It’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s one that more and more comes up in my daily life. “We just aren’t as close as we used to be.” It’s something that needs to be talked about. And though there are plenty of articles that discuss why this happens and how to deal with it, I wanted to throw my hat in the ring and explain what this is and means to me personally. I don’t have cold facts or stats to throw at you, and this is going to be a wordy piece, but I felt it was necessary to really talk about it properly. Hopefully, someone else can take the torch I light here and write something with more substance and less garble.
To start with, I want to clarify the difference between high school friendships and adult friendships – at least in my experience.
In high school and earlier, our friendships are born of either shared interests or shared experiences in a small pool of people to choose from. These are the people that we will grow and change with, in our more formative social years. Those bonds can feel stronger than anything else and are often prioritized over family even. We feel these bonds because these are the people who have been through what is at that time our worst and our best in life. They understand us in our teen angst period when we feel like no one else does. It’s almost a faux trial-by-fire kind of bond. That’s not to say that these friendships aren’t meaningful, many of my closest friends today are from my high school group. I just mean it as a way of differentiating and showing why these bonds are considered so strong.
Yet I doubt many of you reading this will say that your best days were in high school (and if your still there, trust me, it gets better). As adults, it is both more challenging and more rewarding to find new friends. Time becomes a valued resource that you have precious little of. Yet we find it, and we do meet new people and build new relationships. Adult friendships are typically more relaxed in nature, and you’ll see each other less often than you may like. But these friendships are normally based on a genuine like of one another or a shared view and experience (much like high school friendships).
With both of these friendships, the thing to remember is that we actively choose to enter into them and to remain in them. No one who calls you their friend doesn’t want to. That can be hard to justify sometimes, but it’s the truth. Unless you’re in a situation where your friends are taking advantage of you, which if you know that, you already know they aren’t really your friends.
Friendships are fickle, people change as they grow and their lives change around them. We fight to keep people in our lives, but Julie Beck of The Atlantic writes well that “In the hierarchy of relationships, friendships are at the bottom. Romantic partners, parents, children—all these come first”. I’ll link the article she wrote below, I advise you not only read it but read some of the material she sources and writes about as well. She does better at explaining some of these concepts than I can. Our friendships aren’t given the same priority that other relationships are. That’s not because they aren’t important, but I would argue the opposite. We do this to people that we trust to be there no matter what. We become blinded to what may be their perception of the relationship and their needs in favor of our own. We have an expectation to the other relationships in our lives to behave a specific way, that we don’t have with our (naturally more open and typically accepting) friendships. So when we change, or our lives change, we don’t always consider the effect this can have on these other relationships.
Now all of that is good to know but hard to put into any real practice. So this is where we get to the first difficult part we will face. Transitions from high school friendships to adult friendships. Now many of you adults may be scoffing a bit at this. I’ll be the first one to admit I don’t always respect high school friendships and relationships. But they are important. Not only in the eyes of the people who are in them, but moving forward they can transition into some of the closest friends you can have. The idea of having a person or group that has known you for so long is tantalizing. They understand you better than you probably understand much about yourself (especially as your developing as an adult). But that’s not always going to be the case. As two people reach their own versions of adulthood (from 17-25 in my best estimate), they will be working (or going to class) and trying to manage a fully independent life they didn’t have before. They will be balancing financial obligations with familial and other relationships. It’s a balancing act you can’t fully appreciate until you’ve experienced it. And a lot gets left out when you do this.
People who once would spend every free moment together will now have to settle for once every couple of weeks if possible. It feels like you’ve lost something major in yourself when that bond isn’t there as readily as it once was. This can become resentment or just a mutual fading of the friendship. It’s natural and expected. These people will always have a fondness in their hearts for you, but it’s not always a relationship they have the resources to keep going as strongly as they did before. But what makes the transition possible, is when both of you are able to accept where the other person is and make an effort to be a part of their life no matter what.
I have a friend who I lived with for years, who recently moved out on short notice to move in with his long term girlfriend (another friend of mine). I went from talking to him every day to barely texting him once every couple of weeks. I feel like I never hear from him, but I know he’s living his life and dealing with his own issues. He’s still one of the closest people in my life. His girlfriend, I’ll be talking about a little later in the context of another development. But that’s what our friendship has become now, and it’s still as strong and comfortable as it was before, it’s just different. It’s when one person makes an effort and the other makes promises they don’t keep (or doesn’t respond) over and over again that you may know this isn’t the right place to put your effort.
Another one of my close friends I used to see three to four times a week on average. We’d sit and do nothing just so we weren’t doing nothing alone. Recently, I haven’t had time to even do that due to work and family constraints. He’s been working to find a new job, and fix his car so his time just hasn’t matched with mine for a few months. It started to look like maybe we were fading, but both of us decided independently that we weren’t going to let that happen. We may not talk as often as we’d like, but we’ll get back to it soon, I promise.
Yet I also have friends who were always around and aren’t anymore. People who I can’t even tell you what happened because I genuinely don’t know. We just fell out somewhere along the way. I wasn’t a priority in their life when they had other options, and I didn’t make them a priority in mine. I don’t have any ill will against them (normally, it’s hard sometimes to fight against your natural emotions), but I don’t have them in my life anymore. And that’s perfectly fine. I still consider them friends, and I assume they still consider me a friend. But it’s just not the same. The dynamic has changed so much that we don’t fit with each other as well as we once did.
You’re going to have friends that fit all of the above. You’re going to have friends who you thought were super close to you, only to find out they didn’t feel the same way. Friends who are going to fight harder than you’re willing to go to keep a relationship your not able to keep up with. Things change. But if you keep trying, and you get positive signs back, you’ll know that its a friendship that will last. It may not look the same, but it will be every bit as strong as the day you left it.
One of my close friends is struggling with this right now in fact. You could say she inspired me to write this out and talk about my thoughts. She’s young, transitioning in her own life (as I suspect many of you are) to more adult and independent life. Realizing that without those bonds you relied on so close, you feel alone and scared. But she, and you, aren’t alone. I promise you if the relationship means that much to you, make the overture. You just may find that the other person is feeling the same way. These kinds of friendships don’t just end, we let them die. They change shape, and it’s not always comfortable, but it’s the way life is. The only way to ensure it doesn’t end is – recognize what you need and ask for it, recognize what the other person needs and give it, and don’t give up on something that matters to you. If it’s an unhealthy relationship or something the other person doesn’t want to be a part of, that will make itself clear to you.
One final anecdote from my personal life for you. I played D&D with a group of people for years once a week. We took a few breaks here and there but always got back into it. It was a time we all set aside for each other and week after week it proved we mattered to each other. Recently we had issues come up that fractured the group (literally, and metaphorically). And each of us had our lives continue without the habit of our weekly meeting. My friend’s girlfriend from earlier was at that table. We had been friends long before the two of them got together, and long before we started playing the game. But our friendship changed when she started dating my close friend. I viewed her more as “my best friend’s girlfriend” as opposed to “my friend”. And I accept that us not being as close as we were is because of me. My business partner here with New Traditions, she was also at that table. I know that I play the “work” card as an excuse to see her, and then have a hard time being a friend instead of a working relationship. These are all friendships I need to work harder on. Because as much as I loved the game, I can see now that I don’t have it, that what I loved more was my group of friends that I spent once a week with.
It’s easy to put the blame on everyone else and look outward for why bonds don’t feel like they are there. Why you feel like you tried so hard and no one put it back in. But what’s hard is recognizing that you prioritized something else and expected to stay a priority to the others. We can’t. We have to make an effort to everyone who’s important to us to ensure that they know that they are important. Because we want to be made to feel like we’re important.
Friendships are fickle. They are confusing, weak, strong, changing, and always evolving around us. But they’re important. To me, to you, to all of us. If you read all the way to the end of this ramble, I’m going to assume you’ve got something going on that you want help with. My recommendation is to do what I have trouble doing, tell them. Don’t do it with anger, or malice, but because you care. Their response will tell you everything you need to know.
And if you’re reading this – Alex, Meagan, Courtney, Cayla, Garrett, Dylan, I love you guys. I’m going to try and make an effort to remind you all how much I mean that. I’ll see you all soon. Let’s get a game going in the new year eh?
If your struggling with something, I urge you to let someone know. If you don’t have anyone you can talk to, reach out to me. I’m always available to help. As always let me know what you thought, and I’ll see you all next time.
Beck, Julie. “How Friendships Change When You Become an Adult.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 26 Oct. 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/10/how-friendships-change-over-time-in-adulthood/411466/.