Thoughts on Friendship in Young Adulthood
I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard this thought… from friends, clients, and myself. “Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?” And it’s so true. Many of us had built-in social groups when we were younger… high school, college, or part-time jobs where many others were also young. Heck, I extended that to grad school and had two more years of built-in relationships. But then I graduated and moved across the country. And friendships got a whole lot harder. I don’t know if I have any solutions to adult friendships, but here are a few of my thoughts…
It really is hard.
I think I already established this… but I just want to validate one more time that making friends for the first time in the “real world” is not easy. Many of us young women see others with friends, often through social media, and tend to start thinking that they hang out with those friends on a daily basis and have wine nights and go out for dinner and are deeply involved in each other’s lives and hearts. But the reality is.. Maybe those ladies haven’t gotten together for a year. Maybe they really want friends too and just post it on social media to feel better. Maybe they’re not so different from you.
I will also say that I think building friendships in adulthood is difficult whether you move across the country or down the street. But let’s be honest, it helps to have connections and roots. Moving to a totally new city can be particularly lonely, as you may not have any family or friends in your new home whatsoever. But if you did stay in the same town and still don’t have a full social calendar, I want to encourage you to fight those feelings of inadequacy. It’s hard either way.
The definition of friendship changes over time.
When I was in college, I thought I had literally hundreds of friends. Friends were people I hung out with, people I smiled at, people I had connected with at some point, people I saw at parties. I had friends all over campus.
But as I’ve gotten older, and become a therapist, I’ve had to start reserving my emotional energy for the people that are truly involved in my life. I don’t have very many friends now. And I don’t mean that in a negative way, and I don’t mean to cast doubt on anyone I know reading this!
But my definition of friendship has changed. It’s become a lot more selective, for those who keep in touch regularly, those who share with me the hard stuff of life and vice versa, those are continually there for me, those who show genuine interest and make time for me. And because my definition has changed, my number of friends has gone down. I have many wonderful, friendly acquaintances, but just a handful of friends. Which leads me to #3…
Some friendships are for a season.
Moving 1000 miles away from home is one way to figure out who your true friends are. And that has been a really painful process for me. Some people have kept in touch really consistently, but others have just kind of faded away. Sometimes it’s them, sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s mutual.
I used to get really upset about this and vacillate between blaming my friends for not keeping in touch and feeling horribly guilty if I didn’t make the effort to initiate on an almost-daily basis. But that got really exhausting, and so eventually I was forced to make peace with it and change my outlook.
The reality is that we’re all busy, and we all forget to be intentional sometimes. Another reality is that human beings tend to socialize with the people they see the most. So when I’m suddenly really far away and it’s almost impossible to connect with me in person, friendships suffer. And it wasn’t just me, of course. People in my friend groups migrated all over the country and world… making it increasingly complicated. Most of the time, it’s no one’s fault. It’s just a part of life.
But realizing this may no longer be the season for a friend can still be really painful. When I realize this has happened, I try to give myself some grieving and processing time. It’s often just a little time to reflect or journal about our friendship and what I’m thankful for related to our relationship. I’m learning to be thankful for that particular season in life too, and rejoice in all the things I experienced and learned during that time. I enjoy the memories, and will almost always be happy to see these friends when the opportunity arises. But I try to move from feeling guilty to finding acceptance.
You can do all the right things, and still feel friend-less.
“Get to know your coworkers.”
“Join a Meet Up.”
“Go to a yoga class.”
“Introduce yourself to your neighbors.”
“Join a church small group.”
“You just have to put yourself out there.”
You’ve probably been told at least one, or more likely all, of these things by well-intentioned friends and family back home who want you to have friends. But it’s easier said than done.
Maybe you’ve tried a few of these things and not met anyone. Maybe you’re frequently trying ALL of them and still don’t have close friends several months into your new season of life. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.
Sometimes there’s a group out there full of “your people” just waiting for you, and it’s instant once it happens. But sometimes, making new friends just takes time and consistency. And it’s often more common to make individual friends as adults, rather than find a group of friends. That can make group social events more tricky! It doesn’t mean something is wrong, it just means that you don’t all live on the same college dorm floor and may not know each other.
Making new friends is possible.
It is totally possible! Stay consistent, stay open-minded, and stay willing to put yourself in awkward situations in order to find people. It can and, I pray, will happen for you. And when it does, those friends are often so precious to us. They are the result of winning a very difficult and gritty fight. They were often in the same boat as you at one time, and are grateful for you as well. And these friendships are often forged out of something much more real than simple proximity. Stay strong, my friends!