my friend and i are growing apart. should we break up?
welcome to New Rules, a column by mixed feelings which highlights the strong opinions and social mores of New York denizens. It's modern etiquette, according to the most tapped-in among us. Have a question you want them to answer? Comment below or DM us.
Friendship is a big topic for us — starting them, ending them, deepening them. Stories about friends are consistently some of our most-viewed, what with all the unclear social etiquette around them. This month on New Rules, we’re discussing distance — more specifically the guilt, shame, and expectation that comes with outgrowing a friendship. But, just because a friendship is long-term doesn't mean it has to be long haul. We asked three of our fave New Yorkers how to handle a faltering friendship without falling apart. All the details, below.
Awkward silence is an uncomfortable thing. And when said awkward silence is between you and a long-time friend, it can feel like a knife to the heart. The person who you used to know is becoming a stranger.
The first time I experienced this, I became entangled in the past. I replayed old memories in my head and lamented over who we used to be. I tried to do things that she used to love and felt distraught when things weren’t the same.
Unfortunately, you can’t force a worn-out shirt on a newly developed body. Evidently, something in at least one of our lives shifted. When this happened again with another friend, I decided to be upfront with her rather than let our relationship fade.
I sent a text admitting that I missed talking. After we had a heart-to-heart, we agreed to catch up. We spoke about our new lives and instead of dwelling on the past, we tried to find new things to do together. To break the ice, we played games (like “Truth or Dare,” but without the “Dares”), so that we could discover new things about each other. It wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning of a new chapter. — Ianna
From the time I was around six, I spent large amounts of time with a neighborhood friend. Countless hours of my childhood were spent at her house and I used every excuse to be immersed in her life. As we grew up we went from sand castles, forts, and dolls to basketball, swimming, and gossip; while our activities evolved but it didn’t feel like her level of maturity had. By the time middle school came around, my motivating force to hang out was boredom at home. Instead of feeling like I was visiting a friend, it felt like I was being entertained by someone I’d outgrown.
We reconnected after the pandemic my sophomore year of high school. That was when the differences started to actually matter. It became clear our values were mismatched. She never discussed politics beyond “do you also like Trump?” One conversation that feels seared into my memory happened when we met up again in high school: She asked me if “they even teach you in public school” and made some frankly racist remarks about my classmates.
It felt like something had changed — or maybe I had. Her close mindedness and lack of self awareness really weighed on me. After two of those conversations I decided the friendship was ready to be over. I felt guilty cutting ties with someone I’d spent so much time with growing up, but the reality is, as soon as you know someone is not serving you, it is essential to let go.
I wanted to avoid any brutal bridge breaking, so I took the path of slow distancing and stopped making plans. I typically like to be honest and communicative, but after giving the situation some deep thought, I knew that my friend was not someone who would understand why I was severing ties, so I let our friendship fade out.
It’s been four years since and I have not regretted it once. I appreciate the good memories that live in the image I have of childhood, but I’m glad to be done with everything else. I think the hardest part of growing apart was coming to terms with the fact that I can’t always salvage relationships — but knowing when you can't or shouldn’t is just as valuable as distinguishing when you should. — Clementine
I grew up in a small suburban town. When I moved to New York City, the shared setting that united my childhood friends disappeared and the cracks in our relationships began to form — a growing distance that social media was unable to cover. Our weekly calls and Discord server chats where we would catch up and share updates on our lives, became monthly, then yearly, until I finally muted the server altogether. I didn’t understand their new inside jokes, they didn’t understand the new words and slang I learned as I acclimated to my new environment. We understood that our connection was waning and accepted the ways our lives had changed.
When I started college, I felt it was necessary to bring closure to this social separation and head into the next chapter remembering the good times. Rather than just letting these important friendships fade into the dark, I wanted to openly address how we changed, rather than pretend nothing had happened.
Breaking up with a friend feels like losing a piece of you that you’ve known for the longest time. The initial process of moving on begins with being vulnerable enough to communicate your feelings, and taking that initial step by ripping off the Band-Aid. It allows you to close a connection that you have put on pause, rather than idly pretending a relationship is something that it’s not. Just as our interests change, so do friendships, and there is no harm in acknowledging this aspect of growing up.