How Being In Different Life Stages Can Make Your Friendships Suffer (And What To Do About It)

Though they're usually occasions to celebrate, milestones like marriage, babies, or even career progression can change a friendship irrevocably. When something big comes along and flings one friend to a completely different stage of life from the other friend, that distance can be difficult to come to terms with.

TikTok user @expiredglutenfreebread spoke about the phenomenon in a stitch video uploaded to the platform. As a child-free unmarried woman, she explained that the differences between her and her married friends with kids often means that she feels left out, unable to relate to them, and without that much-needed support for the highs and lows in her life. The effect of those changes on her friendship became clear when she went through a traumatic experience a few years ago, only to find that her friend wasn't there for her in the way she used to be before she had children. 

The sea of solidarity in the video's comment section shows that the experience is common, particularly among single or child-free women whose friends are married with kids. It's not easy to feel distanced from your friends, especially when you might already be dealing with pressure to keep up with those milestones.

Rather than forcing yourself to fit into boxes that you don't align with or aren't ready for, you can focus instead on learning to love where you are. Embrace the changes that your friendship is experiencing, and when you're ready, be open to new friendships that do fill your needs.

Acknowledge that your feelings are a form of grief

Big milestones have the power to completely shake up a person's life, so understandably, they can significantly alter friendship dynamics as well. The biggest change that comes to mind is parenthood — having a baby can affect a person's priorities, routine, values, and even their identity. Additionally, the need for support from people who are in the same boat can be overwhelming. Amongst all that, the friendship that you once had with your previously child-free friend can totally transform, if not slip through the cracks altogether.

It's okay to be upset when you lose a friend after they have a baby, or if their newfound parenthood changes the friendship significantly. You have lost something important to you — something that probably won't be exactly the same ever again. Just because no one has died, doesn't mean you're not grieving. Don't feel guilty for your feelings or try to suppress them. Accept that what you're going through is a big deal, because it is, especially if you've lost a best friend

Particularly when a baby comes into the picture, you might feel like no feelings you have could possibly be as important as your friend's new parenthood journey. That's just not true. While their priority is now to look after their child, your priority should be your own well-being. Whatever you need to do to care for yourself and pick yourself up again, do it without the guilt.

Find friends in the same stage of life as you

Creating new friendships as an adult can be scary, but friendship is a crucial element of happiness and well-being. "Platonic friendship allows for feeling connected, discussing ideas, and feeling witnessed in general in life," certified sex therapist Heather Shannon, LCPC, CST, told MindBodyGreen. Along with this emotional support, our friends offer us a safe form of social connection where we can be vulnerable. If you're not getting these things from your old friends who are now at different life stages from you, it's time to seek them elsewhere.

The comment section on @expiredglutenfreebread's TikTok video speaks volumes about how many people out there are seeking new friends in the same stage of life as them, and social media may be a great place to start. Aside from obvious sources, like work or school, you might find like-minded people by joining communities that call to you. Think clubs, social groups, or hobby groups.

Friendships take effort to create, so be prepared to put work into forming a bond in the beginning. Be open to new people and take the time to get to know people you normally wouldn't in social settings, rather than just interacting with the same folks all the time. No, it's not as simple as just put yourself out there. But usually, you do need to step out of your comfort zone to reap the rewards.

Don't write off your old ones

Being in different stages of life might be the nail on the coffin of your friendship. If your friend is not able to put any time or effort into you, then you deserve to make space for someone who will. In her video, @expiredglutenfreebread revealed that her therapist's advice to "relinquish that friendship" was the best move for her situation at the time. But these milestones don't have to signify the end of the friendship in all cases. Unless you feel it's the best thing to do, don't write your friends off just because they are in a different place.

Keep the door open for old friends who deserve to be there while simultaneously focusing on making new friends. There's no denying the need for understanding from our friends, which is sometimes impossible to come by when your lives look so different. But if your friends make you laugh or smile, even if the potential for them to really get you and be there for you is out of reach for now, it might be worth holding on to them — as long as you can find that support and understanding in other places.

Sometimes, as friends in different life stages, you'll experience troughs in your bond where you'll be unable to connect. But once you both adjust to the new way of life, you might come back together again. Friendships that are meant to be, will be.