[Editor’s Note: God made us relational beings, to live interconnected lives. But we don’t always do that well. We want to explore how our faith shapes the way we love the people God gives us. Join us as we consider what Jesus has to say about #relationships.]
A few months before my university graduation, I started to feel anxious: my social circles were shifting. A few of my peers had already graduated and moved away, and my closest friends were younger, sitting comfortably in the middle of their undergrads.
“Oh yes,” said my mentor. “You’re entering that post-grad transition period. I’m in it too––it sucks.”
I felt very much alone, even though there were other people around me in the same life stage: that post-university-being-in-your-20s stage with so.much.change. It was terrifying. What made all the transitions scarier was the reality that my social world was dramatically shifting too. The friends who journeyed with me the past 4 years of university weren’t necessarily going to be there as I jumped into the next life stage.
Many of them weren’t in fact here. And although I initially felt some grief and sadness over this loss, I’ve learned that it’s okay for friendships to end or change. I ended up seeing God provide new connections, heal my heart over lost ones, and give clarity to the type of friends I want to invest in.
For context, I’ve since learned (and experienced) that there are three types of friends:
- circumstantial friendship (we’re friends because we study or work together)
- seasonal friendship (we’re friends because we’re in the same season, such as university)
- long-term friendship (we’re friends through many seasons, changes, and stages of life)
Circumstantial and seasonal friendships, while they can be short, can also be extremely meaningful. It’s important to invest in them, regardless of how long you stay connected. Having said that, it’s also okay to let people go as you naturally drift apart. Sometimes we expect certain people to be long-term friends, but then things shift and it doesn’t turn out that way––and that can cause real grief and a sense of loss.
That was my experience. After graduation, my friends either moved away or, as our lives went in very different directions, there wasn’t much holding us together anymore. It’s normal in your mid-20s to feel unsettled as you start new jobs, move to new places, and meet new people. Your friendships will change. It’s inevitable.
My mom has told me my whole life: “Erin, you can’t do everything.” Sadly, she is right. I’ve learned that her wisdom applies to my friendships as well. You can’t be friends with everyone, and sometimes you need to let people go so that you both can grow and thrive in new places.
I’ve discovered a lot of social and emotional freedom as I give myself permission to choose my friends. In terms of offering a close friendship, there have been some I’ve needed to say no to. Some were circumstantial or seasonal friends, so as our circumstances or seasons changed, our friendship had to change too. Or some weren’t people I could invest in while staying emotionally healthy. Freeing myself from the burden of feeling like I needed connectedness with everyone gave me more space to deeply invest in the people God has placed before me.
I can still be kind and acknowledge those people I’ve said goodbye to, but they aren’t in my inner circle and that’s okay. I simply can’t have 52 close friends. If I did, I would be physically drained and emotionally exhausted.
What’s humbling is that as you choose which friends you want to invest in, they are going through the same process. There’s a chance they may not choose you.
It’s a bit like having a “define the relationship” conversation while dating. I had one such conversation with a friend a year ago, and it was awkward and painful. Even though she had moved away for a few years, I really wanted to maintain our friendship and a sense of “closeness.” When she moved back home, I reached out but she wasn’t reciprocating. She wouldn’t reply to texts, didn’t have time or energy for video calls, and wasn’t able to meet in person.
Sounds like she didn’t want to be my friend, right?
I ended up calling her out of the blue and sharing how I felt. Through tears, I explained that I really did want to be her friend, and that I loved her. And if she didn’t want to be my friend anymore I would understand, but I needed some clarity. What an awkward conversation! But it can be even more awkward to not have closure and context to help you let go and move on. Rejection sucks, but feelings of rejection don’t last forever.
It turns out she did want to be my friend. But she was experiencing culture shock as she moved home. She was just overwhelmed. Having that conversation helped me know her situation so I could encourage and love her––and not dwell on my feelings of insecurity.
Sometimes there are seasons where it’s not possible to feel that same level of “closeness” as perhaps you once did. Being a good friend means that even when we don’t feel completely fulfilled, we don’t respond with a list of demands. We seek to meet others where they are, trusting that God can bring new seasons of “closeness” in the future. Often being friends in the long term will involve changing levels of relational intensity. Change is hard, and often we need to grieve what can feel like loss. But even if a friendship looks different in the future, it can still be good—just different. Even if you talk to a friend just once a year to catch up, it can still be deeply rewarding and encouraging.
How do we know which friends to choose and invest in, even through changes in life stage? It’s not an easy question––especially when we don’t know who will choose us––but here are some criteria that have helped me invest and let go wisely.
Emotional maturity: Look for friends who can handle situations without unnecessarily escalating them. Instead of blaming others for their problems, people with emotional maturity accept responsibility and are willing to change their behaviour to resolve an issue.
Friends who struggle with emotional maturity just end up being surrounded by drama, which is exhausting. I’ve been this immature friend to others, and what helped ME grow was when they came to me and lovingly, in truth-filled and grace-filled ways, invited me to change.
Commonality: If you don’t have anything in common, you won’t naturally be drawn together. This can often start with surface interests, but at some point there needs to be something deeper tying you together. Often that foundation can be faith. But it can also be similar marriages, life stages, geography, proximity, communities, or passions.
Resilience: Resilient friends are able to bounce back and re-engage through change, loss, or trial. Some friends just stick with you, regardless of life stage, and they end up being incredible blessings. I think such friends are gifts of grace from God. We often don’t know who these friends will be from the beginning, but when we look back, we see the evidence of their proven friendship over time.
Reciprocal: Relationships can’t exist one-sided. I’m someone who tends to initiate a lot of conversations and activities, so I’ve found myself in friendships where I’ve done most of the work. But it’s not realistic to carry the burden and weight of a relationship solely on your own shoulders. Again, healthy long-term friendships involve a “choosing” of each other on both sides. There may be some seasons and periods where one person will reach out more than the other, but it should be balanced over time.
What can help in navigating the stress and messiness of changing friendships is to accept that you will change too. When you shift into a different life stage, you will go through drastic developments, and it may not be possible to remain friends with certain people. Especially if you get married and then have kids, your world will reorient greatly, and some might not feel able to follow you into that new reality.
To hopefully end off with some hope, look around. Who has God placed in your life in this season or circumstance? Start there. Invest wisely and love others deeply, even if you don’t know yet who will stick with you. Walk in faith, knowing the right long-term friends will surface in time. If you need clarity or closure on a friendship that has somewhat expired, it may be helpful to have a conversation with them, giving them and yourself freedom to move forward without each other.
If you already see some long-term friends in your life, show gratitude and continue to choose each other. Relationships take effort and investment––and it’s worth it in the long run.