How to Deal When Your Best Friend Becomes Distant

Transitioning from seeing your best friend every day to seeing them every few months can take a huge toll on the bond that you thought would last a lifetime. You thought that your best friend, the go-to-gal for any juicy updates in your life, would be your pal for many more years. Surely, if your bond was strong enough to withstand boyfriend drama and going to different colleges, you’d be able to make it through a rough patch, right? Maybe.

Just one all-too-familiar example of friendship woes is the high school to college transition. For many college students, the transition from high school to college also includes the distancing of friends you thought would be there for a lifetime. However, having friend troubles can be difficult at any age due to a variety of reasons. In fact, many girls, as you will soon read about, experience some variation of losing friends throughout their young adult life.  Maybe it’s right after high school, college graduation, or during the busy school months. Here’s how to deal and understand why this might be happening.

1. Understand that it's okay when people change

Our society seems to treasure relationships that have withstood the test of time. Usually, we find that the longer people have been friends, the closer they are. And while time may sometimes be a good measure for the strength of a relationship, at other times, it’s completely arbitrary. Do you still talk to your “best friend” from middle school? If so, congratulations you're a rarity. If not, you are most definitely not alone.

Relationships that begin when you’re relatively young must endure changes that you and your friend experience as you develop. Fortunately, you have a chance to grow out of your awkward stage and develop your core values. Maybe you were wild in high school and super excited to go to every social event, but you’ve buckled down to get a degree in college and your friend doesn’t seem to understand. These differences often become even more clear in college.

Lindsey*, a senior from Siena College, realized that time apart between her and her friend had caused a shift in the dynamic they usually had. “I think the distance has happened because she had a lifestyle stabilized here while I'm still sorting out what my post-grad life will be. I've always had a clear idea of what career I'd like and she has been less confident in her future career. I think the distance has happened because, at the moment, I'm very independent and more focused on getting a full-time job I enjoy and less concerned about finding a boyfriend right now,” she says.

Lindsey and her friend simply grew apart, and that’s perfectly okay. That doesn’t mean it was anyone’s fault—there’s no one to blame. Recognizing that you and your friend are no longer on the same path is mature.

2. Celebrate your differences

Perhaps you enjoy partying and your friend prefers having chill movie nights. Or maybe your friend seems to constantly jump from relationship to relationship while you enjoy being single. Possibly, while you’ve gone to art school, your friend is a chemistry major and doesn’t seem to “get it.”

Opposites can make the best combinations, but the differences can also wedge a divide in your deep bond. Someone you once thought you knew and cherished suddenly seems like a stranger. Over time, you’ve each developed into someone with normal differences. These differences can include introversion/extroversion, relationship preferences, optimism/pessimism, and other character traits. There’s nothing wrong with having different opinions than your friend, but it’s important to live your life on your own accord, not because you want to be agreeable 100 percent of the time.

Amber*, a sophomore at the University of Michigan, experienced a difference in goals that impacted her friendship firsthand. “I think a lot of the time it has to do with the goals you have for yourself. The primary focus in my life is my schoolwork and grades, whereas my high school best friend would say that her biggest goal is marrying her current boyfriend—great for her, but I can't imagine having that mindset. We got along really well in high school, but since I got to college, it's been really hard to relate to her, especially now that I'm surrounded by people who have the same goals as me. I still enjoy spending time with her in a fun goofy way (occasional wine nights and stuff like that) but I don't feel like I can have a serious conversation anymore because we don't have the same goals and worldview.”

Amber hit the nail right on the head as she explained why her friendship changed. Instead of blaming her friend for not having the same values as her, she recognizes their differences as both valid. She found friends whose values are more in line with hers and maintains contact with her friend who still means a lot to her, but can’t relate with anymore.

3. Recognize toxic friends

While the above examples are friends that recognized their difference in core values and adjusted their relationship accordingly, many times distance comes with conflict. There’s a high probability that someone’s feelings will get hurt when two people transition from being close friends to only acquaintances. Friends that evolve into entirely different people with opposing values can lose sight of why they were friends in the first place due to hostile confrontations.

Maybe you’re jealous that new relationships are taking quality time with your BFF that used to be dedicated to you. Perhaps you can’t get over high school fights, rude comments or how someone can’t own up to their mistakes. It happens to more of us than you think. You’ll realize that too much damage has been done to salvage the bond that was once great. Pride gets in the way, and it seems easier to make new friends than to decontaminate a toxic relationship. You’re not selfish for thinking it, just be mature enough to admit your part in ending the friendship and apologize when necessary. Maturity is a huge component of this transition—without it, conflict can cause a lot of drawn-out hardship.

Sarah*, a sophomore at Lehigh University, experienced a toxic friendship that resulted in her ceasing communication with her high school friends. “One day we were graduating together and the next, we were no longer speaking. As soon as we didn’t have an excuse to see each other every day (school), we stopped. There were a lot of conflicts that led up to that moment, some which were definitely my fault, and I hope my ex-best friends realize I take full responsibility. However, being entirely cut from the friend group without any warning made me wary of creating any new bonds and made me scared to trust anyone. I miss my friends and I hope they miss me back, but sometimes you just have to let go.”

Sarah’s testimony of recognizing her own toxicity speaks volumes of her maturity now. She is also conscious that moving on sometimes means letting go, as painful as that can be.

4. How to bridge the divide

Perhaps you've read the information above and relate, but you know that this distance is only a blimp in the relationship. You guys have way too much history, and you're frankly not willing to let go anytime soon. It may be extremely scary to bring up the distance you've been feeling especially if you haven't had any obvious fights, but chances are that they're feeling that same distance as well. Someone just needs to bring it up first! A good way to do this is by asking to meet up or hang out perhaps in a cafe you both love. Be open-minded when asking how they've been feeling, and be sure to communicate your feelings without accusing them. It's okay to be direct and honest, but if someone feels as though they're being attacked, they will most likely retaliate. This conversation should not be about who is right or wrong, but a way for you to both see how the other person is feeling and how you should move forward with this newfound knowledge.

Many scenarios and conflict types were introduced above, but we want everyone to understand that friendship troubles come in all shapes and sizes. It’s completely normal to want to distance yourself from someone you don’t relate to anymore. By the same token, we hope you’ll understand why distancing needs to occur at all. As painful friendship break-ups can be, we know you can get through it and use your wisdom to foster meaningful relationships in the future. Good luck!

* Names have been changed

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About The Author

Stephanie is a sophomore at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where she is currently studying international relations with a minor in psychology. She is also a member of the Kappa Delta chapter. Stephanie hopes her future consists of making the earth a more sustainable environment, helping underprivileged children, and lobbying for women's rights. Additionally, her interests include dogs, green tea, and traveling. You can find her on Instagram at stephanie.huynh_