Dear Maria,

How do you graciously and lovingly leave a longtime group of friends when the current situations no longer interest you? We meet once a month, and it’s the same-old, same-old stuff! Gallbladders and sick husbands and politics and weight issues. Blah, blah, blah. What makes it hard is the long history. Much love and dedication and goodness there, but no one wants to grow and talk about new ideas. Yikes! And when I get with them, I notice I fall right into the trap as well. So, I’m part of the decline, too. I just don’t want to go anymore, at least not every month. What can I do?

By the way, I love your column so much. It’s always good advice and creative ideas.
Love My Friends, Just Not the “Old” Part

Dear Love My Friends,

It’s amazing how relationships evolve, or not. There’s no way around outgrowing friendships that once fit at another time in our lives. It’s bittersweet. There’s grieving the loss of comfort and connection, coupled with excitement for the new life, insights, and perspectives we’ve discovered. We’d love to share these with our friends, but maybe they’re not at the same place? Everyone grows at their own rate, and makes their own choices in their own circumstances. Sometimes we are in sync, sometimes not.

This is a tough situation. The tone of your letter suggests that this has been building in you for a while? Do you all share a common interest, like a hobby or game? Or maybe you are alums of the same school or workplace? Whatever your connection, the conversation habit is hard to break.

Bravo to exploring new things and getting out from under the sad stuff! My husband and I know a couple who, when they go out to dinner with their friends, allow 10 minutes for everyone to talk about their health issues. They sometimes even set a timer! When time’s up, they change the subject. Facilitating one’s social life is awkward, but they’d commiserate with you. They got creative about spending time with people that they love, without rehashing sad news and griping.

Do you pick up on any signals from others who might be frustrated, too? If you think you have some allies on this issue, you might try introducing something new. Maybe change the meeting place? Or the time of day when you meet? Set a timer for venting? Reach out to those who might be feeling restless and brainstorm ideas to switch things up.

For now, how about taking a break from the group for a month or so? Make alternative plans when they intend to get together, and encourage them to meet without you. See how this break feels. If you’re relieved, or sad, or feel like you’re missing out, pay attention to your feelings. Also, there’s nothing wrong with dialing back on your commitment. A monthly meeting is a significant gift of time. Might you be comfortable suggesting that the group get together less often? Or just telling them you aren’t available to meet so often anymore? Tell them you love the group and want to stay in touch, but a monthly gathering has become too difficult to schedule. See how they respond. Your question may help others who’d like a breather, too. Maybe it is time to renegotiate the ground rules. Exploring option takes courage, but it doesn’t have to be too painful. You don’t necessarily need to tell them about your growing dissatisfaction with the group’s conversations.

If you do decide to go there, however, you might say something like: “I’m finding it more and more unpleasant at our get-togethers. It seems like all we talk about are health issues and politics. After a while, those weigh heavily on me. I’d like to talk about other things that are more uplifting. How do you all feel about that?” (Phrase your comments in “I statements”, that is, in terms of how you feel. Beginning a statement with “you” can put others on the defensive.) If there are allies in the group, this conversation will be easier than you anticipate. I have a hunch you’re not the only one in the group who feels this way. On the other hand, people don’t like getting called out on their stuff. Holding a mirror up to the group is a brave and risky thing.

The restlessness and dissatisfaction you feel is evidence of growth and new life in you! (Some thoughts on a related question are in an earlier column, which you might like to read here.) If you do indeed decide to leave this group or cut back on your time with them, I have full confidence that new opportunities will come your way. It is difficult for new things to enter our lives when it’s cluttered with what we’ve outgrown. The brave part in stepping out is that we don’t know what that new thing will be, yet. It doesn’t reveal itself to us until we take action. “Leap, and the net will appear” – John Burroughs. Good luck! And, thanks for your kind words about my column. Please share it with your friends…wouldn’t that be a conversation starter?!

Dear Readers: In a quandary? Life got you down? Need some perspective? If you’d like to submit a question, click here. I look forward to hearing from you, or “for a friend.” Please add your thoughts, and suggestions in the comments section, below. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist.  This column, its author, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity, and all comments are moderated.