When One Person in a Relationship Changes

I discovered the social challenge of moving from one group to another in sixth grade.

First, let me situate myself. I was part of the post-World War II “Baby Boom” generation, a group for which the world was unprepared. Chicago’s school system, like others, discovered children like me flooding the narrow hallways of buildings used by our parents.

Why so many? The youthful soldiers returning from Europe and the Pacific attempted to retrieve lost time along with their young wives. My father’s letters across the ocean spoke to both his desire for my beautiful mother and the offspring they hoped for.

I’d spent the past year and a half in an overcrowded classroom shared with students one semester ahead. When my younger cohort came time for advancement to the level the older kids were completing, our teacher asked me if I wanted to “skip” that term.

Paul Friedman gave me this chance to proceed into seventh grade without finishing sixth. Thanks, Mr. Friedman, wherever you are.

The opportunity sounded fine to my parents and me, in part because I got along well with those a half-step up. The phrase “double promotion” applied to my more than ordinary educational boost.

Over the summer, I continued to hang around with my longtime, same-aged buddies, but Autumn turned out to be different. From the first day of class on Tuesday, September 2, 1958, the alteration, like a temporary shadow hovering over my life, greeted me with a frown.

I saw Lloyd and Roger, my old pals, talking, but when I tried to insert myself into the conversation, they acted aloof. Of course, I didn’t use that word, one absent from my vocabulary, but it described my puzzlement at the unsocial “distance.”

Continuing efforts to recapture our previous camaraderie produced the same result in the next few days. With no choice, those friendships faded as I found a place among my older classmates.

Life offers far more significant but somewhat similar challenges. Beyond moving out of your current neighborhood and going to new schools, think of changes in your profession, status ups and downs, leaping ahead or staying behind in terms of income, etc.

A daunting hurdle occurs when someone dependent on alcohol or drugs ends his addiction. Friends accustomed to joining him in drink or drugs say, “Oh, it’s only one drink” or “Come on, do you think you are better than me?”

If the newly sober fellow continues hanging around with the users, his sobriety is in danger. He has two problems now: abstinence from substances and finding new friends.

A political commentator, Kurt Bardella, describes leaving his occupational affiliation in 2016: the Republican Party. His writing doesn’t provide the most common answer to the question liberals ask, “Why do Republicans still work for Trump.” Rather, he speaks to the 1958 version of Gerry Stein’s experience on the playground. Here’s what happened to him when he left “the team.”

Candidly, I had no idea where my next paycheck was going to come from. I lived off my credit card. Fell into debt. The professional network of Republican operatives, consultants, and lobbyists I had spent a decade of my life in Washington cultivating was now gone.

Bardella no longer fit in. Changing religion might generate the same kind of exclusion. This also reminds me of something my mother uttered more than once as I grew up: “What will people think?”

In Bardella’s case, his professional and relationship community became unavailable to him. No other workplace niche existed for political operatives and conservative spokespersons who, like this man, self-emigrated.

Even such things as happiness and unhappiness can complicate relationships when they are not shared. If you are leaping forward in your career and an old buddy finds your glee overbearing relative to his modest success, one of you might decide he has tolerated enough.

More than a few of my patients worried their friends would grow weary of their degree of misery. They dared not exceed what they believed was an acceptable length and level of unhappiness. While they tended to overestimate the likelihood of rejection, I must admit it was never zero.

One might say the larger the discrepancy in the level of happiness, success, and misery between two friends, the greater the chance of a tear in the social fabric binding them. Part of relationship survival requires walking not too far ahead, nor falling too far behind. Some amount of self-censorship is also needed.

Fitting the pieces of your personal life into the jigsawed spaces of another’s existence isn’t a fully acknowledged human task. The good news is, most of us get at least passing marks.

We are complicated creatures, don’t you agree?

With all the encouragement we receive to be independent and tough enough to take on criticism, there are limits to this commonplace advice.

When my mother asked, “What will people think?” she displayed a wisdom one shouldn’t always ignore.


The two photos are from my time in Minnie Mars Jamieson School. They show my third-grade class followed by my graduating class. I am lucky enough to remain friends with four members of the latter group: Ron, Jim, Steve, and Neil.

No prizes if you can spot me, though I am present in both pictures. Of course, the “High Potentate” of the Zeolites won’t have any trouble. Apologies for the inside joke.

17 thoughts on “When One Person in a Relationship Changes

  1. This really makes sense to me and I’ve noticed this in many areas of my life. More recently, in a subtle way, a friendship is drifting apart because of a financial change. Our friends (who we have been friends with for nearly 15 years, life in very similar houses, have similar jobs and had our children at similar ages), inherited money from a relative and therefore she was able to quit her job and become a stay at home mum, they bought a house cash twice the size of the house they had before, two new cars, all new furniture in the house and fancy holidays abroad (we used to go camping together). It’s basically changed their whole life. And I’m delighted for them. But it’s created a strange, unspoken decode. That means we seek to have very little in common now. We can’t talk about work. We don’t holiday together. Their kids go to different schools now. They don’t have the same house or car ‘stressers’. They don’t have to be careful with money so their whole spending habits have changed (eg kids birthdays). I wondered if I was jealous and that impacted the relationship. I also worried if they were censoring themselves in an attempt to be sensitive to our now widened socioeconomic situations. It might be both those things. But also it feels like what’s described in your post. the inherited money was a major life change and it really shifted everything between us. It’s been a slow ending, but the friendship is definitely slowly burning out.

    Liked by 2 people

    • (Apologies for the typos)
      *live in very similar houses
      *created a strange unspoken divide
      *we seem to have

      Liked by 1 person

    • First, I am sorry you have had to go through this apparent loss, Lucy. You have much company, but such events are personal and it therefore doesn’t remedy the loss to know others have experienced it.

      Longstanding friends can’t be quickly replaced, but your family sounds young enough that you will make new friends over time. Your friend might also discover that the shine comes off of great wealth for many. Perhaps she will come to reckon with the personal cost to her of people like you. Good luck.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, it does partly feel like a natural parting though has been accelerated because of the things I mentioned above. You’re right, long-standing friends can’t be quickly replaced.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve faced similar situations along the course of my life. It didn’t help that I also changed geographical/cultural locations 🙂 However, while reading your post, my thoughts were with the American poet Minnie Bruce Pratt, whose work I feature in my Poetry Corner October 2020. In ending her ten-year marriage to live as a lesbian, she upended her entire relationship with her husband and two sons, as well as the entire community in which she once enjoyed the freedom of movement. In the mid-1970s North Carolina, she not only had to deal with the question of “What will people think?” The weight of the then enforceable “Crime Against Nature” law was also heavily stacked against her.


  3. Well said, Rosaiene. The necessity of your change in cultural locations doubtless came with many costs. And Ms. Pratt would have had to endure a closeted life, but for her decision to “come out.” Sometimes life leaves us without good choices, just, as in her case, the one she took was “necessary” and it sounds like, essential, Thank you for offering this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah yes…. compassion and communication seem to be rare commodities these days. 😦
    Thank you for the reminder to stay on track. Hubby has lost over 60 lbs dieting so we’ve many changes in our relationship. I am so blessed. He’s a keeper.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for this, Laura. One way to think of a marriage might be the mutual loving effort it takes to embrace the different versions of ourself we present to our spouse. To grow and adapt to the changing music without losing ourselves or the other.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ok…first photo….third row, third from the right?
    Second photo….top row, third from the right?


    • Neither of the two people you mentioned. A hint: the young men you pointed out are both darkly complected. I’m pretty fair. Thanks for playing, though!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was using my memory from a window shot of a younger you from behind with dark hair. Darn!


      • Considering the expensive prize waiting for a winner 😜, you can keep trying. On the other hand, you probably have better things to do.


  6. Top picture, 3rd row up from bottom, 4th from the left. Lower picture, second row up from bottom, 5th from the left.


  7. We have a winner! Congrats!! A person who can look back through time, no easy task.


  8. I think there’s no bigger relationship change than the one between parents and children. We slowly go from taking care of them, separating from them as they reach adulthood and no longer depend on you as much, to finally getting to a stage where they end up taking care of you, all of which requires adjustments on both sides to remain close, with, at least for me, some heavier emotional pain splattered in there along the way as their personalities evolve and their life circumstances lead them down different paths for yours.


    • What you say is regrettably often true. The role reversal is a challenge, for sure. To the extent that the children and parents both love each other, there is the chance to repair things, if repair is needed. I hope there are still some good times ahead. Be well, Brewdun.


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