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I've Drifted From My Childhood Friends. Are We Too Different?

It's not always necessary to cut off older friendships to make room for new ones.

by Gretchen Brown
May 6, 2021 | Love
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Dear Ask Me Instead,

My high school friends and I have drifted in recent years and, naturally, are now quite different from each other.

The few times of year we get together, we have a good time, but the conversation can lag and even feel awkward at moments.

I don't want to cut myself off from these longtime friends, but I wonder, how different is too different when it comes to friendships?


Dear Drifting,

The galaxy brain approach to friendships says our first friendships were formed for vain or silly reasons: we liked their shirt, or their lunchbox, or their hair. We sat next to them on the school bus or ballet barre or math class.

Our adult friendships, then, have to be more serious, since we actually knew who we were when we formed them. This time, there's an actual interest binding you together, like a love for hiking, or punk shows, or politics.

But it's wrong to think of relationships you formed in high school as vain and silly, and relationships you formed as an adult as smart and strategic, mostly because it's not the absolute truth.

Our culture loves to fixate on the initial spark to a romantic relationship, that instant chemistry. But we tend to ignore that factor when we think about friendships.

Even as an adult, making friends isn't a highly scientific process. We just think each other is nice to be around.

And isn't that kind of lovely? The way we can feel immediately connected to people we meet? It's so much better than going through the world alone and isolated.

The version of friendships we see depicted on TV isn't very helpful. Many people don't have one tight-knit, sole group of friends. In reality, our friendships may span across the country, from all different parts of our lives. 

That doesn't mean all of these friendships are good. But some of them tend to stick around. Other friendships have an absolute expiration date. 

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Credit: Ben Malley // TPT and Ded Pixto // Adobe

For instance, if you don't like the way a friend is treating you — or the way they treat other people — that's enough reason to consider ending things.

But your friends don't need to be — and shouldn't be — an exact clone of you. Friendships should support us, yes, but they can also challenge us. It ensures you don't live in a bubble. 

If you have ever tried to make friendships with people exactly like you, you probably grew frustrated pretty quickly. Because the longer you know someone, the more you learn about the full person — all their quirks and intricacies. We're not only who we outwardly present ourselves to be, we're infinitely more complex.

There's no one out there just like you, and I know that's a children's book cliche, but there's truth to it.

At 27, I'm noticing how much the paths of all of my high school classmates have already diverged from each other. 

We live all across the country. Some of us are parents. Some of us are excelling in our careers. Some of us are still trying to figure things out (hint: me).

Those paths are never going to completely converge again. The older we get, the more life experiences we have, and the more unique we all become. 

I'm still growing and changing each year. And there's a good chance I'll continue to make new connections in each stage of my life. That's one of the fun parts.

But I don't think it's always necessary to cut off older connections to make room for new ones. 

If your high school friend group is still having fun the one time a year you get together? If it's not stressful, if it's relatively easy to plan? That's awesome, that's enough, that's worth something.

It's natural for conversation to lag a bit when some time has gone by. It can help to have an activity to let everyone ease into it, like a card game.

Take advantage of your time together to talk about memories you have from high school. I can't stress how comforting this is. You don't have to want to go back to the past, but it can be nice to revisit from time to time.

If you're still enjoying the time you have together, and nothing has happened to change that, then it's worth continuing the connection if everyone is up for it. 

You don't have to feel bad for not texting each other every week. You don't have to feel like the connection isn't worthwhile if you can't talk about everything on your mind during that one gathering.

You have other friends you can vent about everything with, friends who you might feel intersect more with your personal Venn diagram. 

Instead, I'd encourage you to view it as a fun time you can take a dip into nostalgia from your formative years, and leave it at that. Friendships don't need to be perfect to be worthwhile.

Have a life dilemma?

Email Ask Me Instead at [email protected] or send us a note using this form. All submissions are anonymous.

For more good advice, visit the Ask Me Instead collection.

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
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