Blogger | Teacher
There are hundreds of thousands of songs about friendship: “The Golden Girls” began with the classic “Thank you for being a friend.” Randy Newman said that “You’ve got a friend in me.” The Spice Girls were confident when they sang the iconic line “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.”
For kids, making friends is a seemingly easy task. If a girl in your class likes your Barbie doll, then you’re automatically besties. If a boy watches the same Saturday morning cartoon that you do, then you’re friends for life. If someone has a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and is willing to trade it for your ham and cheese, then you’re basically family.
Then, as you develop and grow and move up through middle school and high school, those friends stay with you. You don’t have to worry about who you’re going to grab a milkshake with after school or who’s going to help you finish the hard level on your video game – your childhood friends are always there, right at your side.
College, too, is a pretty easy time for making friends. You may lose touch with your high school buddies when you move away, but the sweet girl in your Calculus class who shares her notes with you makes the loneliness of missing home easier. There’s always someone down to go see a movie with you, to take a late-night drive with the windows rolled down, to join you at the dining hall for a bite to eat after class.
So what is it that happens between your college years and entering the adult world that seems to make finding new friends so difficult? Why is it that nothing feels as simple and easy as it did when you were young? If anything, it should be easier to make adult friendships – you’re more mature, more self-assured, and have more money to do things than you did when you were eighteen. So why is it so hard?
One of the biggest struggles for finding adult friendships is scheduling. When you’re a kid, your schedule is wide open, as flexible as you were when you played on the jungle gyms. You didn’t have commitments or plans, work schedules, or filled calendars. The only thing between you and your friend was your parents’ jobs and your Thursday night soccer/ballet/basketball practice.
When you’re in high school, your schedule becomes a bit more hectic. Maybe you have a part-time job (or two) and band practice three days a week, plus a boatload of homework. But, somehow, you still have time to see your bestie during your break times or to hang out after work on Friday night. Your energy is limitless.
But, as an adult, there are so many things that get in the way of adult friendships. Between your work schedule, your partner’s schedule, your children’s Thursday night soccer/ballet/basketball practice – there never seems to be enough time for making friends.
And there’s just something about the schedule trade-off conversation that always seems a little disheartening. The “I can’t do Friday, but I can meet you for coffee between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday if you’re free then?” Trying to pencil in time to see your friends in the middle of your already exhausting and chaotic schedule is always just a little disappointing, and makes maintaining those friendships significantly harder.
Everyone knows that kids fight – there’s nothing secret about that. But children also seem to have this innate ability to forget why they were fighting eight seconds after it happens. Working at a preschool, I’ve watched countless children come crying to me one second about how so-and-so was mean to them and they never want to play with them again, then the next second they are back to running around laughing with the child that hurt their feelings.
But, as an adult, the scars we hold are always a little deeper than cuts on your knee from being pushed down on the playground. With age and time comes innumerable experiences, both good and bad. We meet so many people during our lifetime – love so many people during our lives – that it would be impossible not to get hurt by a few.
And as much as we try to get over the pain, work through it and talk about it and grow from it, some part of it always lingers, staining our idea of friendship and relationships around the edges. We don’t want it to, but it’s impossible to avoid holding on to some of that hurt.
So, we build emotional barriers to help protect ourselves. Create boundaries and limits for what we say and what our future friends get to know. And while it’s definitely healthy to have clear boundaries for yourself, it can also make developing deep connections in adult friendships a bit difficult. If we don’t let people in, we don’t give them the opportunity to earn our trust and win a place in our hearts the way our childhood friends could.
Higher Standards of Friendship
One of the good things about developing boundaries – but also another struggle for finding adult friendships – is that it sets a higher standard for what we want in our friendships. As children, we usually choose whoever is closest to us in proximity to be our friends. Then, as we age and grow up together, we keep those friends by our sides – even when they aren’t good for us anymore.
Just because someone is near you doesn’t mean they are the best fit for you. It doesn’t mean their personality will mesh with yours or that they won’t turn out to be hurtful or toxic in the future. For anyone who’s had to take an honest look at their childhood friends and say “this isn’t healthy for me,” you know how difficult it is to let go of those relationships.
But as you age and are able to meet people outside of your bubble, you find friends that really understand you on a deeper level and accept you for who you are – the pretty and the ugly parts. And those friends are beautiful and wonderful, but they make it hard to accept less than that in your other adult friendships.
Having standards and boundaries is a wonderful thing – you deserve to be surrounded by people who bring you joy and make you feel good about yourself – but it can also mean your friend group gets significantly smaller than the one you had growing up.
However, in the end, it’s better to have a smaller group of sincere friends than a large group of acquaintances that don’t make you feel safe and supported.
The worst struggle for adult friendships? Geography. As we grow older, we hopefully find wonderful opportunities to develop and evolve in our field of work and life experiences. But as amazing as these opportunities may be, oftentimes they force us to make the difficult decision to leave the people we know and move somewhere far away.
Long-distance relationships aren’t impossible, but they can make you feel a little lonely sometimes – especially when you’re in different time zones. But long-distance is also a great way to test the strength of your relationships. If your friend continues to put in the effort to stay in touch with you however they can, even if they only get to see you once a year (or sometimes even less), then they are definitely someone who values you.
Keep those people in your life. Finding that kind of love and consistency in adult friendships can be incredibly challenging.
While finding adult friendships can be hard, they are definitely not impossible to come by. And with higher standards and more personal boundaries, you are able to tell a good friendship over a bad one much faster as an adult than you ever could as a child.
Some days will be hard, and sometimes you may feel lonely, but never stop fighting for the kinds of friends you want to see in the background of all your most important photos.
And most of all, remember these wise words from Bill Withers: “We all need somebody to lean on.”
About Draven Jackson
Draven is an avid writer and reader who enjoys sharing her opinions on movies, books, and music with the rest of the world. She will soon be working as a teacher in Japan and hopes to use her experience to connect with other teachers and students around the globe. Draven spends most of her time at home with her family, her dogs, and her ferret.
To see more, view all posts by Draven Jackson here.