make us feel as though we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. They are the family we choose and can give us a sense of belonging that reminds us that we are valued. So when friendships end, it’s not uncommon for the “breakup” to feel sad, painful, and even confusing – mostly because we assume it shouldn’t hurt as much as a romantic breakup, but it does. There’s a grief process we often have to go through to mourn and move on.

We tend to push past them faster than we would a romantic relationship ending and many don’t end quite so definitively, meaning we may not be getting the closure we need, especially if we are the outgrowee. It can also be tough pill to swallow as friendships are really based on who we are (not physical attraction), so it can be easy to question what is wrong with us to be getting the ax. We might question our likability. 

Remember that it takes time whenever we lose someone – in whatever capacity. And it is ultimately acceptance that will set us free from the loss.

No matter what, it is important that we don’t compromise who we are for the sake of others. This can be hard as we want to please, to be liked, to be accepted. But true belonging is only achievable when we are true to ourselves – and sometimes this requires us to take a closer look at our friends.

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