Though outgrowing friends is a struggle, the best friends match your growing self and value system
Many individuals that I see in my therapy practice struggle with outgrowing a friendship. What I’ve found is that outgrowing friendship often relates to a misalignment of values. When you grow, you come to know yourself more and more and your values change. There are many times in your life in which your values can shift, whether deciding to take care of your body more rather than staying out late, sobriety, new parenthood, heath crises for either you or a loved one, or even reconsidering how you show up in relationships. When that happens, you can grow apart from friends who are not growing with you.
While outgrowing friends can be lonely and difficult (more on that in the second part of this two-part series), friendship is best when friends’ values are aligned but not necessarily exactly the same. In a sense, you need to find friends to match your growing self and value system.
What do I mean by values? I mean the deep stuff
When I say values, I don’t just mean who you voted for (though this likely may be integrally related to your values). I mean the deep stuff: how you treat people you want to be close to, how you talk to others in your life, what you like to do or how you like to be with others, what you want to build (or not build), and what is integrally important to you in your life and relationships. Some of the deepest values may be how you relate to other humans, animals, nature, and systems of racism, class, society, and money that are rooted in your own internal system.
Values also include rules of friendship interactions: how you greet each other, how you value each other’s time, how you hold someone accountable, how you take time to be serious and dig into relational conversations, and how you play for the sake of letting off steam and levity. The latter is often not thought of in this way, but play is a key value for friendship. Play is how you build friendships early in life like building a fort or pretending to run a zoo with stuffed animals. As you age out of daily play, you learn new ways of playing as an adult, whether hiking, discovering new parts of a city, baking, or creating a conversation both people know is silly and fun.
Friends don’t have to have the same values but should be aligned
You don’t have to share every value a friend holds. This is why I use the word alignment. Aligned means you have enough of the same values to also value holding onto your differences. Difference spices things up in relationships and can be challenging in a way that makes things interesting. It adds more to your life to have someone you enjoy who holds similar but slightly divergent values. For instance, one friend may be in a monogamous relationship while the other is in an ethical non-monogamous one. These are different ways of being in the world, but these friends may have an alignment in how they show up in these relationships and treat their partners.
In contrast, a misalignment in values means you’re not able to respect these differences or the values are completely opposed. Maybe one friend is late or cancels a lot, which indicates they are not bringing the same value to the friendship. Even if being late seems small, it can affect a friendship greatly.
Ideally, friends can help you live up to your own values
When you are aligned in values, friends can both hold you accountable and be a model for how they live out their values. Take, for instance, an environmentalist friend who cares deeply for their small bit on the planet and considers how they create waste or contribute to the harm in the world. They may talk about this issue passionately in a way that helps both of you live a bit more according to this value such as taking a train rather than driving upstate for a long weekend trip.
Friends can also help each other take what you value seriously even if you don’t quite yet know how to do it fully. For instance, you’ve decided to be more creative since your creativity has been put on the back burner for your professional life. It would be easy not to create and let that go, but you and your friend decide to play together, making art, reading plays, and seeing theater. You don’t do these activities to fill time but to pursue creativity to live out this value. When you find friends who can share in these values, you feel seen in the world and have the potential to build a support system so you can do the hard work of living up to your values together.