Why Do We Lose Friends in Middle Age?

You’re 30–something and have fewer friends than in your 20s? You’re definitely not alone.

An old friend and I recently sat down to catch up, and one of the topics that came up was the fact that we’d both — in our late 30s — found ourselves with far fewer friends than we’d had in our 20s or even early 30s. Why does this happen to so many people?

I likened the loss of friends during our 30s to the pruning of neurons that occurs during key stages of development. These friendships, no longer necessary, are pruned and cleared away. This ultimately makes room for more depth and growth in the friendships that we do keep, but it can be a painful and confusing process…and maybe even significantly damaging to our self-esteem.

Here are some factors that could lead to the demise of friendship in middle age:

1) We Just Don’t Have the Time

Sometimes the main reason for losing friendships is simply not having enough time. We tend to get more invested in our romantic relationships and careers at this age, and it’s also the time most of us start having children (or more children). It becomes increasingly difficult to carve out time for friends. We become more selective in planning coffee and dinner dates, choosing only those few we are most excited to catch up with. We’re simply not as “socially promiscuous” as we were in our teens and 20s.

This is also the age when many of us begin spending more time helping our parents and older family members, due to injuries, chronic illness, and the natural decline in health and vitality that comes with old age.

2) We Know Ourselves Better

By the time we’re in our 30s and 40s, we’ve become much more discerning about who we spend our precious time with. We have a better sense of who we are, what we want, and what we definitely do not want.

We often have the wisdom now to recognize which friendships are toxic or are no longer serving our own growth, and so we know it won’t hurt to stop contacting certain people. We may begin to see the benefits of staying clear of those who may suck our energy, drag us down, or otherwise be destructive forces in our lives. Life is short. We know to NOT let faux friends ruin it!

3) We Change, for Better or Worse

All of us change and grow as a natural part of getting older and a “side effect” of our experiences. Change is indeed the only constant in life. Sometimes that change includes losing a significant amount of friendships, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the reason for losing a particular friend isn’t clear to either party, and that’s okay. Insight may come with time.

Sometimes change happens suddenly and unexpectedly, with surprising results. A traumatic event can occur in our life or in the life of a good friend, for example. We could lose a spouse to death or divorce, we could lose a parent or sibling, we could become very sick or develop a chronic illness. This kind of trauma can change us, knock us off our feet, rearrange our priorities, and make us turn inward. Trauma like this can make us question everything.

And “everything” can most certainly include every single one of our friendships.

4) Burned Once, Burned a Thousand Times

Pain results when we are at the receiving end of a friend who no longer responds to our invitations — in other words, when the friendship breakup isn’t mutual. If this happens often enough, we can find ourselves becoming needy or clingy with the friends who are still around, perhaps out of a codependent desperation to keep them.

Or, on the other end of the spectrum, we might find that we distance ourselves from our friends — worried or fearful that they will also find a reason to leave. This can ignite old wounds and insecurities, and churn up a lot of unfinished business.

Neither of these extremes are healthy, but they occur often enough to make the list here. We can begin to doubt ourselves as people and our ability to be good friends. Over time, we may begin to struggle with depression and social anxiety. This has led some to suggest that since we have therapy for romantic relationships and therapy for family, we should also have friendship therapy, to aid us in times when fractured friendships have a soul-crushing, psyche-disturbing impact.

Nurture the Friendships You Keep

No matter what causes the loss of your friendships, be sure to nurture the friendships that you keep.

  1. Set a regular time each month to meet up.
  2. Do more than chat on social media.
  3. Do something fun that you’ve never done together, or partake in an activity that reminds you of the time you met.
  4. Involve your friend and their family in family dinners, outings, and other events.
  5. Celebrate your friendship anniversary or an important date that you both cherish.

As with all human relationships, increased depth and connection often comes with challenges, disagreements, and miscommunications. If these “growing pains” are handled with grace, compassion, and patience by both parties, the friendship bond will grow that much stronger.

Originally published at www.brigidmag.com.

North Dakota-born science writer in British Columbia. Research communications specialist. Founder of The Other Autism: https://other-autism.com/

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