Friendships change after 30. If you have a core group of friends from your childhood like me, you will notice that even those stable relationships fundamentally evolve. Sometimes the change is beneficial – your friendship matures and bonds strengthen through shared life experiences, both positive and negative, personal and professional. Other times it’s destructive and even catastrophic – you develop irreconcilable differences, envy disparate positions in life, and despise personality traits that may have only bothered you for years. Nobody said growing up is easy. Maintaining strong friendships is part of the challenge, especially if you live hours, states, or countries away. It is almost like trying to make a long distance romantic relationship survive. Time and effort are necessary conditions.
Friendships encounter difficult and unique challenges after age 30 because you’ve officially become a full-time adult. You no longer get to enjoy the flexibility you experienced in your twenties. Now the guy who has one too many drinks at the party is no longer having too much fun; he’s an alcoholic. The person experimenting with drugs is no longer adventurous and “cool”; they’re self-medicating and depressed. The hothead defending his friends and getting into physical altercations is not steadfastly loyal; he has anger management issues.
When you pass age 30 and enter the era of inescapable adulthood, you also start to appreciate the limits of time. Daily hours are precious. Most people have finished school at this point and now have bills to pay, jobs to work, and families to feed. You no longer have the luxury of wasting away hours on insignificant people or activities. If you want to achieve your goals or realize your dreams, the time is now. What do you think about at age 60? The time you spent trying to maintain a friendship that was destined to die, or the moments you spent with a significant other, your family, the friends you cherish, or the activities you enjoy?
Not all friendships are bound to last, and that should be OK. The person you were in college is probably not the same person you are now in your thirties. People change along with the times. We’re all influenced by our life experiences and the joys and tragedies that inevitably find us. So if you no longer want to make consistent time for your college drinking buddy, or the person you played a sport with in high school, you should not feel guilty.
Although nobody should say that goodbyes are easy. This is particularly true when you think a relationship is healthy and reciprocal. Even when you notice signs of trouble, you’re confident that the friendship is salvageable. Most of us are inclined to think this way when friends have been with us for years, even decades. You may think you’re too committed to turn back now. You have invested too much in this person to walk away. After age 30, however, you may feel like walking away is the only option for a number of reasons.
- Different Stages in Life. Once you graduate from college and maybe even graduate school, real life begins. Previously, your only responsibility was to go to class, do the required work, and pass. You may have worked during school and had other responsibilities, but the fortunate simply had to arrive prepared and on time. During this time it was easy to relate to your peers – your lives in school were essentially the same. When you entered the real world, however, paths diverged. You made career decisions. Maybe you had a great internship that led to a fantastic first job. A few years down the line you received the promotion you’d been working hard to earn. What happened to your friends from school? Some may have experienced success, and a few may be arguably more successful than you (it’s all relative, of course!), but suddenly you realize that you cannot relate to each other as easily or as much anymore, even if you’re in similar industries. Jealousy and envy inevitably ensue as people benchmark themselves against each other. Most of these comparisons may remain unspoken, but it’s only natural for former peers to measure themselves against perceived competition. This behavior strains relationships. Some bear the weight of the pressure and spite, while others eventually realize the benefits of leaving those behind who allow different life circumstances to get in the way of their friendships.
- Selfish Tendencies Become Apparent. With a multitude of responsibilities after age 30, especially for those with families and children, it is impossible to cultivate friendships with everyone you called a “friend” in your past. There are not enough hours in the day. For those people you want to keep as friends, you need to make effort. If a relationship is not reciprocal, and one person does not pull their weight in maintaining the friendship, it is not worth the time. This behavior becomes readily apparent once you’ve been out of school for a few years – certain people are really good about calling, texting, or making an effort to see you. Others seem to have forgotten that you even exist. Or worse, they only contact you when they need something or you have something to offer. Friendships of utility that only run in one direction are an unfortunate occurrence after age 30.
- Stuck in the Past. We all have the one friend who thinks he/she is still 22. Whether it’s constantly reminiscing about the “glory days”, returning to old haunts with concerning frequency, or day-drinking away a Sunday for the “big game”, some people never grow up. Spending time with these friends has its time and place, but it gets old quickly. The best friendships adapt to the present and the future, while respecting and learning from the past. The relationships that are dependent on a point in time are not worth the effort.
- Social Media Facades. With some of your friends, any issues or problems in your friendship have more to do with them personally. In the contemporary social media age, so many people put up a facade on social media, carefully curating their profiles so it looks like they enjoy lives devoid of trouble – the cutest babies, best vacations, greatest weddings ever, etc. We are all guilty of this to some extent, but there are always a few friends who take it to narcissistic extremes. They might post pictures of places they haven’t visited for years, delete other pictures that did not receive enough likes, closely monitor who unfollows or deletes them as friends on social media apps, or constantly ask others to take photos of just them for “the gram.” This behavior is endemic with recent generations, but a few shining stars really take the cake. It is almost impossible to be close to anyone with this superficial mindset.
In the end, people will move in and out of your life. Those that stay are the friends who value you as a person and who are willing to put in the effort it takes to make a friendship thrive. Those are the people you must fight to keep at any age, and especially from age 30 and beyond.