Doctor Neha: Today I have a special guest, Blake. He’s someone I met a few years ago at a weekend retreat where we’re learning to be better speakers. Blake, I see that you’re in your vehicle. How are you doing?
Blake: Self-driving cars are awesome, but I don’t have one so I’m sitting in a parking lot.
Doctor Neha: Well, thank you for being willing to ask your communication questions so other people can learn. What’s on your mind?
Blake: I’m currently 32 years old, and it seems like something happens when my friends turn 30. An ongoing conversation within a lot of my relationships with people is that we are wondering how do you reduce a relationship or even eliminate a relationship that isn’t bad necessarily, but is no longer aligned with who you are and what is important to you or what is best for you? Perhaps you’re holding onto a conversation or a relationship because once upon a time you were great friends, but every time you connect now it’s like you’re going back in time. You have nothing in common these days. So the question is how do you reduce or end those relationships that are bad but aren’t really good anymore, for who you are and what you’re up to.
Doctor Neha: That’s a great question. I actually think that it changes almost every decade of our lives. What you’re speaking about is those people that you’ve grown up with and people who have known you through time. You know, if you think back to the beginning when someone wanted to play outside with you, all that mattered was that they wanted to play. If you wanted to play too you’re your mom would let you, then you could go do it. All you had to say was, “Oh yeah, me too.” So how do you do it now as we get older? Middle school or high school is the first time we really start to separate from others. Early on, we’re interested in getting our parents and our family’s attention and then something happens in middle school and high school where it shifts to wanting our peers’ attention. That’s also a time where we start making some difficult decisions.
So even though we’ve gone to school with someone since kindergarten, now we’re heading into high school. Even though we’ve known him a really long time our interests are starting to develop differently. As we develop into who we are, we start to deviate and realize, It was fun to play with this person when I was young but we don’t actually value the same things anymore. Then as you move out of high school and into college, everyone wants to go to class or go to the bar or go wherever—but you have some common interests with a bunch of people in college with you. After that, I do think around thirty years old is a common time for people to start doing a little more self reflection and personal growth.
In that space you start to get clear about the types of conversations you enjoy having. You may notice your interactions with people and a bunch of beer and a night out at the bar doesn’t feel as fulfilling as it used to—not to mention you wake up with the worst hangover that you can’t get over. Your body starts changing, and the nuances of who you are begin to change. And then what I’d tell you is after you get into your forties, it gets even more nuanced. Who I choose to spend my time with and how that aligns with me—I’m much clearer about who I am now. So what do I do when I outgrow relationships? The first thing is knowing what you value and tuning in to when you leave a situation and it has drained you of energy or it didn’t feel as inspiring as it used to feel. There will be a little bit of sadness sometimes in letting go.
So what I’d say is that the change is really about the conversation you have. Sometimes it just naturally happens and there’s nothing you need to do about it. But sometimes nothing has changed for the other person. They still enjoy hanging out with you. They still want to go to the bar; they still want to do whatever it is that you used to do together, and you’re the one who’s changing. In that situation, that’s where you have an honest conversation with the other person. For instance, “Hey, I know we used to do this activity, and I really enjoyed it when we did it. What I’m noticing as I’m starting my new business and I got engaged is that my priorities are shifting and how I spend my time has changed. I want you to know that I care about you and if we’re spending less time together, it’s not because I’m upset with you or there’s something personal you should be worried about. I’ve just noticed that right now I’m focusing on different things in my life and growing in different areas.” So you give them some sort of an acknowledgment like that. End with something like, “And have you noticed that?” I end with a little bit of a question. Then they can respond with, “Yeah. Well I’ve noticed you’ve been a little distant. I noticed when I used to be much more available before. You know, you got engaged and now you’re not as available.” Then you get to reaffirm that you’re the one changing. “Yeah. It’s so true that things are changing. What I want you to know is how much I have valued our time together, and that as I grow and change, I’m sure we’ll figure out what the best amount of time is for us to stay connected. It might be that it’s less time or it might no amount of time. I don’t know yet.”
Doctor Neha: So how does that sound?
Blake: That’s really good. I liked the specificity of ending with a question: “Have you noticed that or what have you noticed?” Because it can’t be just a full stop: “Here’s what’s up for me—gotta go!” I can begin this conversation and then invite them into it. They can tell me where they fit on the spectrum of this friendship in this moment and in reference to how it was.
What I find is that sometimes in my friendships, the conversation is also around how to do that with family. It’s one thing if it’s all about friends because we’re no longer in grade eight. But what if we feel like it’s no longer twenty years ago and the dynamic is very different on the family front than it once was—but those people are still family.
Doctor Neha: They are still family. Here’s something that’s interesting: I spoke in New Zealand last year, and I decided to take my parents with me. They hadn’t really seen me speak on a big stage so I took them with me. And at dinner one night, my father says to me, “You didn’t eat your green beans. You need to eat your green beans.” We’re at a dinner with other people. I said, “Dad, I got this handled.” So I think there’s good news and bad news. I mean, I think the bad news is I’m always going to be his baby girl. The good news is that if I can take it less personally, rather than a sign that I haven’t grown up or I’m not an adult, then I can handle it in a way that allows him to see the transition. It allows me to handle the conversation with at least grace and ease and realize “Oh my goodness, I just brought my parents to this public event.” The other people at the dinner just started laughing and some said, “You know what? Every one of us has parents that still think were a kid and I bet you if they were 90 and we were 70, they would still think we’re a kid.” That’s really true. So family is a little bit more of a challenge.
What I would say to you is most people experience some version of that and we can’t change other people. A big myth is thinking that somehow we can change others. Instead, what we can do is show up in a way that feels real to us, authentic to us. How they do or don’t accept these changes is on them. Now what you can do a in a situation like that is change how you interact with them. If you want people to perceive you differently, show up differently. But it’s often not in the obvious ways. If someone says something like what my father said about green beans, I could’ve gotten mad at him, I could’ve yelled, “That’s ridiculous!” And my first instinct was really shock, tense muscles, heart racing. My initial thought was, I’m speaking is one of the keynotes at this conference. You cannot be treating me like I am twelve or fourteen years old. But the truth is yes he can. What I learned through that experience was that everybody else was like, “Let me tell you about the time when my father….” It turned into a bonding and connecting conversation with everybody else there.
If there’s a specific scenario or situation, maybe we could do that in another blog. All right. So any takeaways for this time?
Blake: I think your story about eating your beans as an international guru is such a sweet story. I think if there’s a forum where we can all put our “green bean story” into the middle and share it with others then by sharing it we get clearer on the topics of our parents. My dad told me once, “If everyone sat in a circle and threw their problems in the middle, everyone would almost guaranteed take their own problems back in the end.” It’s just that we don’t often discuss what’s bothering us, but everyone has those green bean moments.
Doctor Neha: And when we don’t speak about it out loud and we don’t share what’s true, then we think we’re alone, which makes the situation feels harder. You’re absolutely right if we really took the time to truly listen to each other, we’d take our own problems back. Well, thanks, Blake. That was so fun to have you.
Blake: It’s very fun to be part of this. Thank you, Neha.
Awareness Prescription for Outgrowing a Relationship
Tell the other person what you value and appreciate about the time you’ve spent together.
State what’s changed for you (in your priorities and how you spend your time).
Moving forward, you might be spending less time together, and you want them to know it’s not personal, but rather a shift in your priorities.
Ask, “Have you noticed a shift in our relationship?”
Listen deeply without needing to justify/change what they are experiencing.