So much of life is learning as you go. It constantly ebbs and flows upon peaks and valleys. Some of us will learn lessons that others never will, and we'll navigate hardships in many different ways. There is no telling what we'll encounter in this life, but one of the parts of humanity I cherish is how we can relate to one another. There is inevitable common ground among all of us, and finding that commonality can be discovered in a five minute conversation, or it could take years before we find that we can relate to certain individuals.
Growing up, finding that bit of commonality among classmates was easy. Whether it be on the grade school playground, high school extra-curriculars, or in college classes, creating friendships was fun and exciting. There was always plenty in common among so many peers, and often times lasting friendships were made. I think back to my own college experience and how incredible it was to have chosen my friends based on shared morals or values. For those four years, we were an inseparable crew, witnessing the next stages of one another’s lives in college, after graduation, through engagements and weddings… and now, babies!
Many, I think, are blessed in finding meaningful friendships during school years. Whether you have a shared faith or not, it’s easy to sift through a large group of peers and nurture friendships based on shared values. Those values can create enduring bonds which can lead to lasting relationships.
Eventually, of course, you’re out of this realm and on to the bigger, wider world. You see less of those friends you love, and you’re challenged to create new friendships among the new landscape of your life. The thing is, it’s so hard and different from the only reality you knew for the last seventeen years. Of all the things my parents, teachers, older friends, and siblings had taught or warned me about over the years, none of them mentioned how difficult adult friendships would be.
It just often strikes me as odd, though, that I had never even heard it mentioned. Especially since it has been an overwhelmingly common topic of conversation among my old and new friends in adulthood. We all seem to echo the same insecurities, so why in the world do we only know about this phenomenon upon entering post-grad life? How has this not trickled down to the soon-to-be grads in hopes they’ll remember to exercise friendship-gratefulness now?
But I hope to change that.
I hope this reaches the right circles and it can offer a well-meaning hint at life beyond classes and peers. Most college seniors have their eyes fixed on careers, new adventures, first apartments… and maybe even marriage - as they should!
But somewhere in that exciting time it would have been nice to have been warned that friendships later on would be so very, very hard. Not even just hard, but often times… weird. Awkward even. Suddenly, you feel as though you’re back in middle school, wondering if you said something dumb or if you’re reading into something more than you should.
Am I calling them too often?
Would they rather spend time with friends they know better?
Am I more of a nuisance to their schedule?
I wonder if they think I’m dull/uninteresting/whiney?
What’s the etiquette in _____ situation?
There’s no one way of defining what makes adult friendships difficult or awkward. Many times I think it has a lot to do with stage of life.
For example, in my first job out of college, I worked in a company with lots of young women my own age. We all got along great and the 9-to-5 was enjoyable together, but when I got married a few months after starting, a change started to occur. I started getting invited less often to happy hours or get-togethers outside of work, and on the flip-side, I would have rather spent the time with my husband anyway. I had a small sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), but mostly was more delighted to go home and be a newlywed. So, after a while, I became a loner and kept face-value friendships at the office, but worked for the weekends and nights with my husband. I still had my dearest friends from college within driving distance, and we tried to get dinners together every month or so. As my co-worker’s office friendships remained the same, mine grew more distant.
When we moved, I no longer had the buffer of family or close friends nearby, and the new idea that I had to make adult friends hit me like a ton of bricks. I worked from home, lived in a strange city, and suddenly adulthood seemed less enticing than it had only two years before. My husband was one of the youngest employees in his office, and meeting other couples with similar interests, in a similar stage of life, was rare.
I remember one night in particular that demonstrates the awkwardness well:
A few weeks after moving, we had discovered a small brewery nearby and made a date out of our first visit there. The brewery had a giant Jenga set, and soon we merited an invitation from another young couple to play against them. There were few other people at the brewery that night, and the four of us had a great time laughing between sips of beer and exchanging competitive remarks. After a couple of rounds, we said our goodbyes and left for the night. But shortly after pulling away, we commented on the chemistry between the four of us and wondered if asking for their number would be weird.
Did they have as much fun as us? Would they think it odd if we asked to hang out with them again, after only a couple hours worth of drinking and Jenga-ing? Should we really turn around and get their number.. or does that just look desperate? Is there even a way “ask out” another couple without sounding like creeps?
Needless to say, we kept on driving. We had never been in that scenario before, but it was the first scenario of many like it.
After several months, and upon further investigation (aka conversations with those I love and admire) I discovered that the awkward navigation of adult friendships isn’t an uncommon matter. Yet, the topic seems hush-hush or goes unspoken while we all silently struggle through. There’s nothing wrong with bearing it and learning our way as we go, but for some, knowing we’re not alone in our ‘feels’ can help us make sense of it.
It can help us relate, when later down the road, a ‘new adult’ comes along and mutters their secret struggle in making adult friends. We can look both ways before voicing loudly to them, “Welcome to the club! Let me buy you a drink!” We can hear them out, knowing full-well the struggles they’re facing. They can exhale a sigh of relief, knowing they aren’t some society reject, and can rest easy on the knowledge that fitting-in looks different as you age.
That it depends on shared values, or at least shared interests. That it doesn’t always mean being the same age, but maybe having similar lifestyles. That ‘clicking’ with someone doesn’t always happen right away (or at all). That desperation for a friend doesn’t usually bode well for anyone. That it’s okay to be choosy, but not okay not to give someone a chance. That friendship isn’t a one-size-fits-all. And that people may surprise you - in good ways and in bad.
There’s beauty in the struggle too, but sometimes having someone around to validate your feelings can be enough to help you turn your struggle into a new adventure. For a long time I felt no sense of validation, and I grappled for anyone to ask me how I was, just so I could finally pour my feelings out to any living thing that had ears. Sometimes, of course it fell upon deaf ears (the cashiers at Target, poor souls), but one day it fell on ears that responded with a ‘Hey, me too!” and new friendships were born.
If you’ve joined the Adult Friendships Are Hard Club, let me welcome you. Let me put a loving arm around your shoulder and validate you. You’re not alone, and your vibes on the matter are not just you. A lot of us get it. Just know, you’ll reach the other side. With prayer, a pinch of bravery, and an adventurous spirit, you’ll find your tribe. And inside jokes will live once more.