My best friend is stuck in a rut but I’ve grown up. Do I let this friendship go or keep trying? | Life and style

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I’ve been friends with my best friend since we were 13 and now we’re both in our mid-30s. We went through a lot of phases of life together and grew together in almost every way. For almost the last decade, though, she’s been thoroughly stuck in her life and complains about her situation, even though she doesn’t want to put in any effort to make it better. Her idea of ambition is that she’s going to magically become a famous author (she’s a good writer) but she doesn’t consistently put any effort towards that project. She currently works at a dead-end job so I’ve offered to pay for some writing certifications because she never finished her university degree (which is fine), and at least some certifications could help her work in a field with more growth potential.

It also seems like every conversation we have centres around video games, toys (she works in a toy shop and collects them) or her dogs. I actually love video games too, but it would be nice to seriously talk about some real-world issues too. I just feel like she’s never going to grow up and be the friend I know I need, but I’m struggling to abandon this friendship because we’ve known each other for so long. I’m pretty done trying to help her since it seems she doesn’t want it and can’t be bothered to think of her future. Do I let this friendship go or keep trying?

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Eleanor says: A primary school in my old neighbourhood had a list of playground rules that I often think of even in adulthood – “be respectful”, “eat some fruit”. Number three was “let others look after themselves”.

It’s an agonising lesson to have to learn – especially when you’re the vessel into which someone keeps pouring their complaints. But the truth of adult life is you can’t make other people into what you’d like them to be, or even what they’d like themselves to be. You can’t make anyone anything – you can only decide if you want to spend some of the time you get on Earth with them.

A difficult task for any decades-long friendship is how to preserve the relationship when the people within grow at radically different rates, which to some extent is inevitable. In school we all frogmarch together through the same daily schedule and the same rigid milestones, but in adulthood the lines of a person’s trajectory get a lot more elastic. Kids, career, divorce, money – all these happen at different times, if at all, so each one can become an island on which one half of a friendship gets marooned. It’s hard, finding ways to share your lives when you no longer share the same experiences or even the same priorities.

You asked whether to let this friendship go. Perhaps the way to find the answer is to ask whether you enjoy her company regardless of where she’s at in life. I hear quite a lot of frustration about how your friend lives – you say she’s “thoroughly stuck”; doesn’t put “any effort” into writing; that you’re worried she’ll “never grow up”. But outside of an assessment about what kind of life she has, what’s she like as a friend? Is she broadly cheerful, does she remember your birthday, does she make time to spend with you? In other words – has she done anything bad by you besides slowing on the path you both hoped she’d take?

If the answer’s no, then perhaps the thing to do is to focus on the time you spend together instead of how she manages her life. It might be that if you can populate your life with more friendships and activities that match your personal priorities, it feels like less of a disappointment when she doesn’t.

Trying to change someone is a guaranteed recipe for frustration; paying for her writing courses or trying to shepherd her towards her own goals risks making her decisions into your personal losses – but if you’re no longer in the game of helping to design her life, you can sit back and focus on her company, rather than her choices. You might even find that there’s a renaissance available for your relationship by looking at the ways you’ve grown to be different, rather than hoping you’ll be more the same.

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