“You’re outgrowing your friends.”
Scott is my best male friend, and every Thursday, we get together to catch up on each other’s lives. It’s been an ongoing thing for at least 3 years now and on that particular evening, we were talking about the growing pains of life when he made that very statement. I pondered it, and then quickly brushed it aside, because I thought he was wrong, even though, almost always, he isn’t. I carried that thought home with me that night, and I haven’t quite let go of it since. I took inventory of every intimate friendship I had, looking closely, to find the pieces that looked spread out and far apart. I didn’t really see anything amiss (dang rose-colored glasses!), but I did make mention of it in passing to one of my longtime friends by saying “We can’t ever grow apart”. I’m pretty sure we both snickered at the thought of it because we had been friends for over 30 years. Life went on as usual, even though Scott’s words continued to nag at me if I let myself think about it too much.
As time went on, however, I started to notice small cracks here and there: an irritation, an impatience of sorts even, that hadn’t ever been there before. Not in all my friendships of course, but in a few of them. I chalked it up to one or both of us being moody or perhaps having a bad day. Thing is though, those cracks got wider, and I found myself reflecting on what Scott had told me that night when he said that I was outgrowing my friends.
Most of my inner circle has been in my life since toddler-hood. Not kidding. My two best childhood friends are named Melanie and Scarlet, and I’ve always been a little miffed about the fact that my mother, who knew their mothers, didn’t name me Rhett or Ashley! After all, we were three peas in a pod for a very long time, and even though I don’t see them as often as I would like to these days, we always manage to pick up right where we left off and it never feels like we’ve been apart at all, even after 40-plus years of friendship. We have each other’s backs and we know that we can always depend on each other, come what may. Those are the kinds of friends I have, and never did I imagine that I would ever outgrow any of them.
But I did.
A close friend of mine has always told me that some people come into our lives only for a season, and then they’re gone. Most of us live in places that have four seasons annually, each lasting about three months, so I never thought of any ‘season’ lasting beyond that, and certainly never related it to pinky swears that were decades old. But the truth is, people change as their needs and circumstances change. None of us mean for that to happen, but as we get older, we find ourselves going in different directions. And it’s not always the people involved in the friendship who muck things up, either. Sometimes, life events such as marriage, divorce, having kids, losing a spouse, moving away, and a host of other things shift the dynamic. We don’t want it to, but it does. In fact, when I got divorced, many of our couple friends said they wouldn’t take sides—and most didn’t—but a few of them ended up not choosing either one of us. When we separated, the rules changed: what was once 4 on a double date became 3 and to be completely honest, that’s just awkward for everybody. It takes some restructuring to find a new normal and to accept that life-changes often mean friendship-changes as well, whether we like it or not.
I compare these changes to sifting, and if you look that word up in the dictionary (or on google, which is the modern-day version!), you’ll find a host of definitions. But the two I found really hit home: to shake a powdered substance through a sieve in order to break lumps into very small grains or to make a close examination of something[i]. As a hobby baker, I often sift the powdered sugar before I make vanilla buttercream icing, and if you’ve ever sifted it yourself, you already know that there will be some lumpy, round goodness left in the sifter when you’ve finished cranking. If you choose to use those little gems in your frosting, you’ll end up with an unholy, gritty mess that won’t be easy to smooth out, not even with your piping-hot spatula and Viva paper towels.
Sometimes, life sifts out the people who no longer fit us, creating a finer blend of things to come. It doesn’t mean we didn’t cherish those friendships because we did. It also doesn’t mean that those people won’t reappear, because they do. What it does mean is this: oftentimes, people experience personal and emotional growth on different levels—and while we always want to reach back to pull the person lagging behind up to speed, it just doesn’t work that way. I’ve been guilty of trying to pull people to the level I was at, only to realize that every single shift in life is a process that needs to happen in its own time. Not everyone will grow at the same rate you do, and sometimes, people won’t ever catch up, only to fall away and never return.
Allowing people to be sifted out through the sieve of our lives is never an easy task, whether it be a friend or a lover. Each person has their own path to walk, as well as their own lessons to learn, and we must be willing to let them wander at their own pace. So when those metaphorical cracks begin to widen, I would encourage you to wish the ones who have walked alongside you much courage and perseverance as they detour; thank them for being part of your story; appreciate them for the things they taught you. And later, if and when they do catch up, it means that they have grown and are again meant to be part of your journey, whether they stay forever or only for a season. Welcome them with open arms and agree to love them through the hard times when the terrain again gets treacherous, because inevitably, it will. Accept them for who they are in that moment and congratulate them for making the positive changes in their lives that led to the growth which brought you back together. But most importantly, be in agreement that neither of you will ever take it personally when another detour becomes necessary for whatever reason.
[i] Taken from the Cambridge Dictionary