5 Reasons Friend Circles Shrink With Age…

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I was that kid who was a part of fifty million social groups growing up. There were my closest buddies whom I hung out with every day (Many of whom are still a part of my inner circle). But then there were the piano friends. The group that I did dance performances with. Aerobics buddies. The friends who hung out at libraries. Foodie pals. The friends I partied with (never been a big late-night person but still). The friends I would take the bus with to Mumbai to spend the day. The friends who were dating terrible guys and needed a friendly shoulder.

In the Indian (perhaps, South Asian) community, there is a lot of pride attached to how many people you know/are friends with. 50 people dinner parties are considered ordinary affairs. 1,000 people weddings are not the exception. Somewhere along the way, the extroverted introvert in me, imbibed those stereotypes and surrounded myself with more people than I needed. In fact, a few of my cousins, who were introverts, were often showered with taunts. Being mindful of how they chose to spend their time and life earned them the moniker, “Loner.”

Fact is that sometimes, friendships dissolve and the reasons remain a mystery. Sometimes, people drift apart. The “circumstantial” friends whom you met because of school, college, job, a networking group, or a language class and hung out with because of proximity, you might not have much in common with them. This happens as you move apartments or change jobs or move to a different city/country. If what brought you together was a “common enemy” like a colleague or a mean boss or an instructor or other external forces—once that’s gone, there might be nothing else in common to converse about. Because people, our values, our location, and our circumstances change … a friendship might dissolve.

1. Priorities change: As for me, in my thirties, I started to become selective about my friendships. Yoga became my guiding principle and it started to steer me towards my purpose. My mother’s sudden demise became a catalyst that speeded up the process. I wanted to understand the meaning of life and relationships in depth. I wanted to get to know people on a deeper level instead of shallow connections. I wanted to dive deeper into wellness and mindfulness. I desired friends who shared a common interest. Friends who drank until 3 am and talked about their college days (that most people in the room weren’t a part of since we met as adults in the US) or their Gucci handbag didn’t fit into my mental lifestyle anymore. People who chose to gossip about a third party, but disregarded social issues, didn’t feel worth my time. When you no longer have much in common, the friendship will fizzle out. I gave myself the permission to acknowledge my priorities.

2. Quality matters more than quantity: Friends can also have different expectations of what it means for someone to be there for them during a difficult time. You can’t always communicate these mismatched expectations, but the frustration will eventually impact the relationship. When my mom died, the noise in my life revealed itself to me. I saw good friends, from across the globe, show up despite every other commitment in their lives. I noticed how I wasn’t a priority to many others or maybe I expected more tangible support given that’s how I show up in crisis for others. I decided that I wanted to show up for those who mattered instead of running around like an exhausted, headless chicken. I chose to disengage with toxic friendships or where the emotional exchange was more one-sided.

3. Your tolerance for BS diminishes: If your friend has an extramarital affair and wants to pull you into his/her bag of lies, you might want to end the relationship. If your friend constantly drags you down with their sob story or if you start to notice a pattern where a friend uses you for their own selfish reasons, it might be a turn off. If the friend is manipulative, inconsistent, unsupportive, always plays victim, addicted to alcohol or other substances yet won’t get help … these are all valid reasons to shed the excess “baggage” of non-nourishing relationships. For example, one friend ended her 10-year-old friendship with a female coworker/friend because this woman showed romantic interest in my friend’s husband. It might sound trivial to some, but I parted ways with a friend who always “forgot” her wallet at home. I am happy to indulge, but I don’t like dishonesty or people abusing my kindness.

4. Paucity of time: As we get older, we get busier. Between work, responsibilities at home, passion-pursuits, and inability to party non-stop (That’s a real reason!) … we all are pressed for time. In my 20s, we often attended four parties on Saturday nights. I had the energy to wake up on a Sunday morning, complete my assignments for graduate school, and leave for work at 6:30am on Monday. As I get older, I realize time is a precious commodity. You start to become pickier about who you want to spend that limited time with. For some people, that might look like wanting to rest and recuperate over the weekend. For me, especially prior to the pandemic, weekend mornings were about going to the dance studio followed by a yoga class. There is no way I can party until 4am and show up to the gym at 7am and then be present for my family and friends during the day. Morning writing time is non-negotiable in my books, which also influences my routine.

5. Get to know yourself: I started to see and meet myself where I was instead of relying on others’ opinions on how they saw me. As I chose myself and found a confidante within, my friend circle started to shrink. Interestingly, I also made new friends along the way and with much deeper and nuanced connections. The biggest tragedy of human life is that we keep searching for love, validation, praise, support etc. outside. The day you learn to befriend yourself, sit with the discomfort, and get to really know who you are … you stop relying on others to “complete you.” Company can feel like a true gift instead of working as a crutch once you know how to rely on yourself. Once this happens, you won’t simply maintain a friendship due to its length.

We have all subconsciously or consciously let friendships die. Sometimes, that’s OK because certain friendships serve their purpose, and they have an expiration date. Some endings are accompanied by drama; others are engulfed by lack of communication and silence. Of course, it hurts. But no one person is responsible for the death of a friendship. Strong friendships are important to our well-being, and way more important than we might realize. Make sure you surround yourself with the right people, not just familiarity and history.

“I no longer have the energy for meaningless friendships, forced interactions, or unnecessary conversations.” ~ Unknown

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