How to Fix a Fading Friendship

How to Fix a Fading Friendship

Friendships should be for life, right? In theory, we all believe that our friendships will last forever. But realistically, we know that life can be busy and challenging, and it’s easy for friendships to fade. We’re here to help. How to fix a friendship can vary, depending on the kinds of relationships you have. There is no one size fits all solution—after all, everyone is different. Here, we’ll take you through our research, professional advice, and recommendations from our global community to provide as many resolutions for a fading friendship as possible, while also exploring the most common reasons friendships fade over time. 

When friends distance themselves from you

When friends distance themselves from you it can be painful. You can be left wondering why, and it can often feel like there are plenty of things left unsaid. From our exclusive research*, we’ve found that a majority (59%) of Gen-Z respondents have lost at least three or more friends in the last year alone; this is significantly higher than Millennial respondents, only 34% of whom said the same thing. The reasons for this are varied, but age is definitely one of them. “This age is a time where we discover ourselves outside of the boxes we originally placed ourselves in for a sense of easy belonging,” notes psychotherapist Gemma Grainger. Basically, growing up and shedding your skin means you may also shed friends in the process—people who don’t align with the newer, more mature version of yourself. This is completely natural. 

Emma, 24, recently experienced a fading friendship because of growing apart. “The realization that the places we are in in our lives are polar opposites, and the lack of understanding or adjustment to our friendship to make it work with the new circumstances was evident,” she says. You may find that you’re now into different things (music, sports, hobbies) than when you were younger. Not having that common ground can cause you to spend less time together and ultimately lead to the breakdown of a relationship. 

At this point, Grainger advises asking, “Is there still room for them in the path that your life is taking, and how would you like that to look?” How to save a friendship depends highly on whether you feel it’s worth saving or not. “Your compatibility may not be very strong anymore, and that's actually OK!” Grainger explains. “It might be tricky to accept that, and it’s sad to accept a loss. We can grieve our friendships; that's perfectly normal.”

How to fix a friendship

If you’ve decided you do want to fix your fading friendship, great—you’re in the right place. Communication is key, and acknowledging that there is a problem between you both is the best way to start the repair process. “You have to talk about it honestly,” says Ingrid, 29, “and to understand—from both perspectives—what happened and how you can be closer again.” This can be difficult, especially if you’re unsure how the other person will react. As Grainger confirms, “Lots of people are anxious to reach out due to fear of rejection.” She also highlights that perhaps the other person in the friendship isn’t always the problem—it might be you. “If you have neglected the friendship for whatever reason, it might be that the relationship does need some TLC,” she says. Anxiety, she notes, can be a major issue: “People stop replying to other people because messaging becomes too overwhelming; it’s very common in my practice.”

Grainger believes that apologizing, or at least explaining why you have distanced yourself, is crucial. Maybe you’ve been going through a rough time, or school or work has been extremely busy. While it can be nerve wracking, she suggests to “reach out, and see what response you get back.” She continues: “Every ‘what if’ scenario with a negative attached to the end of it, also has a ‘what if’ with a positive attached to the end of it. For example, ‘What if I send them this message, and they reply saying they have been feeling the same?’” Confidence is key here, she says—if you don’t address that there’s a problem, then there’s no way it can get better. 

If you’re worried about your message being misinterpreted, it might be better to speak to your friend in person. As so much of our communication is digital these days, it could be that this is contributing to the feeling of distance between you. 
Sara, 27, recalls a low period of friendship in her life, when she felt like everyone was having fun without her: “The loneliness was almost unbearable,” she says, “and heightened by watching everyone’s busy Saturdays on social media.” It’s crucial to get off of our phones and connect with people in real life. As Ingrid suggests, you have to “find moments to actually be together and share some quality time.”

After spending an afternoon or an evening hanging out together, doing something you both love, you might realize that your friendship isn’t as damaged as you thought. Ingrid also warns, however, to “remember that it's a two way street. If you see that you're the only one doing something, or arranging things, then it might be time to leave it.”

Reason, season, or lifetime

From our research*, 40% of respondents believe that the mark of a successful friendship is one that is long lasting, and nearly 1 in 3 (31%) even believe that friendships should last forever. A majority of respondents (68%), however, agree that they are a different person now compared to the person they were when they first met their best friend and/or some of their closest friends. It’s completely normal to outgrow friendships, of course—think of the phrase “reason, season, or lifetime.” To find a friendship that endures an entire lifetime, and all the changes that come with it, is extremely rare. “I wonder if wanting to fix a fading relationship comes from a need to cure loneliness,” Grainger says, “and in that case, I would suggest that that might not be the best remedy.” 

It’s true that hanging onto friends or relationships when they’re no longer serving us, simply because we fear being alone and don’t know how to function without them, is a reality for many. “Sometimes people stay friends because they have been friends since kindergarten,” says Ingrid. “It’s just something they’re used to, and they don’t know how to change it.” Grainger, though, encourages questioning your friendship, as it may end up doing more harm than good. “Is clinging onto this relationship going to be comforting for you?” she asks. “Or might it push you into a sense of feeling even less wanted or abandoned?” 

When Emma’s brother died during the pandemic, she says it put a lot of her oldest and closest friendships to the test. “[My brother dying] highlighted that people don’t like talking about things that take them out of their bubble—their mini dramas of who said what at work, or who’s sleeping with who, or who will do the most outrageous thing at the weekend,” she says. “I felt like damaged goods to them—I wasn’t of interest anymore, because I wasn’t ‘on form’ anymore.” 

From our research*, we found that a majority of respondents (54%) have parted ways with at least one friend since the beginning of the pandemic, in spring 2020. The extreme circumstances we all had to endure, restricting our freedom and our health, grossly affected our friendships and relationships. Emma felt this acutely: “It’s incredibly sad that friendships that have grown together for 15 years have fallen from the face of the earth,” she says. “It has been a very confusing time.” In these types of situations, Grainger offers some advice: “If you feel that a relationship is harming you, it is probably time to really evaluate having them in your life,” she says. “I wouldn’t encourage ruthless culling, but pay some consideration to what is actually happening and why it is, as well as what has to be tolerated versus what might have scope for change.” Knowing when a friendship is beyond saving is never easy, especially when that person has been a part of your life for a long time. “Can you communicate your pain/anger/intolerance in a non-attacking way, ideally with some listening and empathy, to try and come to some resolve and start healing?” Grainger asks. “If not, maybe an end is suitable.” 

“Friendships are incredibly important,” Emma says, “but I’m a firm believer they should be natural.” We think this may be the best piece of advice and how you should approach all of your relationships—they should never feel forced. It’s worth remembering that you’re in one another’s lives because you want to be, not because you have to be. And when friends distance themselves from you, there could be a whole host of reasons as to why. Try and be there to support them if they’re going through a hard time. If it doesn’t improve, it might be time to accept that your friendship has served its purpose, and you need to move onto investing your time and energy into something—or someone—new. 

Saving a friendship is never going to be straightforward—ultimately it comes down to the pair of you. It’s personal and built on what the two of you have shared, but we hope these tips prove helpful. 

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*About the Survey: This research was commissioned by Bumble and carried out online by Censuswide in February 2023. The survey was conducted among a sample of more than 1,000 US adults who have either attended college or are currently in college. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society, which is based on the ESOMAR principles.