Life has many chapters, and the characters in them are constantly shifting. You are allowed to outgrow older adults and old versions of you. Outgrowing friendships is an entirely normal experience for anyone undergoing significant transformations in their life. Old friends who are on a different path may be inadvertently holding you back from reaching your fullest potential.
Here are the top 6 signs that you’ve outgrown a friendship and a few things you can do to let friends go…
6 Signs You’ve Outgrown Your Friendship
Figuring out whether or not you’ve outgrown someone is not always a simple task. Leaving a friendship can sometimes feel like a romantic breakup. Years of accumulated memories, emotions, and mutual support still bind you together.
You don’t want to hurt your friend or make them think you’re on a high horse. But at the same time, you can’t go on draining your energy just for old times’ sake. With a bit of reflection, you may notice some of these signs that your friendship is fading. Think of them as guideposts on your path toward more growth and new connections.
#1 Your Friendship is Rooted in the Past
The most common reason old friendships dissipate is that the past becomes the only thing linking two people together. As people grow in age or personal development, they naturally change their interests, viewpoints, and the overall course of their lives.
When you outgrow a friendship, you might find that you and your friend only talk about nostalgic memories from your youth or many years ago when you were in a similar stage of life. But that doesn’t mean recollecting on fun times is a bad thing. Nostalgia triggers the reward centers of your brain and links to psychological resilience.
The problem comes when nostalgia is the only thing binding you together. This makes growing as individuals and as a pair hard to do. Reminiscing on the “good old days” becomes your only shared interest.
For example, everyone knows those people from high school who still live in the same town, work the same job, and talk about the same old memories. There is nothing wrong with their decisions, but if you have moved away, started a new career trajectory, and found a deeper meaning in life, you might not have enough in common. You focus on the present and future, which are stuck in the past. Or you do not have enough shared interests in the present.
Because you have changed so much, the dynamic of your friendship has also changed. It’s hard to find shared interests in the present reality because you may not have much in common anymore. And that’s OK.
Pro Tip: If you’ve noticed that most of your conversations and bonding experiences are rooted in old memories, it may be time to create some distance. It sounds complex, but this is a common and necessary struggle, even for celebrities!
When reflecting on lessons from her 30s, Taylor Swift publicly disclosed that she had outgrown a lot of friendships from her twenties. She said, “It’s sad, but sometimes when you grow, you outgrow relationships.”
“You may leave behind friendships along the way, but you’ll always keep the memories.”—Taylor Swift
She also highlighted that just because you outgrow a friendship doesn’t mean you don’t value the time you spent together. Some people come into your life “for an important phase, but not forever.”
As people grow older and change their priorities, distancing from old friends can signal the end of an era. You may want to acknowledge the beauty of your memories together but begin to spend less time with that person.
#2 You Don’t Have Much In Common Anymore
Sometimes the key sign of outgrowing a friendship is simple: it doesn’t feel like you “click” with your old friends anymore. You may not share many interests or passions anymore.
This is natural in every phase of life, but it’s especially common during young adulthood when people discover their way in the world. After you leave home or begin a new degree, career, or life path, old friends may not know what to talk about with you because they have stayed in place or taken a different direction. They may tell you that “you’ve changed” or even make you feel guilty for abandoning your old similarities.
Perhaps it feels like they are staying stagnant in place while you move at rapid speed toward your goals and personal development. You may be moving at a different pace on a completely different route.
As Tony Robbins says, “If you are not growing, you are dying.” Continuously working on yourself is essential to achieving your greatest dreams and fulfilling your highest potential. But not everybody shares the growth mindset. Some people prefer to stay in their comfort zone, and that’s okay for them. If you are trying to get out of your comfort zone, your interests will naturally shift.
It helps to remember that everyone is on their journey toward self-discovery, so a shift in your commonalities is not a sign that you did anything wrong. It’s simply a signal that you are taking a new direction.
#3 You Revert Back to a Younger Version of Yourself When Around Them
When you’ve outgrown a friendship, your connection can feel forced. You may subconsciously revert to an older version of yourself when around this person as you try to make things more comfortable. This creates a gap between your new behaviors and new identity versus the old habits or younger personality traits you may have embodied when you first formed the friendship.
World-renowned psychologist James Prochaska developed the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change that helps explain why this happens. There are 6 core stages that people go through to change their behavior and habits. While it may seem that people would progress linearly through the stages, research has shown that individuals tend to bounce back and forth between different steps.
In other words, reverting to previous stages or revisiting old habits is entirely normal. However, old versions of yourself are more likely to surface when you’re around people from a past phase of your life. It simply takes extra effort to get back on course and re-solidify new habits and behaviors.
If you notice yourself revisiting past topics, words, behaviors, habits, actions, or thought processes when around an old friend, you might have outgrown that younger version of you. You may even feel awkward or uncomfortable as you try to pretend to be interested in past topics that used to bind you together.
Ultimately, this experience can be incredibly draining. You cannot fully embody the new version of yourself because your brain is triggered to regress into old habits and ways of behaving.
#4 You Don’t Want to Engage in Old (Bad) Habits
Speaking of habits, outgrown friendships can put a damper on breaking bad habits and creating the new habits you need to meet your goals. It’s so easy to fall into old patterns when you’re around people you used to do certain things.
The Social Proximity Effect explains why your friends’ habits tend to become your own. You’re more likely to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes if your friends drink or smoke. You’re more likely to buy the products and brands your friends or family buy.
When it comes to your personal growth, you probably know a few bad habits you’d like to kick and better ones you want to replace them with. When you outgrow friendships, you may notice that old friends tempt you to revert to old habits.
Arrow pointing horizontal says “where they are staying” (signifying stagnancy and comfort zone), with a side panel: “Stagnancy, Comfort zone, Old habits, Old Patterns.”
For example, if you used to drink or smoke cigarettes, but you are working on forming new habits, you probably don’t want to be around people who drink or smoke. When you’ve outgrown a friendship, your old friend may still engage in bad habits that you’re trying to kick. Hanging around them could negatively impact your progress and potentially even your health.
The same logic applies to the habitual way that people view the world. For example, if you’re working on a new positive mindset and your old friends are still gossipping about people or complaining about work, this could be a sign that you’ve outgrown that relationship. You don’t want to engage in that old habit because you are working on bettering yourself.
Pro Tip: There is no need to judge your old friends or feel superior for tackling your bad habits. Instead, kindly express to them that you are working on eliminating a certain lousy habit and, therefore, you need to spend less time around them. If you are working on overcoming bad habits, you may like this guide on How to Form Better Habits and Break Bad Ones.
#5 You Feel Exhausted Around Them Instead of Energized
If pretending to be the old version of yourself isn’t exhausting enough, you may also realize that your old friendships are draining you of your passion and excitement for this new period of your life.
In any relationship, it is essential to focus on how you feel when in someone’s presence.
- Do you dread seeing them and make excuses to avoid it?
- Do you find yourself trying to hang out in groups so that you don’t have to bear the brunt of one-on-one time together?
- Do you feel drained and tired after seeing them?
Positive friendships should feel energizing and inspiring. Exhaustion or drained emotions are sure signs that you could be forcing this friendship just for old times’ sake. And that isn’t fair for either of you. The kindest thing may be to cut ties or wean yourself off hanging out with this person.
Action Step: Cleansing your life of toxic people can help you feel more joyful, free, and open to genuinely nurturing friendships.
You may have heard of the Marie Kondo #KonMarie method to de-cluttering your life. Why not do the same with the people in your life? Vanessa Van Edwards created the #VanEdwards method for detoxing your relationships:
- Write the name of each person in your life on a Post-It note
- Pick up each Post-It note and think of the last time you were with that person. Ask yourself, “does this person spark joy for me?” Notice if you recall any negative feelings like doubt or dread when you’re around this individual.
- Based on your response, put the note in one of 3 piles:
- Spark Joyers: These people give you energy, and you want to make plans with them right now!
- Gut Check Needed: You aren’t quite sure about these people. You may need to get together with them to check in with yourself and see how you feel.
- Just Say No: These are the people that very clearly don’t spark joy in your life. They may not support you, or you might feel bad when you’re around them.
- Repeat this “spring cleaning” of your relationships at least once per year to ensure that unfulfilling friendships do not weigh you down.
#6 The Friendship Has Become One-Sided
Last but not least, a sure sign of a dwindling relationship is when one person is putting in more effort than the other—notice who does most of the reaching out or making plans.
- Is the balance even?
- Are you trying as hard as they are to maintain your friendship?
- Do you feel guilty when you don’t want to make plans with them?
Quality relationships are about wanting to share your time with someone else. If you feel obligated or like you “have to” hang out with this person, this may signify that you are growing in a different direction and the friendship is no longer serving you.
What to Do When You’ve Outgrown a Friendship
You may notice some of these subtle signs that you are drifting apart. Often it is your gut feeling that tells you whether a certain person is right for you at this point in your life. Or maybe you even realize they’ve been a fake friend all along. This video can help you figure out if you have a fake friend and how to end the friendship nicely:
Tapping into your intuition and carefully assessing your feelings is the easiest way to determine whether or not you’ve genuinely outgrown a friendship.
“You can love them, forgive them, want good things for them… but still move on without them.”—Mandy Hale
It’s OK to let go of old friendships that no longer nurture or stimulate your intellect. You love them, but they no longer serve you. Sometimes leaving a friendship can feel like a breakup. You don’t want to create an uncomfortable or dramatic situation, but you have a gut feeling that the friendship isn’t suitable for you, and you need to let it go.
Here are a few ways to take action:
- Have “The Talk”: Just like ending a romantic relationship, sometimes you need to talk with friends to clarify boundaries, redefine the relationship, and see where each of you stands in regards to your friendship. Use this opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings and openly communicate how you feel.
- Take a Break: Sometimes, you need a fresh perspective. Let your friend know that you want some time and space to focus on yourself. You can say things like “let’s break from hanging out for a couple of weeks” or “I need some time to focus on myself and other friendships.” You can set a precise amount of time (“let’s talk in two weeks”) or be vaguer (“let’s see how we feel and check in when we’re ready to reconnect”).
- Stop Forcing It: If you are putting a lot of energy and time into forcing an old friendship, the easiest way to cut ties is to stop agreeing to spend time with them. A one-sided friendship isn’t fun for anyone involved, so it can help stop reaching out and let go of feeling obligated to force the friendship.
- Wean Yourself Off of the Friendship: Sometimes, it’s easier to gradually back off. You don’t have to ghost someone or have a break up to end the friendship. Instead, engage with them less and stop reaching out as often. Use your time to focus on networking with others or making new friends in your city.
- Openly Communicate: This may not always be the best option because this could lead to a dramatic “breakup” of the friendship. However, in certain situations (for example, when breaking a bad habit is involved), compassionately expressing your need for distance to your friend may help you end the friendship in a mutually beneficial way.
- Release the Guilt: You don’t need to feel guilty for outgrowing friends. Instead, you can look at it as a natural process of evolving yourself.
Check out this video to see how clinical psychologist Dr. Antonio Pascual-Leone recommends getting over the end of a friendship:
Outgrowing friendships is an everyday experience that is especially common amongst people working on improving themselves.
Some people choose to stay stagnant or continue in old patterns. Your personal growth does not make you better than them. Instead, it simply puts you on a different path.
At the end of the day, if you feel like you have outgrown some of your friendships, it may be time to kindly part ways to keep growing into the best version of yourself. Outgrown friendships may be comfortable, but they can also signify stagnancy in your life.
You might notice:
- Your friendship is rooted in the past. Reminiscing on “the good old days” rather than present experiences or future goals characterizes outgrown friendships.
- You are no longer interested in the same things. As people grow, they inevitably change their interests and passions. If you don’t have much in common with your old friends, it could be a sign that you are growing in different directions.
- It may feel like you revert to a younger version of yourself when you are around an old friend. You may notice old habits or behavioral patterns resurfacing. Perhaps you feel like you are behaving as your past self rather than who you are today.
- You’ve outgrown people who engage in old habits that you’re trying to kick. For example, when you are focused on health and sobriety, you may feel triggered when hanging around old friends who you used to drink and smoke with. It is often beneficial to move on from friendships centered around bad habits.
- If you feel exhausted around certain people, their friendship may no longer serve you. Friends should inspire and uplift you, not drag you down or make you feel obligated to do things.
- When a friendship becomes one-sided, one person puts in more time and effort than the other. You may feel obligated to hang out with them for “old times’ sake” rather than a sincere mutual interest.
Those people could come back in your life in the future so you can grow in the ways that you need to.
When you let go of things that no longer serve you, you let yourself drop the weight of things holding you back. This can open up space for new friendships that help you during this chapter of your life.
If you feel stuck in old patterns or friendships, you may want to try out these 10 Steps to Reinvent Yourself and Realize Your Potential.