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What to Do When You’ve Outgrown a Friendship

Relationships make life worth living.

They give us people to share good memories with, to lean on in hard times, and to just enrich our lives in ways we can’t do on our own.

We all know that there are several kinds of friendships: coffee-date friends, acquaintances, Facebook friends, mass-Holiday text friends, close friends, best friends, and everything in between.

We also know that friendships, like all relationships, go through different phases, and sometimes they end.  Friendships ending is a normal thing and sometimes it’s even for the best, but what happens when you’ve outgrown a friendship and can’t just let it die gracefully?  Or what if a friendship is really bringing you down and you want out but don’t know how to leave?

Over the past few years I’ve had to make some tough decisions regarding a few friendships.  There were a few friends, who when I really needed them, took off.  I wouldn’t hear from them for months or a year at a time, and then they’d come back, hoping for a second chance.  So I let them back in, wanting to believe the desire to reconcile was sincere, that they’d change, only to watch them do the same thing all over again.

It used to make me angry.  It used to make me really sad.  It used to make me wonder what was so wrong with me that they couldn’t or wouldn’t stick around.

But over time I realized that taking their behavior personally wasn’t fair to me nor was it an accurate representation of the situation.  Yes, we all need to take responsibility for how we act in friendships, but sometimes it really is the other 50% of the situation that matters.

These friends weren’t bad people nor do I think they were being deliberately hurtful, they just weren’t in the same place I was when it came to valuing friendships.  At that point, I think I could give more than they could, and yes it was sad, but it also doesn’t mean that I (or anyone else) should put in the time and effort it requires to sustain a good friendship when the other party doesn’t reciprocate.

Sometimes being a good friend means trying harder and sometimes it means walking away.  It never means being a doormat though.

Second chances are warranted at times.  Sometimes third chances.  That’s for you to decide.  We all have to make choices about who we are willing to have in our lives and how far we’re willing to go for them.  But keep in mind that sometimes trying ad infinitum isn’t best for anyone–it drains you and it shows others that you’re willing to put  up with anything.

I used to believe that being a good friend meant that I’d give them a chance as long as they wanted one, but in the end it always left me feeling used.  So instead of letting people walk all over me, I started being fair about when I’d give out chances, and letting my friends know what I needed out of the friendship.

If I got it, great. If not, I was honest about it and walked away.

I realized I’d outgrown those friendships and was feeling drained far more than I ever felt fulfilled.  I believe balance is important in all relationships, and sometimes the scales tip one way and sometimes they go another.  If that scale is stuck on one end though, you might consider reevaluating the situation.

Let go of the friendship, wish them well (or just wish for peace for both of you), and keep moving forward.

What I realized is that when I stopped letting people walk all over me, people who viewed friendships the way I did came into my life.  They were people who could give me what I needed and vice versa.  They were people who could let me help them when they needed a shoulder to lean on and I knew I could count on them for the same.

It’s sad to let go of friendships, especially when you really wanted them to work out.  And who knows, maybe one day they’ll show up the way you hoped they would, and maybe they won’t.

The point is, whatever you believe you deserve in life will find you.  Personally, I’d rather spend my time with people who can laugh and have fun, but at the end of the day care about me enough to stick around if things get tough.

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Katherine December 1, 2013, 2:28 pm

    I outgrew a few friendships last year, and it was so hard to let them go and move on. I wanted to so badly, but I felt terrible to leave behind some friends. Recently, I had it happen to me, and it’s such a hard thing to go through. This post was wonderful! It’s so honest and true to life. It’s sad letting go of friendships, but usually a new beginning is the end of a past beginning!
    Katherine recently posted…Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce.My Profile

    • Alex December 1, 2013, 2:31 pm

      So well said, Katherine! I’m sorry that happened to you but it just means that you are in for something better :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts–so important to remember that every new beginning is from some other beginning’s end (to quote Semisonic!) :)

  • Davida @ The Healthy Maven December 1, 2013, 3:50 pm

    I was just talking to a friend about this the other day. I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to figure out who I am and what I want and the people I grew up with are definitely experiencing the same thing. As a result we are all drifting in different directions and meeting new people. I can’t say I’ve felt particularly let down by any of these friends, but I definitely have felt like I have to put more effort into the friendship than I would like. It’s been hard to come to terms with but I think I’ve finally acceptable that it’s okay to let go of friendships when you really don’t have much in common or to talk about anymore. And who knows, maybe we’ll come around in the future?
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    • Alex December 1, 2013, 3:56 pm

      That’s a good point–sometimes it’s not that anyone has done anything wrong or let the other down, sometimes people just grow apart. And sometimes I think people can and do grow back together. I love your thoughts on this, Davida! Thanks for sharing them :)

  • Jan @ Sprouts n Squats December 1, 2013, 7:52 pm

    Friendships can be straight up hard especially when you need to let some go. I have 2 different friendships I’ve let go in the last 2 years and both for different reasons.

    One was a really close friend who is still in my extended friendship group making it more awkward not being friends anymore. I had consistently been the one putting 80% into our friendship and getting very little in return always having to fit in with her plans and also always being the one to instigate catching up. On top of that there were numerous occasions where she got really snappy at me for the sole reason of her wanting to be right. All these things added up to me realizing I just didn’t want to be putting my time and energy into this friendship anymore given how many times I was disappointed by it and felt like I was being too accommodating.

    The second one was a good friend who felt the need to criticise my relationship with my boyfriend and would always put him down as she felt she didn’t ‘know’ him well enough. After evaluating the friendship in general over time I decided to just let it go.

    On the positive side I became closer to a friend who I realized has been there for me through thick and thin, has always gone above and beyond and who when I looked at it I had taken for granted sometimes. So I’ve been working hard to put a lot more time and energy into that friendship as it is one I don’t want to lose and very much enjoy having.

    Love this post…wise wise words as always!!!
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    • Alex December 2, 2013, 6:48 am

      I think it’s great you realized that those friendships weren’t giving you what you needed and deserved, even though it’s also hard to let go. That had to be really frustrating put so much in all the time with the one friend and having the other criticize your boyfriend. I’m really glad that you became closer to another friend and saw what you two had. Thank you, Jan :) <3

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