Five Ways You Lose Your Friends in Your 30s
A lot of 20-something friendships don't make it past the big 3-0.
Photo via D. Anschutz/Getty Images
You've made it out of your 20s alive. Congratulations. You survived clubbing until dawn, drinking on the curb until you blow chunks in your purse, and waking up with strange Mullet guys. Now you're on the wrong side of 30, you've still got student debt, and you accidentally forwarded an email chain to your boss where you called her a fascist douchecanoe. But at least you have your friends….until you don't anymore.
Chances are you made a lot of friends in your 20s based on whatever dorm you were assigned, the crappy summer job you had, or when you were drunk just enough to forget your standards. But now, as a de facto adult, you have little chill for clowns and their nonsense. And in your 30s everyone has spouses and kids, so friendships aren't prioritized. It was recently reported that "more than two-thirds of Americans say they have lost at least 90 percent of the friends they had 10 years ago." In addition to that, a third of us say it's harder to make friends as we age. And if you're a man, the numbers are worse, as you lose friends at a much quicker rate than women once you're past 30.
So, if you're in your 20s, lock your friends up in your basement now, because the 30-ish decade will wipe out most of your buds and besties. But this is not necessarily a bad thing.
"Sometimes a life transition gives us the opportunity to clear out friendships that weren't really good matches—relationships we fell into by proximity only but didn't really serve us well emotionally," Dr. Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix, told VICE. "Our priorities change. It may feel strange to keep going to bars with our single friends when we're no longer interested in meeting people to date, or it may feel trivial to discuss what to wear somewhere or where the best new gym is opening up when we're up all night drowning in sleep deprivation with a newborn baby."
Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, agrees that 30 is the decade where we all unintentionally kill friendships. "Add to the fact that how we find friends is completely different now, what has happened in each of our lives in our 20's—marriages, kids, break-ups, moves, and big jobs—can leave us feeling like we don't have as much in common with our friends anymore."
What she's saying is you may think you'll be best friends forever, but think again. Here's why.
1. You differentiate between real friendship bonds and co-dependence
Two years ago, I invited over 30 people to my 34th birthday party, and on the day-of, everyone canceled on me at the last minute. I realized from that soul-destroying, pride-swallowing incident that I was constantly inviting out certain friends who really were making zero effort in return. So I conducted an experiment. I stopped inviting out one friend whom I had known since high school when we were both editors of the school paper. I wanted to see if she would notice my absence and invite me out for a regular coffee and bitchfest. I never heard from her again. Lesson learned: We weren't friends, and I was a just a convenient, familiar distraction.
Shawn, a 35-year-old real estate agent, told me as he goes deeper into his 30s, he doesn't rely on friendships anymore to fulfill him. "It just seems like I don't need them anymore. Not that I don't need friends, but rather I'm not reliant on friends like I was in my 20s, nor is my lifestyle as conducive to massive chills like it used to be. I'm more established in my career, more confident in myself, more bogged down by responsibilities that aren't friend-centric. I'm also in a serious relationship, which is a priority in my freetime. I'm just not the parent's-basement-dwelling-neighborhood Van Wilder I used to be."
2. Most people are unwilling to prioritize each other's time or schedule
Everyone is your best friend on social media, commenting on all your photos with "yaaaaas kweeeen," but as soon as you invite them out, they're like, "leave? My house?" Suddenly going out doesn't have the same appeal as staying at home with Netflix. After spending hours at work, once I'm home and my bra comes off, don't you dare ask me to do anything or go anywhere. All conversations end up being a variation of the following;
You: Let's hang!
Friends: Sure! Let me know if you end up on my exact street. I will not travel.
Dr. Bonior speaks about this annoying phenomenon as such: "If a person is in a new stage of life—as a couple or as a parent, for example, they will be motivated to seek out friends whose lifestyles and day-to-day logistics have proximity to theirs and make it easier to hang out. (Like a new dad not hanging out quite as much with his college buddies, but gaining the additional friendship of fellow dads in the new neighborhood.)"
3. You've slowed down on the one thing you and your buddy had in common: substance abuse
Amanda, a 33-year-old freelance writer, told me, "Over the years, I had friends who I would party with and would enable me in certain ways. Drinking or drugging didn't have limits. One friend, in particular, I had known since I was younger (high school), and we would go to raves and afterhours together. We partied way into our 30s and would come home late at night without regret. On my 30th birthday, I decided to cut back on my drinking and drugging. But once I started to become more, and more sober, this friend stopped engaging with me. It made me sad that whenever I extended the offer to have dinner or go for manicures—she would entirely rebuff me because I wasn't partying with her anymore. This was someone who I was close to not just her, but her family. I felt hurt, I guess our relationship wasn't as solid as I once thought."
Nelson says these betrayals tend to hurt more in our 30s than if these "breakups" happened in our 20s. "I could see why it might hurt the most at this age: We're potentially losing friends with whom we have a lot of shared history with, and with whom we have held hopes for a long future. That combo can be painful because many of the friendships we make later in life may not be as intense or include as much history together," she says.
"We hold a lot of myths around our female friendships that they are supposed to last 'forever,' and that they should 'always be there for you,' which leaves people with unrealistic expectations in friendship and therefore leads to a lot of disappointment and feelings of betrayal when we feel that a friend failed us."
4. You eviscerate your friends' self-worth and self-confidence by telling them everything you hate about their husband and marriage
When you've been friends for this long, you probably know exactly which buttons to push to damage your friends' sense of self. And if you think you won't push those buttons at some point, you're wrong. Samantha, a 37-year-old events manager, told me, "I had one friend who ghosted on me, and it really, really hurt. We were very quick to become best friends, but obviously, it wasn't very real. After a while, she stopped returning my calls and hung out with me less and less. I found out a couple of years later when she messaged me to explain, that she had been uncomfortable with my newly non-monogamous marriage and couldn't handle it. Losing her was as painful then as it was to lose a romantic partner. She basically just abandoned me."
Bonior agrees that lost friends can hurt more than lost lovers. "We don't really have language for a friendship breakup, and we don't tend to recognize it as something that should and will cause pain," she says. "It almost feels embarrassing. But I have worked with plenty of people who feel that a friendship breakup was just as devastating—with sadness, confusion, anxiety—as a romantic one, whether that friendship died by conflict or naturally fading. You miss the person. You feel a gap where you used to spend time with them, and you miss their perspective and their personality. Additionally, if it is not you that has moved on but them, you may suddenly feel quite lonely and disconnected if you don't have others to fill that hole."
Nelson concurs, "Losing a friend can hurt more than a romantic breakup for several reasons, not the least of which comes down to the fact that our friendship fallouts rarely have the same kind of closure and processing that our romantic relationships are given. We have rituals in romance around breaking up, trying again, sharing honestly with each other, and actually talking through break-ups; whereas most friendships end with very little conversation, minimal understanding from either person about what the other person was feeling or needing, and a lot of blame over unmet (and usually unspoken) expectations."
Samantha added that being in a polyamorous marriage, a choice that doesn't affect or inflict pain on her friends, was just too much for one good friend. "One of my bridesmaids was also horrified by it too. She asked me, 'why would you put us through the torture of your wedding if you're just going to throw away your marriage?' Yeah, I cut ties with that bridesmaid pretty quickly."
5. You're unwilling to make new friends
If you think dropping friends and loneliness will force you to make new, better friendships, you're wrong. In fact, in our 30s it becomes much harder to form bonds. Nelson says, "It can hurt future friendships if we become more protective, or less willing to trust others or be vulnerable with potential friends."
I most certainly am a living, breathing example of that. Without a doubt, no matter how much I crave new friendships, I will die a miserable bastard stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recently a guy approached me at a house party and said, "I don't believe we've met."
And I replied, "Trust me, we're not meeting now."
Follow Christine Estima on Twitter.