friendships as an adult | a mid-20s reflection

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read! As always, feel free to message me your thoughts after, I always love to hear them.

Life update: I moved to Vancouver in June! Moving a few hours away from most of my closest friends seemed like a fitting time to write about what goes into these pivotal relationships.

In our mid to late 20s, gone are the days where friendships are fostered mainly out of convenience – like seeing each other every day on the same university campus. Now, a certain amount of intention is imperative for the majority of our friendships. With this comes some thought as to what a friendship should look like which I’ve found is different for everyone.

The unspoken rules of friendship

Whether meeting at a party, an orientation, or through mutual friends, all relationships begin during those first interactions. Funnily, a friendship in one person’s mind may simply be an acquaintance to someone else. Over time, we have all experienced our familiarity and vulnerability with people grow – the underlying drivers of friendship.

I have heard of “categorizing” friends. Not just in the more traditional sense, like categories of closeness, but in other ways. For one, categories of how you communicate. 

I have some friends who we schedule a FaceTime catch-up every couple of months to get filled in on each other’s lives. I have others where we text sporadically but thoroughly. With some friends, we message often without filters – whatever comes to mind and it’s all welcome. I used to think only the frequent, filterless communication style were my “closet” friends.

However, frequency of communication does not necessarily indicate intimacy.  How I communicate with friends depends on what the relationship has been like, what it’s currently like, and each person’s preferences. In reality, I usually communicate most often with the people in closest proximity to me or my life stage. For other friendships, we describe seeing old friends – the good ones – as like pressing play after hitting pause. You “pick up right where you left off”. This phenomenon indicates some sort of intimacy that is not limited by if you live near each other or speak often.

Those friendships that feel like “pressing play” are usually the ones that draw us right in to the here-and-now, making years apart feel more like weeks or even days. Life gets busy and new things become the focus: career, partners, family. Seeing friends every single day in university turns into weekends and maybe some evenings. Adult friendships exemplify the value of being in the present moment with whoever you are with – maximizing the time you do have.

When I was younger, it felt like friendships had stringent rules. To be friends, to be close, you needed to do certain things.

Friends go to the mall together, or friends post pictures together, or friends text all the time.

It was all arbitrary. And completely based on culture, trends –  a multitude of factors that don’t actually matter.

Friends can sit at home on the couch and never take any photos together. Friends can never text or just have a phone call every few months.

Friendship can look so many different ways.

As straightforward as it sounds, what matters is that all individuals involved feel good about the dynamic. All of the often silent but agreed upon bounds of what your relationship is and how you sustain it are unique for every friendship. As soon as one person starts to feel like it’s not quite enough, the friendship starts to dwindle. Or contrarily, if one person consciously (or sometimes subconsciously) loses the zeal they once had – the friendship fades.

Friend groups

Friend groups are a whole other bag of worms. A friend group to me exists when there’s not only a group of people that spend time together. They are propelled by individual relationships between all members of the group. This is the fuel of what to me, makes a group feel close. It’s what keeps people coming back at the end of the day. Comfort with not just one person but a number of people in the circle is a special feeling. It’s nice to have banter with almost all if not all of the group you are with. This is much preferable to clinging to a one or two people you truly feel close to. It’s a feeling analogous to safety. 

No new friends?

“You have not met all the people you will love yet.”

Especially entering your mid-late twenties, making new friends seems to be less of a priority. Most people have childhood friends, high school friends, undergrad or grad school friends, and at that point start to close up shop when it comes to making new ones. We feel comfortable with the circles we have. You also might feel too busy to keep up with current friendships, let alone new ones.

Still, within the last year in particular, I have met people that I feel I connect with almost instantaneously. People that I can talk to for hours at a time. These were not in moments where I was looking to make friends but it just happened. I try to remain quite open to new people and it’s for this reason.

Kirsten, one of my newest friends who exemplifies someone I could easily talk to right away

Once in a while, a casual conversation unveils a compatible connection that you did not plan, you just happened to be open to it. Not everyone is as extroverted or social but I do believe everyone has the potential to adopt this mindset towards strangers.

I am currently working through The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer and one chapter is dedicated to the concept of “staying open” rather than following the tendency to close ourselves off:

Excerpt from The Untether Soul by Michael A. Singer

As someone who just moved across the country, part of why I leaned towards this decision was because I subscribe less to the mentality that at some point we should just stop making friends. Moving felt like a great opportunity to meet even more new people.

There is always the initial growing pains of a new place but with time, you can watch as your friendships shift and deepen. One perk of making new friends as an adult is this understanding: in each new stage of life I have always managed to build a community and this will continue to happen. Your life thus far is evidence for yourself of what is possible. With patience, true friendships will be made again and again, wherever you start over.

When friendships end

If we think of friendships as on their own lifespan, I’ve discussed new friends, ongoing friends, but I am yet to discuss when friendships end.

Perhaps I shouldn’t call it a lifespan but just a friendship spectrum. With every human you interact with, you have this spectrum of familiarity and/or a spectrum of closeness. Both of these can ebb and flow from complete strangers to best friends and then shift all the way back to essentially strangers if we drift from someone completely.

We will all experience having friendships evolve. Yet, it still surprised me when some of my friendships changed dramatically over time. It is hard to imagine your relationship with someone potentially dissolving, especially when you’re at your peak closeness.

Sometimes it can feel as painful as a loss or heartbreak.

But just like with grief, I’ve found that life often expands around that gap if you let it. When a close friendship ends, I will find myself closer to other people over time; growing in other relationships as my closeness to someone else fades.

While we may try to reflect and salvage what’s left of a friendship, especially our strongest ones, sometimes that energy isn’t matched. And sometimes you just don’t have the compatibility you once had. 

I feel very lucky that several of my childhood or high school friends, while we have all grown up, experienced life, and changed, still feel aligned to me in a lot of ways. We have grown in parallel rather than in opposite directions. We can talk candidly about how we’ve changed as we have all been there to witness it. The friendships we do sustain through each new chapter of life presents us this opportunity to reflect and look back together.

Adult Friendship Philosophies

I have touched on a lot aspects of where friendship and adulthood intersect so I’ll leave you with a few of my core thoughts:

  1. Friends can’t read your mind, you have to let them know if you have an expectation. The make-or-break of all relationships is communication. Letting someone know how you’re feeling is the advice I give others and receive from others all the time. We all need the reminder sometimes. If you do not care enough to share how you feel or if you have and it feels unheard, see # 2
  2. Friendships change. Sometimes dramatically. We all change and so naturally so will our relationships. Everyone can think of a couple people that come to mind – how you were before and how you are now. I used to think these changes were evidence of huge strains on my friendships. Sometimes they are but often, it just means you are both comfortable and still love having the other person in your life, just in a different way. There do not have to be rules. Things just are how they are in any given moment. It is also okay for a friendship to change a healthy amount as life does. If your friend gets a new job, a new partner, has a child, naturally these things will take up space in their life and require time. Priorities shift.
  3. Stay open. There are people you have not met who have the potential to impact you greatly. Friends can be our greatest teachers. Friends can become chosen family. Arbitrarily choosing a time in your life to not be looking for that anymore feels silly to me. While we may feel like our plate is full from all the relationships we balance, this can be countered by the fluidity that comes when we do not put stringent rules on how often we communicate with people to consider our relationship, a friendship.

Until next time! – Iku

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