Growing Apart From Childhood Friends
I want to talk about friendships today. I can remember going to school in my urban neighborhood on the first day and being unhappily thrown into a class with absolute strangers. These were people I had never met before in my short life. These were going to become my friends in early life and they were not chosen. I remember being out in the playground for break time and sitting beside my ‘soon to be friends’ and feeling alien, unfamiliar and nervous in their company. This is a snapshot of the process of making first friends in our society. It’s pretty messed up but universally messed up so we all experience it. There were no values or principles on show being measured from my young mind. Who can command the most attention in a group is maybe the closest measure but that is surely not what a 6 year old boy is consciously thinking about as he laments about his favourite part of the episode of Basil Brush that he had been watching the evening before. In many cases, we choose our early friends based on criteria such as popularity, sense of humour or similar juvenile interests but there is no doubt that proximity is one of the biggest reasons we ‘choose’ these early friends.
This goes on and on for years and is how friendship takes its beginnings in our society for the most part. We might join a sports team or have a similar aged person living close to where we live who you might stumble upon frequently, entertaining themselves in a way that passes the time in the most amusing, non-monotonous way possible. I found a variety of ‘friends’ in my early life through proximity, many of these friendships were good for passing the time and we spent time hanging about with not much to do and getting up to all kinds of mischief. Friends came and went and as my interests changed, so did the people I began spending more and more of my time with. I was very interested in football and sports and had a group of friends that played football together for hours after school. Then as I started to hit puberty I became interested in playing music in bands and started spending time with people who liked music while also maintaining my buddies who also played sports.
As we grow older our priorities and deeper understanding about who we are starts to change too. This can cause friction because the way people have come to understand ‘who you are’ can change and when that identity shift begins to happen, it can cause disagreements and create tension where none existed before. Throw sexual maturity into the mix and relationships with friends which seemed so simple not so long ago, can become a hotbed of tension and backstabbing, especially among large groups of friends. That might be the topic for another post but I think it’s worth pointing out that in my experience many of these early relationships grew from familiarity and proximity with where I lived. In most cases they were devoid of anything to do with the type of person I was befriending or the values that we shared. I am sure there were some unconscious preferences at play, but my young naive mind was not in the habit of vetting friends in terms of virtue or sound adjustment to healthy principles.
I think there is a kind of inevitability for some people in life, that when you become involved in personal development, self-growth and self-knowledge, many of your proximal childhood friends will resent, scorn and mock you to ‘snap’ back to ‘normal’, which in many cases means that your desired growth isn’t welcome and the value of your friendship in their eyes is beginning to diminish or become uncomfortable. Dealing with this and finding people who will accept your need to develop and grow is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
My childhood friends chose a life that was not meeting my need for depth and emotional curiosity. Theirs was a fine choice to make, but it wasn’t something I was prepared to stick around to endure. I was thirsty to connect deeply with people who had a similar desire to talk about things which mattered to both of us. Their lack of emotional curiosity and opposition to my desired growth was suffocating. When certain topics were mentioned, I was told they were out of bounds and I was expected to censor. I felt like I had no other choice but to look for relationships that could fill me up emotionally and psychologically, where I would be able to fully explore the new interests I had stumbled across.
When I began to explore topics such as politics, psychology and philosophy, I felt push-back from many of my friends and family members. I challenged a lot of the assumptions that many people don’t like to have challenged, some relating to many of the structures of society which have remained unquestionably in existence regarding the church, state and other social institutions which most people unquestioningly find necessary for our earthly existence to continue. It may have been that I was hacking away at some deeply ingrained beliefs they may have held but there was a growing tension and unconscious pressure placed upon me to either stop my interest in these topics in their company or find others to continue my interest in developing this curiosity. Because of the internet we can find interest communities online these days, but before the internet, it was difficult to step out of alignment with allowable friendly conversation topics and not feel a sense of loneliness. There is also the question relating to the existing depth of those formative relationships that we develop growing up through proximity, also maybe a topic for another post.
Here are some of the markers or red flags to watch out for when a friendship is in trouble
1) Abusive/One sided
Friendships are supposed to be mutually beneficial relationships. That is a healthy way to view a relationship. If your friendship has become one sided with the arranging, travelling and contact coming from one side, maybe you need to address that with the person. Letting the person know how you feel, if you are the person who does all the maintenance work of the relationship is a sign that it is, in fact beginning to look like more of a one sided relationship. This will allow the other person to either address those issues and maybe there is something which needs to come out of a conversation like that with them. Conversations about things that matter like this are good. Staying in one sided relationships like this are abusive and enabling for the person who is taking advantage of the other. Avoid avoiding this issue if it arises.
2) No longer call each other/ Ignore caller ID
There is inevitability around growing out of affection for some of your friends. Some friends will come in and out of your life. You may feel negatively about someone calling you on the phone and you might ignore them because you don’t want to talk to them of interact with them. This might continue until you see them at a mutual friends place or on the street randomly. Then awkwardness ensues. There is a way to avoid this. You can be honest to your friend. You might not even know why you are ignoring your friend but you feel the desire to ignore them. If this is the case, I recommend spending some time jotting down your thoughts. Time spent journaling and getting to the bottom of what is going on for you regarding tough emotional stuff like this is time well spent. It provides us with clarity on how to see the issue and ways in which to tackle it. If you are aware you are avoiding a friend, get clear on what the issue is and bring it to your friend’s attention and have an honest conversation about it. If your friendship means something to you, maybe it would be beneficial to you both to put your cards on the table and discuss how you both feel.
3) Thinking about hanging out makes you anxious, think twice or make excuses
Similarly, when you do take time to consider what it is that is frustrating or causing you anxiety around your relationship, we can tend to choose to avoid the friend and see if the feelings go away. This is choosing to remain in the null zone. This is a state of flux that you are choosing instead of confronting the issue head on. This strategy may last for a certain amount of time but eventually you will run out of excuses and by then there may be some resentment on both side and lead to some heated arguments. As I mentioned, it is best to either make the decision to move on from the friendship, or, fight for the friendship to evolve to something you both want it to be.
4) Feeling awkward in their company
Are there times when you are with your friends and you feel like something is off or that you hesitate to bring up certain topics up as it might elicit some negative reaction from your friend? This feeling of walking on eggshells in the company of supposed friends is horrible. I have experienced this and it’s not a good feeling. It can add to the desire to not want to contact them again. Again, as I mentioned previously, the best thing to do is to confront the elephant in the room and speak about what it is which is going on and if you are not aware of what it is, take some time away from the relationship and get clear on what it is that is going on for you and confront the friend with the aim to resolve what issues are present in the relationship.
5) Different life paths and different outlooks
Both of you have missed out on the key details of your current lives. You are not sure what is going on for them right now and they don’t know what you have been up to either. The curiosity is gone and either of you are particularly interested in picking up the phone and checking in on how their career is going, their relationship with the new partner or maybe a child is on the way. You might hear something through the grapevine and the more you hear about what is happening for them, you begin to wonder will you ever have the kind of relationship you shared when you were younger. It is very unlikely that this type of relationship will ever get back to what it may have been before and that is perfectly fine. There is no obligation to stay friends with people who grow incompatible to who and what we have chosen to become.
The reason I am writing about this topic is that some of my coaching clients find it hard to accept that some relationships are not serving them any longer. They often find it hard to permit themselves the choice to break off certain relationships which have lasted for many years, often these are their first formed friendships which have added emotional sentimentality. The likelihood that we are going to find friends who all remain close to our hearts throughout our whole life is slim but winning the friendship lottery is also possible too. I’m not saying it is impossible and I have some friends who have remained close to me from my childhood/teens. It is rare though, and it’s totally normal to drift away from people when we feel the value has diminished. I understand that in many cases, the fear and resentments which some friends might have regarding any changes and growth occurring in our lives can come from their own insecurities around their own value and the meaning attached to that. This is their own responsibility and it is not for any of us to stay in relationships with people who are not providing us equal and mutual benefit in the association.
I also believe that we can choose more compatible relationships when we are aware of who we are as people, which come from a commitment to personal development and the willingness to resolve all of our psychological wounding which can occur in childhood. I truly believe that proximity is the least reliable way to produce a long and fruitful mutually beneficial friendship. Compatibility with our values, when we get clear on our values, is a much better predictor of successful relationships.