31 May Five Signs You Might Be Growing Apart From Your Childhood Friends
I want to talk about friendship today, childhood friends to be specific. I can remember going to school in my suburban neighbourhood. On the first day, I was unhappily thrown into a class with absolute strangers.
These were people I had never met before in my short life. These other children were going to become my friends in early life. They were not chosen by me. I remember being out in the playground for break time and sitting beside my ‘soon to be friends’. I felt alien, unfamiliar and nervous in their company.
This is a snapshot of the process of making childhood friends in our society. It’s pretty crazy but universally crazy so we all experience it to one degree or another. There were no values or principles to latch onto to measure who the good kids were in my surroundings. I was just an ignorant child trying to learn about the world and make my way forward.
The child who can command the most attention in the group is maybe the closest measure a child will look for in the popularity stakes. 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.
The childhood friends selection process
In many cases, we choose our childhood friends based on criteria such as popularity, sense of humour or similar juvenile interests. There is also 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 similarly aged person living close to where we live who we might stumble upon frequently. They might entertain themselves in a way that passes the time in the most amusing, non-monotonous way possible. Well, childhood can last a long time with lots of time to play around and amuse oneself.
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 without much to do. We got 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. At 9 or 10 years old, I was very interested in football and sports. As I got older 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 a band. Now I was spending time with people who liked music while also maintaining my buddies who also played sports.
As we grow older, our priorities in life change and a deeper understanding of who we are begins to emerge. This can cause friction, in part, because of the way people have come to understand ‘who you are’ changes. 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 my early friendships grew from familiarity and proximity with where I lived.
In most cases, these friendships 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 virtues or those with a sound adjustment to healthy principles.
I think there is a kind of inevitability for some people in life. When they get interested and involved in personal development, self-growth and self-knowledge, many of the proximal childhood friends can tend to resent, scorn and mock them to ‘snap’ back to ‘normal’. In many cases, it means that your desired growth isn’t welcome and the value of the friendship in their eyes is beginning to diminish or become uncomfortable. In many cultures, this is a variant of ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. Dealing with this and finding people who will accept your need to develop and grow is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
During my twenties, some of my childhood friends chose an attitude that was not meeting my need for depth and emotional curiosity. There was direct opposition to the direction I was taking my life in which caused arguments and the situation wasn’t something I was feeling very much desire to be a part of any longer. I was thirsty to connect deeply with people who had a similar desire to talk about things which mattered to both of us.
The lack of emotional curiosity I experienced and opposition to my desired growth was suffocating. When certain topics were mentioned, I was told they were out of bounds. I implicitly felt they expected me to censor myself from talking about what mattered to me. I felt like I had no other choice but to look for friendships 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 new 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 were relating to many of the traditional structures of society which have existed for centuries such as 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. Growing tensions and pressures were placed upon me to either stop my interests in these topics in their company or find others to continue my interest in developing this curiosity.
With the advent of the internet, we can find a variety of interest communities online these days. In the early days, it was difficult to step out of alignment with allowable friendly conversation topics and not feel a sense of isolation and loneliness. There is also a question surrounding depth and curiosity in some of these 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 might be in trouble.
1. Relationship Gets Abusive or 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.
Let the other person know how you feel. If you are the one who does all the maintenance work of the relationship and it begins to look like more of a one-sided relationship, address it. This will allow the other person to either address those issues as well. Maybe there is something which needs to come out of a conversation with them.
Conversations about things that matter are healthy. Staying in one-sided relationships is abusive and enabling for the person who is taking advantage of the other. Try to avoid avoiding this issue if it arises.
2. You No Longer Call Each Other or You 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 negative about someone calling you on the phone and you might ignore them because you don’t want to talk to them to interact with them. This might continue until you see them at a mutual friends place or on the street randomly. Potential awkwardness ensues.
There is a way to avoid this. You can be honest with 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 issues 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 Feel Anxious, Think Twice or Make Excuses
Similarly, when we do take time to consider what it is that is frustrating or causing anxiety around a relationship, we tend to choose to avoid the childhood 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. By then there may be some resentment on both side and lead to some heated arguments. Inaction is a form of action and has consequences. 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 childhood friends and you feel like something is off? Maybe you hesitate to bring up certain topics 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.
What may be happening for you is that someone has been rubbing up against your boundaries and some of the limitations that you have for your relationships. Again, as I mentioned previously, the best thing to do is to confront the elephant in the room and speak about what is going on for you. If you are not aware of what it is, take some time away from your childhood friends and get clear on what it is that is going on for you. Confront the friend with the aim to resolve what issues are present in the relationship.
5. Life Takes on a Different Path From Your Childhood Friends
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 neither of you is particularly interested in picking up the phone and checking in on how their life 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 might be that this type of relationship will never 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. Sometimes, relationships have a function in a time and place and it is fine to outgrow that relationship and move on.
What can you do about it?
The reason I am writing about this 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 friendships which have an 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. I’m not saying it is impossible. I do have some friends who have remained close to me from my childhood/teens. Whatever is the case for you though, it’s totally normal to drift away from people when we feel the value of the friendship has diminished.
I understand that in many cases, the fear and resentments 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- It is not for any of us to stay in relationships with people who are not providing us equally 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 comes out of a commitment to personal development and the willingness to resolve all of our psychological woundings 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 and self-knowledge around our needs, is a much better predictor of successful relationships.
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