How do I keep my best friend’s changes from changing our friendship?
Dear Captain Awkward,
My best friend had a near-death experience, and now he’s different. Really, really different. Almost like he’s aged decades in a single day. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell if it’s even the same person. We have shared many incredible adventures and survived many troubles together, but since the changes I don’t feel quite that same ease and comfort between us.
He doesn’t seem to want to talk about what happened to him, and I don’t want to push him to do that if he’s not ready, but I also don’t want to fake like everything is normal when it clearly isn’t. We see each other very sporadically, just now, often with no time for long talks. How do I get my old friend back? Or learn to love the new one?
Dear Ms. Impossible,
Some friendships naturally run their course when the thing that brought you together, that common circumstance or point of view, no longer holds. Your bunkmate at sleepaway camp or the bosom companion of your first year at university might or might not turn out to be a lifelong sort of friend, and that’s okay. You can help each other survive a tense and exciting time, and you can still have very positive feelings toward them and wish them well without being part of each other’s day-to-day lives.
Friendships that last a lifetime must change and adapt to changing circumstances, and both friends must make an active effort to tend the friendship, come what may. It’s so depressingly easy to drift apart. It takes effort to make time for each other, to keep finding things that you have in common, and to greet changes in each other’s lives with optimism and compassion.
Above all, you have to keep finding a way to show up for each other. Old friends can let you travel in time, back to the way that you used to be, without judgment or a need to explain. But they don’t try to keep you there in your own past at the expense of who you are now.
So, if your friends have children, learn to love those children (and to change a diaper once in a while). If your friends go to graduate school, learn to be at least passingly interested in their research topics. You have to take the attitude that while you yourself may not have a passion for knitting/archeology/cinema studies/opera/creole cooking/comically pretending to eat a baby’s toes, you want to know about the things that fascinate and occupy your friend, and you want to inhabit their point of view and love the world the way they love it.
If they can show you and your interests the same enthusiasm, if you can forgive each other the times when life necessarily distracts you, if you can keep making time for each other, then you can make a lifetime of meeting and re-meeting one another.
It’s easy, when you don’t see someone very often, to let one or two awkward visits or encounters loom larger than they need to in the whole story of your friendship. What used to be comfortable silences start to feel weighted, and you start to think of other friendships that didn’t last. The longer you put off having a big awkward talk, the harder it is to raise the subject.
Maybe think of it this way: You are changing all the time, perhaps more slowly and less drastically than your friend has changed, but you are changing. We all are. If your friend loves you, if he keeps showing up for you and wanting to spend time with you even when things feel strange between you, he is demonstrating faith and hope that he will love the person you are becoming the same way he loved the person who you were.
If you feel that his friendship is worth your time, show him that same faith, and give him your time. When and if you stop wanting to put in the time, you’ll know that the friendship has run its course.
Jennifer Peepas is a Chicago-based filmmaker and film teacher. She answers questions from non-fictional characters at her blog, CaptainAwkward.com.