A Letter on Growing Up and Moving On

By Angel Sarah Mathew and Kelly Leong

Dear friend,

Do you still like taking photos with those black and yellow film cameras? Do you still have bangs, and tie your hair in a messy low ponytail?   

It’s been a while since we’ve spoken or seen each other. A long time ago, you would’ve shared all the happenings in your life with me. I still remember the hours we spent talking on the phone (you were never a frequent texter). Now, we’ve drifted apart.   

Initially, I excused your flippancy — oh she’s busy, or our schedules simply don’t align. I pointed fingers at myself. Had I been too aggressive with my messages? Did I say something wrong? I never found the answer. My mother still asks about you sometimes, only to be met with my muted silence and a shrug.   

Our story isn’t unique. Studies done all around the world claim that we don’t just lose friends as we grow older; we lose many of them. A Dutch sociologist studied 1007 people and found that friendships generally last for about 7 years (after 7 years many interviewees had changed at least half their social circles), while another survey reported by The Daily Mail of 2,000 Americans found that two-thirds of people lose 90% of the friends they make.  

In my search for answers, I spoke to people who have also lost friends to time. I’ve come to learn that there are plenty of reasons why friendships simply die —distance, communication barriers or even just nonchalance from one party— that leaves phone calls unanswered and invitations declined.  

For one of my university acquaintances, Natalie, the experience was similar. She used to be pretty close to her classmate even after high school ended but mentioned that “after a point it was just me trying to keep in touch and the conversations became stale. As soon as I stopped making the effort, the friendship ended.” Perhaps it was a cold attempt from one party to cling onto the past even though both had clearly moved on to different interests, and the lack of maturity in the other to communicate their intent. After all, no relationship is a one-way street.   

Clinging onto a friendship becomes even harder when faced with the inflexible obstacle of distance. What was a few streets away could become continents apart. Another friend, Anne, whom I’d met the first week of last semester, told me, “She moved to a different city, made new friends. We tried to stay in touch over social media but over time our communication became limited to exchanging birthday wishes.” Distance does little to make the heart grow fonder, after all, if we desperately cling onto the version of the friendship it used to be, instead of what it is.  

During our youth, the job of keeping a friendship alive falls into the hands of technology, if it so chooses to cooperate. My friend Sreeja spoke about her childhood best friend, “I was around eleven, so I didn’t have my own phone, which is probably why we lost touch. Had she moved away a few years later, we would’ve probably still been friends.”  

As for us? I used to think our friendship was airtight, fail-safe. But hearing all these stories, many with no messy arguments or backstabbing, it seems ours too was just a bond lost to the ravages of time.    

Was I right in trying to keep our friendship alive this long?  Seasons change, and so do we. Ever-growing, ever-expanding in thoughts and interests, but sometimes, inevitably, leaving the other behind. Lastly Kavita shared her story with me: “We grew to be very different people with very different interests…I felt that maybe we were friends only because of similar circumstances and with time, as our circumstances changed, our relationship too changed.” One path diverging into two. It can be hard for both people to continue being happy in doing the things they thought were best for themselves, without hurting the other.  

Yes, moving on from someone you seemingly knew for a lifetime is difficult, but when the easy conversations start becoming emotionally draining, when you leave the conversation feeling more off and exhausted and insecure than before, it is oftentimes a sign to start letting go. The gut feeling, difficult to acknowledge, does not lie. But you must rip off that bandage when it is time.  

Image Credit: Unsplash | Jess Zoerb

As I get older, I realised the way I befriend others has changed as well — no longer is it as simple as secret handshakes on the playground swings. Now, I face peer pressure to fit in and the fear of judgement is amplified by social media. In our busy world, there just isn’t enough time to sit around and talk about the mundane things, as we did as children, which makes befriending others and finding common ground even harder. The responsibility moves to the individual to put themselves out there or be labelled a social pariah. And so (sometimes begrudgingly), I give a smile to my seatmates at lecture or tag along to a group of friends that I am acquainted with, but not truly a part of; all with the hope of finding people who get me the way you once did.    

Plenty of the moments I shared with you will be cherished as memories. But it hurts to lose someone –– someone you thought was going to be a fellow wine aunt, someone whom you once thought would have your back from now till you were wizened. Yet, as with many others that I’ve spoken to, after a long while, I’ve finally made peace. I hope that you, too, have found people who will take on adulthood with you.   

Because sometimes, growing up means moving on.   

An old friend  

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