Getting older is always tough, but nothing about adult life seems quite as harsh as losing friendships. Even if you were once closer with someone than you’ve ever been with another person, that relationship can dissolve within a matter of years – sometimes even months. Usually, it happens because you end up on different life paths.
As I settle into my late 20s, I’m starting to realize just how difficult it can be to stay connected with a friend whose life is completely divergent from my own. As I’ve learned from talking to older friends and family, those rifts only continue to grow wider if you let them. The key, I’ve found, is to be proactive in preserving the relationship.
If you feel yourself growing apart from a friend whose life has become very different from your own, here are some things you can do to bridge the gap.
Understand their decisions.
Many of my closest friends are on a different path than I am. They dream of kids, a house in the suburbs and a minivan to go with it. Even though I don’t want any of those things, I still need to support their decisions.
I might look at a house in the suburbs with disdain, but I have to consider it from their point of view. Those neighborhoods usually have better school districts, and more space available for less money. If I’ve learned one thing from having older friends with kids, good schools are everything when you have children.
Friends only start to drift apart when one or both parties stop trying to understand the other. If my friend can make an effort to understand why I don’t want kids, then I should try to appreciate why she does.
Keep Your opinions to yourself.
I’m a very opinionated and judgmental person. I always think I’m right, but lately I’ve learned that’s not the most endearing quality to my friends.
When you’re on a different life path from your friends, you have to keep some opinions to yourself. I don’t agree with being a stay-at-home mom, but I won’t tell my friends not to do that. I don’t agree with spending lots of money on a new car, but I won’t shame a friend for splurging on a new Lexus.
Even if your friend is doing something objectively bad, like having an affair or running up their credit card bill, you can’t tell them what to do. You’re not responsible for their decisions and you won’t have to personally deal with the aftermath, so let it go.
Create new memories.
I had an intensely close group of girlfriends in college. We lived in the same dorm our freshman and sophomore years and continued to hang out our junior and senior years.
After graduation, we all moved away. We’d see each other at Christmas and text occasionally, but we weren’t as close as when we were 18. I knew we missed each other, and one day I got the idea that we should all go on a trip. Thankfully, they all agreed and we planned a vacation to Asheville, North Carolina.
The trip was amazing. While we spent a large portion of the time reminiscing about our college days, we created new memories in the process. I’ll never forget the hours we spent playing Taboo or watching for license plates from faraway states while driving. Even though we’ve known each other for a decade, my friends and I shared stories we had never heard before.
Now we text each other every few days, updating the others about our job interviews, our house searches and our boy troubles. Even though we’re all on different paths and live hundreds of miles apart, our friendships feel as strong as they were when lived in the same dorm.
Don’t let jealousy get in the way.
Recently, I asked my parents how they’ve managed to stay friends with people who earn more than they do. Don’t they get jealous of what their friends can afford to do? Isn’t it awkward if someone shows up to a party in a new Mercedes while they’re driving a Toyota?
But my parents are wise. They never feel envious of a friend whose life is going really well. “You’re always doing better or worse than someone you know, so just be grateful for what you do have.”
As my friends and I get older, I’m sure salary discrepancies will come up more than once. As I’ve observed from my parent’s example, money only becomes a factor if you let it. Yes, some of my friends will drive nicer cars or have bigger houses – but I can’t let my jealousy divide us. Neither should you.
The same is true if you’re single and all your friends are married, or if you can’t have kids but all your friends are moms. Yes, it’s easy to feel envious looking at Instagram photos, but harboring those feelings will make it harder to remember why you’re friends in the first place.
Do you have tips for maintaining diverging friendships? Let us know over in the #Adulting Facebook community.