During my early 20s, my friendships defined who I was,” 27-year-old Mwihaki Kihunya recalls. Like many young women, Mwihaki and her friends swore eternal friendship to each other and stayed friends through college and as they began settling in their first jobs. Then marriages and parenthood happened and the dynamics of these friendships began changing.
“I have been married for a year and I find myself seeking, with little success, friends from my early years who will identify with the stage that I am at. Those that are married with children are extremely busy and when we manage to get together, they want to talk about children and diapers. The single ones want to talk about dating. Now we can barely relate to each other,” Mwihaki, an investment consultant, says.
While Mwihaki is pleased with growth in her life, she no longer enjoys her friendships and is tired of straining to pretend that these friendships are perfect. “We cannot relate at this point but I do not want to cut them completely out of my life as they shared the best moments of my life. How can I change the dynamics of our friendship without hurting the primary relationship?” she wonders.
The put off
When 30-year-old Sara Thitu found herself in the same predicament soon after having her first child, she simply made herself less available to those friends with whom she had no common ground anymore.
“Being a new mother, with much less time on my hands, I didn’t have enough mental and emotional energy to keep some friendships afloat. I stopped calling and constantly made excuses not to meet them.
“Some of them got the message. But if you decide to go down this road, you need to harden,” she warns. “One of my single friends still could not read the signs long after I had emotionally moved on from her. The break-up ended in an ugly confrontation.
Every time I intentionally refused to return a call or made up an excuse not to see her, I had to remind myself that the friendship wasn’t right for me and that I had nothing to feel guilty about,” she says.
Forty-one-year-old Eva found herself on the receiving end of the cold shoulder a couple of years ago. She had formed what she describes as mature, meaningful friendships with two women at her work place. But then a sudden disparity in their salaries began gnawing at their bonds.
“Soon after I began my rise up the career ranks, they stopped talking to me, excluded me from their plans, and simply cut me off from their lives,” recalls Eva, a procurement officer in a government office. For months, she was confused and hurt. She took her inability to maintain that friendship as a personal failure. To date, when she looks back, things feel unresolved.
Perhaps what made it so hard for Eva to get over the breaking down of her friendships was the fact that the people she would have talked to about it were the very ones who had distanced themselves from her.
While going silent on a friend is definitely the easier break-up option, psychologist and author Joseph Epsten in his book, Friendship: An Exposé, states that it is not the healthiest route.
While he agrees that, unlike divorces, there is not any set formula for ending a friendship, he insists that if there is an emotional investment in a friendship, then an explanation is needed when ending it. Silence, he says, feels like a rejection.
Talking, on the other hand, allows the person on the receiving end to get closure. In addition, it avoids any major damage to your ties should you have a need to reconnect in the future. Sometimes if you talk, you will be surprised that your friend shares your sentiments.
Thirty-three-year-old media professional Patricia has realised, with age, that her friendships need to suit her needs and as a result, is precise concerning who she chooses to spend time with. “When I feel that a friendship is no longer adding value to my life, I open up to her about why I feel that we can’t spend as much time together,” she says.
As much as she tries to be polite about it, sometimes, her honesty has been met with anger. If a friendship is toxic, is holding her back, or there has been a major betrayal of trust, Patricia has no qualms about cutting the emotional cords linking her to that friend.
“I have so much more to lose now and I refuse to take unhealthy or one-way friendships. These are things that I would have accommodated in my younger years out of fear of being alone or the guilt of breaking up a friendship.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Charity Karobia says that she generally does not like confrontation, much less with a close friend. A couple of times she has had to move from a friendship because it stopped serving her.
“Instead of just losing a good friend, I simply hoisted her on to another friend whom I felt would be a better match. I would nudge her towards my other friend, make plans for the three of us, then bail out so they would spend time together,” she says.
By finding other friends for her friends, Charity has had a close friendship fade to a more casual relationship while still maintaining her larger circle of friends more than once.
She adds, “I can’t simply un-friend an otherwise good friend because we are going through different stages of life. We may be at the same stage some day in life and if we maintain an acquaintanceship, it will be easier to reconnect.”