The Big Way Friendships Change When You Enter Middle Age

Letting some of them fade away is actually perfectly OK.


By Katie Smith Published in The Girlfriends on February 1, 2022


During my younger years, I always had a lot more friends than I do now. It was important to me to have a buzzing social life, and I enjoyed being surrounded by a big group in college and high school.


I always felt the need to keep in touch with my girlfriends, and after being with them I felt revived and like new energy had been pumped back into me.


Over the years, I’ve started to feel a shift in myself after hanging out with certain people.


I’m very much an empath, and having kids exacerbated this quality. It’s something I’ve tried to ignore. Even if someone has upset me or done something that changed how I felt about our relationship, I’d still hang on and give more chances. I’d tell myself I was overreacting, and that possibly I was being too hard on them. I once had a friend with whom I was struggling. She’d call or message me over and over during a crisis (which happened very often). If I couldn’t get back to her, she’d get upset. We’d spend our time talking about her and her problems. She rarely asked me how I was, and if she did and I started talking … the conversations would get turned back to her.


She never wanted to hang out if she didn’t need to be with someone. In fact, it seemed like she would call me out of desperation on the nights she didn’t have her kids, a date or plans with another friend. A voice inside me was telling me to end the friendship, but I couldn’t wrap my head around doing something like that. My sister told me I was “loyal to a fault.”


That really hit me. Wasn’t being loyal good? Isn’t it what you are supposed to do when it comes to friendships? I’m the one with the problem, so I’m the one who needs to sort it out and make adjustments, right? Wrong. No one wants you to continue to be loyal to them if you feel so resentful and angry about having a friendship with them. The kind thing to do (for both people involved) is to let the friendship go. And after I did it for the first time, I realized how much more peaceful I felt. I wondered why I ever doubted myself for wanting to walk away from certain people.


Middle age has taught me something (that took me a really long time to learn): If something or someone is draining my energy, there’s no time to waste. It’s time to let it go. I’ve held on long enough to relationships that made me feel small or taken for granted — long enough to know that when you have these feelings a few times being in certain people’s company, things aren’t going to change.


Trying to adjust myself to fit into someone else’s world is exhausting and leaves me feeling resentful and unseen. That’s what happens when you continue to be there for a friend who doesn’t return the favor or listen to the boundaries you have set. It doesn’t have to be a horrible friendship in order for it to end, nor does the person have to be a horrible person. There are times when it just feels off, and it’s more than OK to listen to your inner voice on this.


I no longer have a big group of girlfriends I can reach out to, and I’m more than all right with that. My circle is very small and tight. I don’t feel the need to make things agreeable for everyone else. Friendships ebb and flow. There are times when we all get busy or need to keep to ourselves when healing from something. But there is a difference between this and staying friends with people when, well, you really don’t want to.


A lot of my friendships have slipped away over the last decade, and I am more than fine with that. Actually, I am really OK with that. Life is too precious to spend time with someone when you’d rather be with someone else — or alone. I truly believe in quality over quantity in this life, and my friendships are no different.

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