Friendships are often formed when we meet people who have things in common with us. But what happens when, naturally over time, life changes? When you find yourself in a completely different stage of life than your friend. In cases like this, is it actually possible to stay friends?
1. Overall, my answer to the question of whether you can be friends with people who are in different life stages is a resounding YES! However, the chances of a friendship surviving changing life stages depends on what the friendship is actually based on to begin with. Do you simply enjoy partying together? Shopping and getting your nails done? Or do you actually care about this person's life? Their feelings and thoughts and emotions? Do you "get" each other? To put it bluntly, are you friends with this person because you like having another body to hang out with as you go about your life OR are you friends because you care about them and their life? If they're simply your hang out buddy, your friendship will likely suffer when they can no longer hang out with you in the same way that they've been able to in the past.
2. Friendship requires both parties making an effort. This is pretty self-explanatory, I think. Friendship is a two way street. If one person wants the friendship to work and makes all the effort, they'll constantly feel rejected, under-appreciated, and insecure. That's really not a friendship, is it?
3. It requires patience. Often times, when someone undergoes a major life transition (like having a baby) it affects everything in their life. They're more tired, they're more stressed, and often they're more self-focused as they try to cope with so many new experiences. If you're friends with someone who is in a transition, be patient. You might not realize it but let me tell you, they are in SURVIVAL MODE. It might seem like your friend isn't making an effort right now, but keep in mind that this is temporary. Wait around and love them in the best way that you can while they figure stuff out. If things don't get better over time, consider having an open conversation to discuss hopes and expectations for the friendship. And if that doesn't go well, maybe this relationship really wasn't meant to last.
4. It requires some major understanding and empathy. When someone is in a different life stage than you, understanding their feelings, emotions, and needs might not come naturally. Because, after all, you really have no idea what it feels like to have a kid or to be married or to live in X city because you haven't done it before. So use your imagination. Think about how you would feel in their position. And most importantly, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. If they hurt your feelings, remember that they probably didn't intend to do so. If they don't text you back, assume that they read the text in the middle of a hectic day, passed out that night before they could respond, and simply (in the midst of chaos) forgot about your text the next day.
5. It requires selflessness. After you start to understand where your friend is coming from you'll be able to make some sacrifices. You'll understand that they truly can't leave the house in the afternoon because the kids are napping. Maybe you'll offer to drive to them so you can still see each other. Or maybe you know what they really need is to run some errands while the kids sleep so you offer to babysit. And alternatively, if you're the friend with kids, do you thank your friend profusely for coming to see you when you can't leave your house? Do you acknowledge that they have a life too? Do you remember to ask them questions about their work and their life, keeping in mind that the world is still moving even though you can't think about anything except schedules and nap time and diapers and what your baby should weigh this month!
6. It requires communication. Ultimately, like all relationships, communication is key. New moms, instead of saying "I really can't hang out," try to take the time to explain what's filling up your time. Don't be scared to say that you're stressed or in over your head. Don't forget to tell your friends that you love them and miss them. Don't be shy to ask if you can bring your child to lunch or dinner. A real friend will want to know your kids too! Alternatively, if you're the one without kids, don't be scared to voice your own needs. If you're frustrated by conversations constantly interrupted by a baby's cries, ask if you can come hang out during nap time for some quality conversation. If you wish your friend would come out to lunch without the baby, talk to them about it. Ask them if they'd be willing to let you give them the gift of paying for a babysitter. But again, don't ask to hang out without their baby every time. Their child is their life now! If you want to be a part of their life, this means loving and knowing their child too.
7. And don't forget to have fun with each other. Being friends with people who are in different life stages is actually incredibly fun. First of all, you can live vicariously through each other. A new mom can hear stories of fun nights out and first dates - things that probably seem like a distant memory! And someone who doesn't have their own kids can enjoy baby cuddles and learn crazy facts about pregnancy that will make their jaw drop. Hang out, bring the kids along or don't, just spend time together. Because, after all, isn't this what real friendship actually is? Two people who say "Hey, I love you. I care about you. Let's live life together!" Trust me, your friendship definitely doesn't need to stop just because you're in different life stages. It might look different and it might take a bit more effort, but it's still very good, very special, and very real.