Illustration by Leigh Luna.

Most of us have, at some point in time, been in Friendship Limbo: a period of uncertainty where we don’t know whether we want to stay in or leave a friendship. There are many catalysts that can drop us into Friendship Limbo, and the tough part is that the only way to get out of it is to make a definitive decision. Like Morpheus offering Neo a choice between the red or blue pill, you may feel torn about the outcomes of two totally different options. Unlike Neo, however, I definitely recommend taking more than 0.006 seconds to decide what you want to do!

So, take your time. If you’re unsure about what you want, don’t stress! Friend breakups are terrible, yes, but so are unhealthy friendships. Whether your current Friendship Limbo is the result of untimely circumstances or interpersonal conflict, it’s worth gaining some perspective on the friendship as a whole, checking in with yourself, and asking these questions:

  1. Does this friendship bring me joy?
  2. Is my life better because this person is in it?
  3. Does my friend treat me with love, kindness, and respect?

With these questions in mind, let’s get going!

Should I stay if…the circumstances suck?!

Sometimes, having to make the choice to end or continue a friendship comes solely from your current circumstances. Maybe your friend is moving away. Maybe you’re both attending different high schools in the same city. Maybe you have an incredible opportunity, but it means leaving your entire life behind you (how vague and glamorous!!)! Either way, most friendships begin because the circumstances were, well, totally great. You were both in the same biology class or neighbors on the same street. But, as we all know, life can be sad because circumstances changeOh god what do I do?! Do we stay friends?!!!

To help bring some clarity to the situation, refer to the questions above! If this is a friendship that makes you feel loved, valued, and joyful, you already have your answer. However, there are some added things to think about, such as how much time/money/energy you’re willing to spend to maintain a long-distance friendship. Long-distance friendships are tough, but they are also insanely rewarding. If you’re interested in pursuing a long-distance friendship, here are some tips to being a great LDBFF (long-distance best friend FOREVER!):

  • Treat your friend like a pen pal, write them letters, send them Polaroid pictures, or make them a DIY pen pal package! If your friend is moving away, send them things that remind them of your town or city: a ticket stub from your local movie theater, mints from your favorite restaurant, or pressed flowers from their old garden.
  • Make the effort to call/text them at least once a week. Last year, my best friend moved to Paris for 10 months and I found that our friendship actually strengthened while she was away, due to how much time we spent talking on the phone. Long-distance calling is super expensive, so apps like Facebook Messenger (which allows phone calls through wifi) saved our butts, wallets, and friendship.
  • Be understanding if there are weeks where you don’t talk. You won’t be able to be in contact with each other every day! From time differences to busy schedules, remind yourself that your friend isn’t intentionally trying to hurt you.

This can all seem like a lot. If you’re not cool with putting this much effort into maintaining your friendship, then that is totally OK. Similarly, if your friend hasn’t been a particularly positive person in your life, think about the changing circumstances as a sign that it’s time to let go of a toxic friendship. I know you’ve already seen this quote stitched onto the throw pillows of an IKEA couch, but people really do come into our lives for “a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” And often, we don’t know which one applies to this specific friendship, but sometimes, the friendship is so wholesome and rewarding, it doesn’t even matter.

Should I stay if…we’re growing apart?!

So you’ve been friends for years, when you suddenly realize: things just aren’t the same. There could be many catalysts behind this realization: a particularly unsatisfying hangout, a negative comment that you can’t stop thinking about, or the extra-painful act of stumbling upon photos/videos/memories from a time when the two of you were way happier than you are now. The worst part is that you can’t get this new knowledge out of your head; you can’t unsee the blatant incompatibility and now you’re left to decide which course of action to take. Do you try to save the friendship, or let it slip quietly away? How do you know if this isn’t just a phase? Why do people have to change?! WHY IS FORMING CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS SO COMPLICATED?!!

Growing apart from someone you used to be close with, to put it simply, just sucks. It’s painful and destabilizing, and can often cause resentment and anger. However, because feelings like these are unproductive and negative, we want to avoid harboring them and instead, encourage honest and open conversations with our friend. If, after referring to the questions above, you conclude that your friendship with this pal is worth recovering, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • GROWTH IS USUALLY A GOOD THING. Whether you’re the one who’s changed or they have, remind yourself that, especially during adolescence, people changing usually means they’re growing into the person they’re supposed to be.
  • THIS COULD JUST BE A PHASE. My longest-standing friendship has been going on for a solid 15 years. In all that time,  there have been periods where we haven’t talked for months and months, because our personalities were, point-blank, totally incompatible. But only temporarily. It’s OK to go on a friendship break, because who knows? You may be on the same page at another point in time!
  • YOU CAN TELL YOUR FRIEND HOW YOU’RE FEELING. Before you make the decision to cut off a close friendship, consider openly communicating with your pal. Pull them aside and say, “Hey, I feel like we’re not really compatible right now. This friendship really matters to me and I want to maintain it, even if it means it’s going to be different.”

When I think about growth in relationships, I think about this quote that I found inside of a fortune cookie, by Lillian Hellman: “People change and forget to tell each other.” Even though it’s a bit melancholic, I love this saying, because there’s no malice in it! No one is intentionally trying to hurt you when they change, just like how you’re not trying to hurt anyone when you change. We have to let the people around us do what’s best for them, and sometimes, that means letting them do their own thing while we do ours!