Is It Friendship If You Have Nothing in Common Anymore?

Hello! I need some advice. I'm a working stiff in my late thirties. As a college student in the late 1990s, I met a guy through mutual friends and we became best buds. We had a lot in common—sports mostly. Now here we are 15 years later, and he lives halfway across the country from me. We talk maybe a couple of times a year and text maybe five times a year. We've visited each other a few times over those 15 years, but not anytime in the past five. We just don't have much in common anymore. He's married with kids. I'm single and like it that way. He's hardcore conservative. I'm very liberal. He posts ignorant jibber jabber on Facebook and we get into fairly heated debates, some might say arguments. If not for our history at college, I can't imagine I'd like this dude! And I'm not sure I do even now. Our friendship feels more like an obligation to me than a genuine friendship. I kind of feel guilty about that. I don't know if I'm just not being a good friend or if I'm just pretending we're friends at this point for the sake of nostalgia. What do you think? Should I try to rekindle the friendship in hopes there's still a viable ember, or am I better off accepting that this friendship isn't worth the effort and simply appreciate it for what it was (but is no more)? Thanks! —Friend Until the End
Dear Friend Until the End,

Thanks for your question. I guess the simple and perhaps even smart-alecky answer would be, “Don’t talk about politics and stick to sports!” I have very good friends who disagree with me politically and we are so passionate about our respective views that we simply agree to disagree. With others, I find it a little easier to have a more moderately tempered exchange; for example, I have a college buddy on Facebook who has drifted to the opposite end of the spectrum as me, but he has a sense of humor and pokes fun at my “side” and we have a good-natured sparring relationship about it. I could not do that with everyone.

But on a broader and philosophical level, your question points to a very psychologically significant phenomenon—related to change and, perhaps, loss.

The sometimes jarring fact of the matter is people change. There are friends from my past, as I sit here in middle age, whom I would no longer recognize. Some I am happy to stay in touch with via Facebook, and some I just can’t find common ground with anymore. A lot of this is about the present: the ongoing, indestructible present moment, which creates a context around what remains in common today. And other than a shared past, there are some with whom we just don’t share much in common anymore. Sometimes a new place—geographically, emotionally—can change a person, which changes his or her relationships. Sounds like your friend has changed for reasons that, I’m guessing, have little to do with you, but do affect the friendship.

We all exist in a particular context, often fleeting, ever shifting. (This would be related to what Buddhists call “groundlessness.”) In the case of your friend, you and he shared some very intense experiences in a common setting, but obviously things have changed in more complicated ways than can be assessed by the human eye. It sounds to me like you would have to make an adjustment to “fit” this new situation by listening to the “jibber jabber” of your friend’s politics. Perhaps these politics have become important to him for some reason that blocks more friendly relating. Could you ask him to drop this as a topic? Or is life too short to even bother at this point?

I was curious about the notion of an “obligation” to him, and I think that warrants further investigation. Why “obligation”? What are the risks of not following this new “requirement”? My sense is that not staying obligated might bring with it a loss of a kind that could be symbolic for you: for example, this friend was like a brother, and losing him might be related to experiencing a brotherly loss of a kind. Maybe you feel you’ve lost too many “friends” lately. Is there a loneliness losing him might touch on? Or perhaps there are people in your life like him, and for some reason you feel like you “owe” it to them to stay uncomfortable listening to opinions that seriously clash with yours. There is something abrasive about feeling “forced” to listen to political opinions that don’t jibe with yours; it sounds as if it might be more of a monologue than a conversation. “Fun for one,” as a friend likes to say. It does you no good to force yourself in such situations. I suppose you could try to “understand” his positions, if you’re interested, but that’s a lot of work on your part, and it may or may not be worth it.

More importantly, why hold on to this particular friendship if it’s no longer fun or friendly? It sounds like your college pal now wants your audience as more than a friend, from what you’ve said. Assuming he’s going to cling to his political points of view, what purpose does it serve by pretending a friendship is there that has changed or even faded away? I get a sad feeling while writing this, since people do come in and then out of our lives in a way that can spark specific feelings in us, depending on who we are and how we process these experiences.

In short, see if getting politics out of the equation helps, or if by continuing this friendship you are staving off inevitable feelings of loss that, unfortunately, are as difficult in life as connections are rewarding. You seem like a nice, considerate fellow, and I’m hoping there are people in your life whom you can spend more time with, rather than forcing a situation that no longer suits your particular context. Thank you for writing!

Best wishes,

Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Tate

    February 27th, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    We all live and learn and grow, sometimes apart for sure. That doesn’t mean you have to be unkind, but it is good to know that there are probably other people out there that you would rather spend your time with.

  • Anonymous

    August 4th, 2016 at 12:32 AM

    I am a middle aged woman, never married, no children. I have had my ups and downs in life. Some of my best friends have passed away. Others have such a different lifestyle from me that it is hardly even possible to meet up with them. I work freelance and am basically a night owl. A few of my 9-5 friends keep such different hours than I do that is virtually impossible to meet with them. One friend works every weekend. She finally had a free weekend and wanted to do something social. Just so happens that I need to take care of some important business and personal matters that weekend. I know this person is disappointed, but I must take care of myself first.
    I had another friend for many years. She was very focused on getting married. That was great. However she had no time for me. No problem. Fast forward 10 years. We have been completely out of touch. She has 2 kids and lives in a suburb about 100 miles from me. We really have little in common any more, even though we were childhood friends.
    Sometimes we change our lifestyle so much that our old friends really do not match up with us anymore.
    Friends don’t grow on trees. The ones I find I can remain friends with are flexible and know that we have different work hours, etc. They do not expect me to abandon the activities I must do in order to take care of my life’s affairs in order to get together with them. I recognize their individuality as they recognize mine. There is a fundamental connection and mutual respect.
    Just for example, I sometimes like to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve – one if the few times I attend Catholic mass. This past Christmas my friend asked me to attend mass at her church – Presbyterian – at 11 pm. I told her I was planning to attend mass in my own church at midnight and could meet her afterwards. She said it was too late to meet her and could not understand why I did not want to attend her church. Knowing that she does not like to attend mass anywhere other than her own church I thanked her and wished her a Happy Christmas. She said it would be too late to meet her after midnight mass, even though she was off Christmas Day and had no other plans. So we rarely see one another. She has very particular things she likes to do as do I.
    She refuses to stay out later than she likes so expects I should forgo activities I find important (go to the gym, take care of my home and business) to see her. As time has gone by, we see less and less of one another. While I am sorry not to see her very often, I respect her need to take care of her own “business” and would never expect her to do otherwise. She makes critical remarks and is hurt that I do not like to do the things she does. That is really the root of the problem – her lack of understanding that our lifestyles are different even though we care for one another. Sometimes it is difficult to remain friends with longtime acquaintances, even though they are good people.

  • Bret

    February 28th, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    I would love to know why it seems like there is a need to hold onto something that is not there anymore I am just curious about that, why, if you think that the two of you have grown apart, you aren’t really okay with that and willing to let that friendship go.

  • pinella

    March 2nd, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    There are always going to be those friends with whom you share just a few moments in time, but then you will have those who make it very easy to fall right back into that connection with. You don’t have to nor should you feel like you should force something to be there when it isn’t. So you may have outgrown each other and that former relationship that you had. There is nothing wrong with that.

  • Paige

    March 3rd, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    So invest a little extra time in staying in touch with this person if you really believe that he means that much to you. That won’t hurt anything, and maybe the extra effort will eventually show you whether this is a friendship worth working on so much.

  • connor

    March 5th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    It could be time to chalk this one up to a thing of the past

  • Sue

    March 25th, 2015 at 4:02 PM

    Be nostalgic, remember the good times, but don’t use the past as a crutch anymore.

  • Ralph

    August 23rd, 2015 at 11:31 AM

    Nostalgia is not a good reason to stay in touch. I don’t know if that might help at some point but in my case, I’ve severed ties with some people after I lost my brother. It made me realize that friends I had since high school and considered like brothers and sisters didn’t consider me the same and left me alone while I needed them the most and other friends, some I had made for only a couple of weeks, were much more concerned about me and helped a lot more by doing only small things. About two years from then, I met some of the high school ones recently and didn’t have much in common anymore. They didn’t evolve from high school at all after 15 years and their talk was all me-me-me, saying they hate their job as cashiers and clerks (with no babies and not much bills to pay), yapping about their parents who told them to clean their room, even though their in their thirties and living in an apartment, and how they still enjoy getting drunk every weekend or so. I didn’t even know what to talk about with them since I’m back to university, got a job I love, have a stable love life and am more interested in traveling, meeting new people that can make me grow and make long-term plans (and act) instead of just talking about it as a dream…

    Everyone is different so you might view this completely differently but the Buddhist thing is not totally wrong. Sometimes, it’s just better to let go. And if you really, really want to keep in touch with that friend, maybe you should really talk it out with him, but do it for the right reasons. Nostalgia’s endearing but those moments won’t ever come back, might they be good or bad.

  • Probassangler

    June 11th, 2016 at 6:01 PM

    Hi there. Not sure if anyone can respond to this, or Darren if you’d be able to comment. I recently finished the last year of university, and will be graduating in a few days. I have been done school, though, for about 6 months now. During those 6 months I worked a couple jobs, but am now just working part time at a simple retail job. I majored in Business (back in high school i decided this because it was the safe degree, and didn’t think much about what i REALLY wanted to do, just said i’d figure it out along the way) Now, I am not so sure if business is a career path for me. In fact, it has been the case over the last 2 or 3 years, where I had simply been unsure of what to do careerwise. Now i’m considering a long forgotten dream of pursuing medicine, or a health care field, because of my interest in science. Anyway, the long and short of it, in the last several months, I have really taken the time to think introspectively about who I am, what I like, what my values are, and where I want to go in the future. Part of that is who i am academically and vocationally (work wise), but it has spilled into my social life as well.

    Backtracking for a second. I am Armenian (eastern european). I was always short, unathletic, had dark hair, was hairy, and actually was quite chubby through grades 6 till about grade 10. I went to a private school, with mostly blond-haired, blue eyed, tall, thin, good looking and homogonous Dutch people. The school was small (about 300 kids jk-8) and then went to high school at sort of the parent school that all the Dutch people went to after (also about 300 kids, who were also almost all dutch). Ever since kindergarden, I never felt like I fit in. I guess it was because all the kids around me were part of their own Dutch community (church plus a lot were related) and I was by default an outsider from the start. I also found this dutch community to be very much closed-minded, unwelcoming, and at many times frankly rude. I was bullied for most of my JK-Gr 12 life, being called everything from Tubby (back when I was fat) to a freak, gay (even though i’m not), stupid, and often ostracized. I never felt like I fit in. The only people I talked to was the few people who weren’t also cookie-cutter dutch people. Really, the only thing we had in common was that we weren’t the token dutch people. Our social group wasn’t held together by any strong bonds though, we barely ever hung out outside of school. In the end, after grade 12, I was the only one to keep in touch with anyone from this group (one Korean friend John, and another a Dutch friend named Jack).

    Fast forward to university. Me and John went to the same school, same program (business), and sort of kept in touch at this time. however, John, being a Korean gravitated to the korean community on campus, and I sort of let him go. We still grabbed pizza or a beer from time to time, or hit the gym, but haven’t spend substantial time together. i think it’s because he’s more comfortable with his korean friends, as he often tells me ‘you’re the only white friend i have’. Anyway, we sometimes talk about hanging out, but never get around to it. but when we do, we catch up, we have a good time, and there isn’t much wrong in the friendship. I will say he is shitty at replying to texts, and I attribute that to him just not being as eager to hang out as me, but at the same time he often reaches out to me saying he misses me and wants to catch up.

    Changing gears to Jack. Jack and I kept in touch throughout the university years, even though he went to a different school. We’d text, or talk over Facebook, and on occasion hang out during school breaks, weekends, and holidays. Usually just grabbing a quick beer or watching a movie, or hanging out at his house. However I will quickly add to the mix that Jack is Dutch, and therefor cheap. I am totally okay with spending some money going out for food at some cool pizza joint/burrito place/burger spot, etc, and have a lot of interest in food and trying cool new places, but he doesn’t. It’s one thing we may have to agree to disagree on, but i think it does put a strain on our friendship because one thing i really ejnoy to do is eating out, and i feel when I ask him to eat out with me he is strained to say yes even thoguh he doesn’t really want to.

    Anyway, back to the main point. About halfway through university I realized that jack and I were starting to not have anything to do together. that is, i realized that he isn’t that crazy about video games, we dont have the same taste in movies really, and frankly, not a lot of other things in common. So i decided to fabricate an interest for us to share so we could have something to do – golf. We both had never done it, so we sort of learned along side one another. We started out going to the driving range together, and eventually started hitting the golf course. It was a good idea for a while because it gave us something to do when hanging out that we both enjoyed, and played at roughly the same level as eachother (whereas with video games, basketball, volleyball, hockey, and a lot of other things we weren’t on the same page).

    I still like golf, but I found that now something else has come to the forefront that may be a wedge in our friendship. I’ve done a lot of thinking, and spending time alone, reading, revisiting old interests that I gave up because i thought they ‘werent cool’ or forgot about to try to fit in with the ‘cool kids’ (who never accepted me anyway) back in grade and high school. I feel like since high school I have changed a ton, and that that there isn’t much personality wise that allows for us to be compatable as friends. I’m an intellectual, who likes science, reading, poetry, but also basketball, rap music, cooking/food, history, working out, a movie/TV buff (love smart, hard-hitting shows like The Wire, Sopranos, etc, and all sorts of smart movies from The Departed to Schindler’s List). I’ve recently really begun to take pride in this and stop hiding who i really am, whereas in high school i hid who i was to try and fit in. As for Jack, he’s pretty much not into any of the above things i mentioned. he’s into Volleyball, Biking, hockey (i used to be but can’t play anymore), drinking (i’m not huge into partying), and is more of typical boorish jock/hockey player type dude. As each day goes by I begin to realize more and more that we are in fact different, and maybe there isn’t enough in common for us to be friends.

    So right now i am a bit stuck. On one hand I want to have him as a friend, and give it a chance and sort of recognize taht we have differences but still some things in common (golf lol, hockey maybe) and perhaps enough to continue a friendship. But at the same time, there is a part of me that is taxed, or drained, when hanging out with him, a part of me that wonders why we’re spending time together at all. I’ll think to myself while we’re hanging out man i can’t wait to go home. I mean it might be a bit of a callous thing to say but it’s at times how i feel. Part of that is bc i am introverted, and just like my solitude. But it may also be that I just don’t care enough to really hang out with him as much as he does with me. over hte last year or so he’s been the initiator, the one to text first, the one to say “hey let’s hang out”, and i sort of go along with it. Recently (last few months) as I’ve been battling some depression over insecurities (lack of intelligence, lack of social skills, street smarts, confidence in my looks (short, skinny/fat guy who girls rarely find attractive, and insecure about my career [being a business student used to be a huge sense of pride for me but now as i’m unemployed and unsure what i even want to do, that pride is gone]. Perhaps fueled by that, perhaps fueled by a lack of wanting to ‘lead him on’ (if you will) anymore, I sometimes will ignore his msgs, or not respond. he’ll keep texting like a high schooler (adding more ‘n’s to ‘hey mannn’ over a series of texts over the course of a few hours till i respond) and if i do at all, i’ll give some excuse for why we can’t hangout (usually a lie).

    So in short i’m not sure if i want to pull the plug on this friendship and just let us both sort of move on, as opposed to pretending i still want to hang out and that i’m the same person he may remember back in high school/uni.

    One last thing – I think jack might be gay. One time after we were hanging in his basement, just watching a movie and chilling ( we watched the Imitation Game (about Allan Turing, a gay British mathematician who designed a computer to help fight the nazis in WW2). We’d done this about a dozen or so times before. Just hanging out nothing to see here. But at the end of hte movie before we were gonna crash for the night he said something (he may have been drunk and let it slip, but i’m not sure). He said “it would be nice to be gay” or something along those lines. Then i said “what?” and he said nothing. then i just said man you’re drunk go to bed or something like that lol, and sort of played it off. To this day that slip of the tongue has me thinking that Jack might be gay. Not sure if thats why he wants to hang out so much, despite our lack of things in common. Or if it was just a random thing he said and he isn’t gay.

    Anyway, this whole ‘potential gay’ thing is another thing to throw in the mix. I’m not gay, but i don’t have any gay friends so sort of unprecedented territory here. Would appreciate any input – any thoughts.

    Sorry for how long this all is, trust me there’s more. But I tried to keep it as brief as possible. Should I keep the friendship alive just for the sake of having at least one friend in my life, despite our differences? Or should i be upfront about my recent lack of urge to hangout with him? Should I make more of an effort to accept him for who he is and you know not read too much into our friendship, or pull the plug realizing that in reality there’s almost nothing we have in common. Should i let the ‘gay’ thing affect my decision, since i’m not even sure if it’s true?

    Appreciate your time in reading this, and would appreciate any feedback you may have. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    August 4th, 2016 at 1:07 AM

    This is an interesting dilemma for same sex friends of different sexual persuasions. As a straight female, I have found some gay female acquaintances who are just more comfortable with their gay female friends. I cannot comment on exactly how gay men feel about being friends with straight guys – I am a female. However, I can tell you that if you are struggling to find social things to do with your friend, perhaps it is time to put the relationship on pause. I have one such instance with a gay female friend. She really wants to be part of her “other” community. We still like and respect one another, but have little in common socially.
    Just give it a break and see what happens. I know it is not easy to make new friends. Maybe Jack needs a little breathing room too.
    Don’t slam the door behind you. Sometimes relationships take a while to evolve, just like the people in them. You will find friends and people who share your interests, values and ideas. It is a great big world out there. From the thoughtfulness of your comments, it sounds like you will meet many people who will appreciate you. Sorry you are out of a job right now. Maybe try another area of business in another industry? Or just get a different type of job altogether for the moment. You will find good employment soon. Take care of yourself!

  • thinking

    July 23rd, 2019 at 10:02 PM

    I have a high school friend that was never ambitious or smart, never went to college. Nor is this person well read or well traveled. We have been friends since we were 10 years old. I realize my life experiences and educational pursuits have been totally different than this individual . I never talk politics, economy, foreign policy or anything really deep with this person because there is nothing to have dialogue about. They do have an opinion about politics, but it is so pointless that I just laugh. I’m not mad at all about . How can I be? This individual choose a fun, social party life. We enjoy red wine, good food and talk about renovating the house, family, and design, surface stuff, plus our families are friends . It is ok. we have managed to stay friends, but our lives are completely different. I’m glad I have several other friends that I share a lot in common with, so it’s fine to keep a friend that is childhood friend.

  • Lorrie

    November 26th, 2019 at 10:09 PM

    Every year my husband and I and his friends and their wives (14 people total) attend a mandatory Christmas dinner at a restaurant. These are his childhood friends, all new grandparents now. My husband and I are the only ones with no kids. I am not connected with his friends or wives whatsoever. The only things they eat, sleep, breathe in life are their kids and grandchildren and everything to do with them. That’s their natural incentive and motivation, I don’t blame them, but….??? I don’t want to spotlight selfishness here, just extreme 360 degree alienation of me! Sometimes I feel like screaming out “What do you expect – I’m an alien!!!!” My husband doesn’t feel this way at all – these friends are his heart, soul and inspiration. They are what he lives for. Cumulatively they mean WAY more to him than I do. It is very uncomfortable to sit there for 3 hours bored and knowing it shows. It’s obvious I have no interest or input in their picture sharing and grandparent-isms, and their childs’ yearly progress reports. What would anybody else do in my predicament?

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