The Fear And Frustration Of Outgrowing A Friend

Remember the moment you realised you were outgrowing a friend? 

Some of you can picture the scenario right now. Others are puzzled, maybe even offended by the idea. 

If you considered someone a true friend, how could you outgrow them? 

That raises an important question: is friendship a lasting bond? 

I have an issue with the countless ‘Best Friends Forever’ hashtags online. Is that a factual statement, or an aspirational one? 

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Aren’t both predicated on the assumption that your friend will remain the person you initially befriended? Your college buddy was kind, funny, caring and cool. Those qualities formed the personality you loved, the person you tagged on Insta, and the promise you delivered as a hashtag. 

Will she always be kind, funny, caring and cool? People change, and what if she becomes cruel, dull, cold and lame? 

The idea of ‘ditching’ someone because they’re not cool anymore feels like a jerk move, but if you formed friendships based on just that attribute you probably aren’t the kind to feel ashamed about it, right? 

Most of us with strong friendships know they are anchored by several different factors. A friend’s personality is just one of them. There are also shared experiences, common goals, and current lifestyles. The crazy times you and she had in the hostel, your hopes of landing kickass jobs after your MBA, and the fact that you live in the same part of town. Basically, past, future and present. 

Any of these factors can change and cause the friendship to wither, break, fade, or drift away. All the nuanced details of such loss are summed up blithely by us as “Life happens.” 

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This is true. But sometimes, we consciously make a decision to step away from a friendship. It’s a realisation that’s accompanied by sorrow, helplessness and even a tinge of guilt. The moment we realise we’ve outgrown someone. 

It’s hard to explain that word. Outgrowing a friend isn’t just about obvious actions like graduating away from college life and a best friend filled with booze. It can be subtle, and it can be a slow burn.

It can happen over the course of weeks, months or years. At first, you think it’s just a matter of different opinions and choices. You want to focus on work and talk about improving your career. Your buddy wants to rave about the last rave he raved at. You are hoping to marry a great guy, and have started longing to become a mother. Your bestie rolls her eyes at hassled parents at the park as she skateboards past wondering how overpopulated the world is.

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We all can and do have friends who have completely different opinions and lifestyles from us. That in and of itself isn’t a problem. The cracks in a friendship start when other factors are affected as well. You can be friends with someone who always wakes up late. But when you’re a friend who starts waking up early, differences start to emerge. You’ll have to decline late-night conversations with your buddy, and probably laugh it off when he teases you for the tight-fitting workout clothes you bought.

Won’t there be friction at some point? We can all espouse that people can do what they want to do, but don’t we also believe that some things are better to do than others? One reason why outgrowing a friend today is tough is because it’s become impolite to put a value judgement on things. You can believe that spending 5 hours a day on social media has devastating effects on your mind, but raising that point with your best friend is seen as being condescending or judgemental.

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But is it judgemental to want your friends to grow the way you are? Sure, who’s to say you are right. But at what point do we acknowledge that there are basic truths applicable to everyone. Sure, your childhood best friend had a breakup. But how many days of guzzling ice cream and devouring The Office is understandable, even prescriptive, before it becomes destructive?

Our parents used to warn us that the friends we made in school would one day go their own way, leaving us behind. For them behind meant less than 90% in school or failure to get admission to a preferred educational institution. We rightly thought they were being harsh. But as we grew up, some of us realised certain friends held us back, or worse, saw no reason to grow along with us. Our love for them transformed from companionship to a desire for prosperity – physical, mental, and spiritual. Some of us realised we had only two options: to gently nudge them, guide them, maybe berate and plead with them to grow. Or else to leave them behind.

Because once you realise how important growth is, and understand what wishing the best for someone really means, the third option vanishes.

You can’t simply stay silent and engage in a superficial friendship.

Have you been through the process of outgrowing a friend? Or does it feel like they outgrew you?

Musthafa Azeez
Indian born and raised in Qatar and currently making plans to be buried in Canada. Voracious reader, avid cinephile, self-published author of a crime novel and a freelance journalist.

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