Artwork: Jane Tan

Turning 30 is certainly a cause for celebration… but what are we celebrating exactly? In ‘My Dirty 30s’, columnist Samantha Y. reflects on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly truth about what this decade spells for “ageing” millennials like herself. 

When I entered my 20s, I read plenty of advice columns and Thought Catalog pieces that warned me about losing touch with people whom I once thought were “friends forever” material. And there’s sound reasoning for this phenomenon — at that age, most of the friends we have were from school. Once you remove that from the equation, some of us would find out the hard way that certain friendships were just borne out of geography and circumstance.

I’ve since made peace with that and by my mid-20s, my social circle had largely stabilised. Who I’d hang out with became pretty predictable, based on the day and occasion. This is it, I thought. These are my ride or dies. So imagine my surprise when I found that it’s possible for my social circle to shrink even further in my 30s.

But unlike the first time, there’s no bitterness nor any desperation to try and hold on to these friendships. After all, I had gradually gone through another transition over the last couple of years — from a carefree single to a pregnant newly-wed — and it makes sense that my priorities no longer align with some of my former friends’ lifestyles.

The first ones to fade were the party pals. Once I traded nights out for date nights with my partner, and binge drinking for game nights, our friendship went from meeting up every other weekend to the occasional emoji reaction to an Instagram story.

The second type of friends I’ve lost — and these are the ones that hit me harder — are those who are on a different life trajectory. For some reason, the clashes in our goals and values were stark enough to create a rift in the friendship that none of us are willing to acknowledge.

So if no one has told you this before, let me spell it out for you: losing friends is an inevitable part of your 30s, just like thinning hair and achy joints.

That said, some friendships are harder to let go of, especially when there’s still love there. So what then?

Again — like I’ve been disclaiming in this column all along — I’m no expert, but when I’m on the precipice of losing a friend whom I had cherished times with, there are three things that I do to help me evaluate whether it’s worth spending the emotional energy to fix it.

Reflect on why we’re friends

I’d like to believe that the foundation of any good friendship is mutual love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that in real life. Perhaps it’s a legacy thing, where you guys have been part of the same social circle since school. Heck, sometimes people are friends because of trauma bonding, i.e. a bad work environment.

Some would say that this shared history is enough reason to fight for the friendship and remain friends. My counter-argument is this: but why? I’ve come to realise that a shared history isn’t enough to sustain a long-term friendship. What do you talk about — and bond over — once that is removed? Instead, I’d ask you to consider if the both of you have any common interests, values and outlooks on life. Just like how your romantic partner needs to be aligned with your whole lifestyle, your friends too, need to be
aligned with your vibe on some level.

For instance, they may choose to be child-free, but that doesn’t mean that they’re completely checked out of your life once they’ve become a mother. A good friend in this instance would be happy for you despite their personal choice, and still find a way to be supportive — or simply interested — in your new journey.

This brings me to this last, but most important, question — how does this person make you feel at the end of the day? Are you excited to hang out with them, or does it fill you with dread when they try to schedule a Sunday brunch?

Analyse our friendship scorecard

Yes, I know this makes me sound like a cold, transactional b*tch, but hear me out. By definition, friends are people whom you have a bond of mutual affection with. Some give and take is expected… from both parties.

In my books, giving looks like this: hearing your friend rant about a bad day at work, making sure that they get home safely after one too many drinks, or taking the initiative to make plans to hang out. To me, even the simple act of complimenting a friend on their makeup, hair or outfit, counts as a give.

And let’s be honest — we love our friends but they can be annoying at times. And there will be rare occasions when they cross a line, like asking to borrow money from your partner without you knowing (true story). That’s when the other party is required to give a little. Mentally, I’ve deducted points from a friendship scorecard for stuff like never initiating a hangout, one-word answers when I’m genuinely trying to have a conversation about what’s going on in their lives, and on a more serious note, not taking therapy seriously while still emotionally dumping on me (I feel it’s unfair for someone to expect me to help when they don’t even want to help themselves, no?).

Of course, I’m not that petty to keep track of all these things in a notepad, but my general rule of thumb is this — I should be able to count on my friends to show up (within their capacity) when I need support. After all, why would you fight to keep a friendship that no longer fills your proverbial cup?

Have that difficult conversation

Unless that friend had really crossed a line, I would say that it’s only fair to let them know how their recent behaviour made you feel — and give them the chance to react to that. I learned this first-hand a few years back when a male friend in my social circle started to make comments that were insensitive and sometimes misogynistic, which rubbed me and another female friend the wrong way.

The final straw for her was when she was happy to show us her name card from her new workplace, which you could tell was fancy with a capital F — it was something like 480gsm, embossed, foil stamped, the whole works — only for him to react dismissively and mansplain which are some of the more impressive business cards he’s seen in his career.

After our dinner, she left the group chat immediately and has not been in contact with him since. I briefly considered doing the same since that friend had also hit a new low on our friendship scorecard lately, but my then-boyfriend (now husband) posited this “What if he isn’t aware of how his words are affecting all of you? This isn’t fair to him.”

It sure wasn’t easy to have that conversation, especially for someone like me who’s rather non-confrontational. But after typing out some drafts detailing why we were upset, I finally worked up the courage to hit send… and heaved a sigh of relief as that friend read my messages and then sincerely apologised.

If you’re curious, we still remain good friends to this day. In fact, I’m extra appreciative of him during my pregnancy because he went out of his way to make plans with me, and always at my convenience by travelling to my place, sometimes even bringing dinner with him.

And I think it also speaks volumes that I haven’t seen (or talked) to our other mutual friend as often. She straight-up ghosted him, which in turn, made him feel that his friendship wasn’t valued enough. After witnessing this, and some other pretty selfish behaviour from her over the years, I’m now inclined to believe that perhaps we have outgrown her too.

To break up or not to break up

That said, there are always exceptions. If you feel like your friend wouldn’t be receptive, or would react in a negative or even dangerous manner to that difficult conversation, then by all means, ghost them. You are perfectly justified in putting yourself and your safety first.

I’ll leave you with this: for what it’s worth, just because someone has been disappointing you in the friendship department doesn’t mean that you have to break up with them immediately. My friends (or what’s left of them anyway) and I have come to the realisation that sometimes you just need to manage and communicate your expectations.

Perhaps that friend has just become a new mum and simply doesn’t have the mental capacity to care about that Tinder match who ghosted you. Or maybe they’re going through a tough time in their personal lives and your petty squabbles with Debby from accounting is really a non-problem in their eyes.

And sometimes, in going through all of these considerations, you realise that you still want that person in your life… just maybe in a diminished capacity?