How to Handle a Dwindling Friendship
Friends drifting apart is a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to handle.
The pandemic has been hard on relationships. Whether you’ve started to realize you don’t align with your friends on certain values, you’ve struggled to find outings that both you and your friends feel comfortable participating in, or you’ve simply lost touch as the past year and a half has dragged on, COVID has not been easy on friendships. Casual friendships have all but disappeared for many, leaving only the strongest of friendships intact, but for some, that is not even the case.
I’ve been deeply saddened by the loss of some of my own friendships over the course of the past year. Oddly enough, I’ve found that the past several months, as the United States starts to get somewhat back to normal, have revealed which friendships I can save, and which are already all but lost. It’s a rough time for many of us right now as we struggle to get back to work, attend events, and socialize more regularly, but all of that is made even more difficult when the friends you’re used to leaning on during times of transition in the past are nowhere in sight.
Whether caused by the pandemic or not, a dwindling friendship can be hard to handle. As Harpers Bazaar puts it, “friendships, like romantic relationships, are subject to various external forces that either strengthen or chip away their quality.” For some, the last year has chipped away at the quality of their friendships irreversibly, and that chipping away process can be heartbreaking under even the best of circumstances.
If you are watching one (or more) of your friendships slowly dwindle down to nothing, here are some ways to handle the emotions that come with it:
1. Don’t give up right away
Yes, you may not have heard much from a close friend in a few months, but don’t give up just yet. Friendship is definitely a two-way street, but that doesn’t mean you should automatically give up on a friendship when it starts to dwindle.
If you’re only just starting to see the signs of a dwindling friendship — going longer and longer between communications, never managing to make time for each other — give the relationship a little while to revive itself. Don’t give up on reaching out — or on the friendship altogether — just yet. If you care about this person in your life you shouldn’t give up too easily, but if “you initiate all the ideas, make all the plans, and are responsible for changing them if they’re not convenient for your friend,” you may want to start re-evaluating the friendship.
2. Try to understand where the other person is coming from
While you are continuing to make an effort in your friendship, even if you’re about ready to give up, don’t forget to try and understand where the other person is coming from. I know it may be hard when it feels like you’re putting in so much effort and it’s never reciprocated, but there could be other reasons why they are not responding to your texts or bailing when you finally make plans.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. If your friend is going through a hard time that doesn’t mean they should abandon your friendship, but being a bit more understanding, and maybe even offering support, can strengthen your friendship rather than chip away at it.
So maybe reach out to see what’s going on…you never know — it could fix things and salvage a friendship that you value!
3. Accept your role in the friendship’s deterioration
I know this one can be a hard pill to swallow, but just like the way that friendship is a two-way street when it comes to communication, it’s also a two-way street when it comes to deterioration.
True, you may have done nothing wrong. But there likely is something you can learn about your own tendencies within a friendship when you find some of your relationships dwindling. Was there anything you did that could have unintentionally hurt your friend? Often the answer is no, but it doesn’t harm anyone to self-evaluate.
Even if your friendship ends despite your efforts to keep it intact, there’s always something to be learned about yourself and about other people with any sort of relationship. Take this self-evaluation and acceptance of your role in the friendship’s deterioration as a lesson — albeit a very painful one.
4. Recognize that it’s okay to move on
Sometimes friendships end. If you’ve continued to persevere for a time, put yourself in your friend’s shoes, and examined your own role in the relationship’s decline, there may not be anything else you can do.
I understand how difficult that is to accept — I’ve been going through it myself recently — but it can be a necessary step when a friendship is dying. It’s okay to move on and leave a friendship in the past. Does that mean you are abandoning your friend? No, but it means your friendship as it was is changing.
Give yourself grace when you come to this point in your friendship — in many ways, it is like grieving a permanent loss of a loved one. I found it much easier to understand and process my own emotions when I looked at my experience through the lens of grief — you may likely feel all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Understanding how you currently feel — and might feel as you process the loss of a friendship — is so much easier when you know what to expect as you grieve a friendship.
Growing distant from a friend when you’d like to stay close is incredibly difficult. We don’t always talk about the toll that a lost friendship can take on a person, but it can be just as heartwrenching as a breakup or family rift. When you start to notice a friendship dwindling, remember not to give up right away, but also recognize your own boundaries. Sometimes life causes a friendship to end, and that is ultimately okay. Taking time to reevaluate your friendship, and process your own emotions, will undoubtedly help you as you move on to a new phase in a once-close friendship — even if that phase is actually an end.