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Now Reading: Why Are Adult Friendships So Hard?
2 months ago
Over the past three years I’ve lived in three different countries.
This, I’ve learnt, is an excellent way to get rid of excess “stuff.” When you’ve only got two suitcase’s worth of luggage, it’s easy to say goodbye to that sweater you never wear or the book series you finished three years ago.
It’s also a good way to get rid of friends. When you move 2000 miles away, the friends from work that you grab a drink with on Friday night, the church friends you only see each Sunday, and the people that form the peripheral part of your friend group all fall by the wayside.
You try to keep in touch with a few close friends but even this gets hard. Where previously you spent time together in-person every week, your friendship becomes a thing of messages and the occasional video call.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from doing this twice, it’s this: adult friendships are hard.
Seriously, no wonder our ancestors stayed in the same tribe their entire life. If “Friendships” were a videogame, the ascending levels of difficulty would be Easy, Medium, Hard, Godlike, and Adulthood.
At least with dating, it’s an even playing field. You’re both looking for love and you’ve (hopefully) got similar levels of enthusiasm to invest in a new relationship. It would be a different game if the person you went out for coffee with already had 5 wives.
This isn’t a terrible analogy for when you’re the new adult on the block looking to make from friends. You’re effectively starting from scratch on the friendship front, but no one else is. They’ve all got a solid group of friends they’ve known for years.
Between your career, your significant other and the various commitments you really shouldn’t have made but you did, the time left for new friendships can be slim.
As Megan Baldwin writes, “with each minute that gets eaten by adulthood, one more good intention does, too.” When I’m working a 50+ hour week and there’s a lot going on, catching up with a friend feels like one thing too many.
It’s a lot easier to just go home and eat pizza on my comfy couch. But then one Saturday I’ll be sitting on that couch feeling lonely and I’ll realise that I haven’t made a decent effort to touch base with a friend in months.
Making friends in school was a piece of cake. You had 6 hours together in the same place every day and your only concerns on the weekend were sport and doing fun stuff with friends.
University is a tad harder, but most of us had the unreal advance of living in the same building as the people we wanted to become friends with. And while we only realise it in hindsight, we still had oodles of free time.
In adulthood, time to catch up with a friend needs to be found amidst the commitments of work, your relationship, family, kids (maybe) and everything else on your plate.
You schedule brunch together 3 weeks in advance because that’s the only Saturday morning available and then a day before you have to cancel because of sickness/that family thing you forgot about/a worldwide pandemic that closes your favourite café.
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With all of that going on, it can feel like the odds are stacked against you forming solid adult friendships. I can’t profess to be a pro at it. Two years after moving to a new country, I still go too long without connecting with old friends and I wish I had more new ones.
But when something isn’t working for me, I think about it. A lot. I figure out where the problem is and attempt to come up with solutions. As far as I can tell, here are the secrets to forming solid adult friendships.
I’m a big believer of the saying “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” If you’re unhappy with the current state of friendships in your life, it’s important to take a step back and think about where you might be going wrong.
Are there close friends who you deeply value, but you haven’t communicated with them in weeks or months? What’s going wrong there? Have you been meaning to call them, but you never find the time?
Is there anyone on your radar who isn’t a good friend yet, but you think they could be? What are some steps you can take to get to know this person better?
It might feel strange to be ‘strategising’ about your friendships in this way, but good friendships don’t happen on accident. If you want them, you’ve got to be intentional.
On the flip side, are there any friendships in your life that aren’t good for you? Maybe you’ve got friends from your younger years, but you’ve grown apart? Maybe you’ve got friendships that are just more negative than positive – friendships that focus too much on the other person or a built on negative habits like gossip?
While it might sound harsh, sometimes the best thing you can do to improve the state of your friendships is to cut certain people lose. That way you’ll have more of your limited time and energy to pour into the friendships that matter.
If you want fulfilling friendships, focus on quality and not quantity. It’s better to have 2–3 close friends than 20–30 shallow ones.
The same is true regarding communication with your friends. You don’t necessarily need to meet us with a friend once a week or message them daily, but you need meaningful communication. I wouldn’t talk to my best friends (none of whom live in the same city as I do) more than once every couple of months, but when we do it counts.
We spend a decent time catching up and we don’t waste it on small talk. We talk about the big stuff going on, the stuff occupying our thoughts, the challenges and the hilarious moments.
In my experience, it’s this ability to dive deeper than the surface level that differentiates a friendship that fills you up from one that drains you.
Push past the small talk and strive to authentically share life with your friends. If, despite your best efforts, you can’t get there with a certain person, they probably aren’t meant to be a close friend.
One of the most effective ways to building meaningful relationships is to ask your friends for help, and to offer yours in return.
If you have a romantic partner or you live near family, situations where you require the help of a friend might be few and far between. But make an effort to find them.
There is something about reciprocity, the acts of being helped and helping others in turn, that is hardwired into us as human beings. It knits us together.
When I think about my friendships with certain people, I distinctly remember events like the time I helped that friend pick out a suit for his wedding, or the time that other friend helped me move a massive chest of drawers across town.
I’m terrible at asking people for help. I think it’s one-part pride and two-parts not wanting to impose of people. But I’m learning that one of the best things I can do to build solid friendships is to ask for help, even when I don’t necessarily need it.
If I need information about a certain topic, say investing, I’ll make an effort to call a friend who is good with money and ask their advice, even though I could find the information I’m looking for on the internet. If I need to paint a fence, I’ll ask a friend to come help, even though it’s well within my abilities to just do it myself.
Equally, it’s important that you make yourself available to help others. Offer to help your friend move house, be there with a listening ear when he/she is going through a tough time and train yourself to be on the lookout for those little opportunities to lend a hand.
More than anything else, building new friendships takes time. You need to hang out with someone regularly and gradually develop your friendship over a period of months. The challenge, of course, is that many of us don’t feel like we have the time to be catching up with someone every 1-2 weeks.
The answer, or at least one of them, is to find an activity that regularly demands your time and the time of a bunch of other humans. A sport, a club, or a church community are all solid options.
It’s a lot easier to make a friend if you see them 3 mornings a week at the gym, or every Sunday at church, or twice a month at your interpretive ribbon dance classes.
Every person I know who moved somewhere new and established a great community of friends took this step. It can be a big step outside your comfort zone to take up one of these activities, but they often form the foundation for solid friendships.
When it comes to making friends as an adult, it’s easy to feel like the deck is stacked against us. Everyone else already has friends, we’re busy and they’re busy.
While forming adult friendships isn’t easy, if you’re willing to be intentional about them, it can be done. Think carefully about the people that you’re investing your time in, focus on building meaningful relationships, lean on your friends and be patient.
Building solid friendships takes time and energy. It’s probably the biggest ongoing challenge in my life right now. But every time my sides hurt from laughing with a friend or I’ve got an attentive ear to share my struggles with, I’m reminded that it’s worth every ounce of effort.
What is your biggest struggle when it comes to adult friendships? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section.
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