3 Things No One Tells You About Adult Friendships
When it comes to having various relationships, the older we get, adult friendships rank pretty low on our list of priorities. If you look back on the progression of an average “All-American” lifestyle, friendships were once the goal. After all, as a teen, having a lot of friends was the highest currency for measuring your social rank and overall popularity.
However, as most of us grow from being children to teenagers and eventually into young adults, community is ingrained into our daily lives through connections at school, friendships in the neighborhood, and pals at extracurricular activities. But as the aging process continues, these communities may begin to drop off one by one. People end their schooling, drop their hobbies and retreat into apartments without much connection to their neighbors. Most of our social lives revolve around our work colleagues, whom we often limit our personal disclosures with. And as more and more people work from home, our access to a sense of in-person community has shrunk, drastically.
Further, priorities shift to an emphasis on romantic partners, family and potentially children, too. As this happens, we may “naturally” drift apart from our friends, giving those relationships a backseat to other things in our lives. This kind of dynamic makes it easy for friendships to slip through our fingertips.
In 2015, The Atlantic published an article exploring how friendships change in adulthood. In it, the author points out that, “Friendships are unique relationships because, unlike family relationships, we choose to enter into them. And, unlike other voluntary bonds, such as marriages and romantic relationships, they lack a formal structure. You wouldn’t go months without speaking with or seeing your significant other (hopefully), but you might go that long without contacting a friend.”
This speaks to the unique challenge of maintaining friendships as an adult, especially as family and work claim their place as top tier. But fulfilling, deep friendships are not just for the young, and they are something to be protective of, especially as our lives progress. Oftentimes, getting older can mean involuntarily foregoing most connections outside of your family and partnership.
Basically, adult friendships do require more of a conscious effort, however, that deliberateness and intentionality is what makes them all the more unique and special.
So while we aren’t conditioned by popular culture on how to nourish friendships the same way we are romantic partnerships, thankfully, there’s a lot of research behind this mystifying topic to help combat this lack of attention and awareness. In particular, the book The Art of Showing Up by Rachel Wilkerson-Miller has taught me a lot about navigating and maintaining my friendships as a young adult. With the help of her research and wisdom, here’s a list of important lessons that no one teaches you about adult friendships.
1. Take Care Of Yourself First
One of my favorite points of Wilkerson-Miller’s book is that she points out, “You can’t show up for others if you aren’t showing up for yourself first.” It’s commonly understood that self-development is important to being able to contribute fully to romantic relationships; for example, emotional availability is essential for closeness. But when it comes to friendships, this isn’t as prevailing of a narrative.
Wilkerson-Miller argues that it should be. She encourages readers to get in touch with their preferences, values, needs, communication styles and boundaries, to better know themselves. She spells this out quite clearly at the beginning of the book: “Once you figure out who you are (and who you are not), it becomes much easier to understand what you want to do (and not do), and to recognize the types of people you want in your life (and those you don’t). There’s not much space for generosity, confidence, or vulnerability when you’re constantly worried about whether you have enough and are enough.”
Self-development work like therapy and journaling can not only improve your relationship with yourself, but also all other types of relationships too.
2. Put In The Effort
Is this one obvious? Perhaps. But ignoring this fact is how many adults end up losing their close friendships once romantic partnerships and children become their major focus. A study on the topic suggests that all genders will continue to make friends until the age of about 25, but from there, friendships begin to break down quickly, continuing to decline for the rest of a person’s lifespan.
Now, it’s not everyone’s goal to have a huge group of friends, and some friendships do naturally fizzle out, and with valid or good reason. But there will be bonds that are absolutely worth hanging onto, even as life unfolds. As with any kind of relationship, friendships require work.
Below are some suggestions on how to maintain meaningful connections as an adult:
- Make a recurring plan focused around a mutual interest: What is something special that you have in common with this person? While catch-up coffees and phone calls are great, creating a plan that acknowledges your unique connection will maintain and nurture it.
- Noticing the little things makes people feel seen: This is another key point from The Art of Showing Up. Treat your pals with the same kind of attention you might extend to a new crush: do your best to stay present and observe what really makes your friend happy. This will help you be there for them in key moments.
- Go out of your way to celebrate their wins: I think our culture puts wayyy too much emphasis on marriage and having children being the ultimate (or only) cause for celebration in life. Your friends will have so many other significant moments in life that deserve recognition. Getting a promotion, winning an award, doing something very difficult and even getting through a breakup are all reasons to validate your friend’s hard work.
3. Communication Is Key
It’s really easy to fall into bad communication habits with friends, but strong communication is foundational to maintaining any long-term relationship. As a basis of deep, enduring friendship, honest communication will consider both people’s viewpoints and will invite each party to share their honest feelings, thoughts and needs towards one another. Together, you should be able to explore differences and disagreements that arise, so that real understanding and connection is possible and the relationship doesn’t fail in the face of adversity.
Setting boundaries is a key element to making this happen, and this goes back to the point that you must know yourself first, in order to maintain any kind of relationship, second. The more in tune you are with your own needs, the more natural it will be to communicate them to others.
With these lessons in mind, hopefully you’ll be better equipped to cultivate strong friendships no matter your age — or stage — in life.
Ashley is a freelance writer and on-going contributor at TFD based in Toronto. An avid traveler, she recently returned home to Canada after two years living abroad in Vietnam and Japan. She loves to read, try new things in the kitchen, and get outside. You can learn more about her work here and can follow her adventures on Instagram @ashley_corb.
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