This may sound a little weird, but when watching movies or reading books, friendship connections are more exciting and interesting to me than romance. I think a part of me has always desired, even valued friendships more. Instead of fawning over celebrity crushes in my prepubescent years, I’m certain I spent more time imagining what it would be like to be BFFs with my favorite celebrities. I thought maybe as I got older I’d grow out of it or that some kind of reproductive instinct would kick in to make romance and finding a partner a more central focus. If you want a little psychoanalysis, being an only child could be a factor in this.
Anyway, my fixation on friendships came from high expectations. It seemed like all the best friends met when they were in diapers, and I was dying to know if I’d ever find people where the connection was so great we’d fit into the same pair of pants. These things weren’t happening or they weren’t happening the right way, so I was often reluctant to see what I already had and felt a perpetual sense of lacking. The lacking turned into frustration with myself because beginning in middle school I had a really difficult time opening up to others. I felt like I was depriving myself of what mattered to me most, deeper connection to others.
In retrospect, I see that I’ve actually had close friendships throughout my life. Some have naturally drifted, while others are 15 years strong. They even began with neighborhood friends when I was 2 (close to diapers), and in college a few of us shared pants! (There was nothing magical about the pants we shared, but with a little extra tequila or the right strain of weed, anything was possible then!)
The purpose of this high expectations rant and the deep dive into my imagination and insecurities is to in part say, I was really blinded by the depictions of friendship in media! I guess you could say I took if you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends pretty seriously. Certainly I was grateful that the overdone “we used to be best friends but after one summer she became mean and popular” wasn’t my story, but I truly thought I was missing something by not mimicking the girls on One Tree Hill or any threesome on Disney Channel.
When I think about it, much of what I read and watched attempted to portray vaguely relatable and “real world” dynamics in school. There were cliques, and people would choose or fall into certain groups of friends to attain or maintain social status. In many ways, those with whom we are affiliated partially “define” us and our sense of self. Was this happening and people wrote television and novels about it, or we were all learning it from what media we consumed first?
Refraining from going too far into social psychology and sociology, I will mention one more piece of this I find interesting: possessiveness. I’m not proud that I’ve harbored this. I did have a few friends who would talk about their exclusive time with another one of our friends to indicate how close they’ve become, closer than anyone else because of the deeper understanding, inside jokes, and secrets shared. It bothered me, and I know I’ve played back. Possessiveness is a funny thing. I suppose it’s a craving for validation or a creation of competition. So many of us are afraid to lose something or be left behind.
So whether we’ve learned it or it was natural order, friendships can be formed for the purpose of social status, to satisfy a need, or to alleviate a fear. Of course, many great friendships bud from genuine bonds. Do you remember first meeting each of your friends? What has brought or kept you together?
When I think of my closest friends now, I felt an instant connection with each of them when we first met. I don’t really know if they felt the same way, but I remember vividly that our introductions pulled me so far out of my comfort zone at the time that the thrill of overcoming the social anxiety alone had me firmly believe something meaningful would come from it. And it didn’t happen that way with all of my friends!
Making friends isn’t something that comes easily to a lot of people. I’ve mentioned before that particularly emerging adults who are finished with school don’t have many opportunities to make new friends. You might find a coworker you get along with or find some like-minded people in travels, but unless you strike up a conversation with someone (which seems to be more and more rare), you’re out of luck. Although there is some camaraderie at least in women’s multi-stalled bathrooms.
Like dating apps, friendship apps can help, but there’s a sneakily large amount of effort involved. Usually giving genuine compliments or showing any interest in another person is a helpful start.
As we grow as individuals we naturally grow apart from others in our lives even if they still mean a lot to you. The drift isn’t always simple to pinpoint. It took me a while to realize that friends who have drifted already served their purpose in my life (or me in their’s), even if that “purpose” was some plain fun times. I find myself missing old friends occasionally, especially if they make a guest appearance in my dreams. I know that I likely miss what we had and that it would be difficult to recreate that from where we stand today.
While some friends come in and out, there are also some who remain stable in contact. I think to a certain extent friendships require effort and energy like any other relationship. There are still conflicts. Personally, I like to be met halfway. My longest, closest friendships are the ones I know genuinely care to check in and would do anything for me just as I would do anything for them. I’ve learned the hard way that bending too far back can break you. It’s not healthy or sustainable.
At the same time these lasting friendships feel like no effort. This is because my authentic self is not being shielded but shining with them. They know me in a way I may never be able to fully comprehend. What has worked for you to maintain friendships? What characteristics do you look for to successfully uphold a friendship? Is it reliability, humor, loyalty, ambition?
I’ve found that the number of friends reduces with age. Though I don’t trust it as a reliable source, social media seems to say this isn’t the case for everyone. It appears that some people are able to keep entire friend groups intact from high school and somehow have large wedding parties. I have a bunch of people I really like to reconnect with, but I’d say I realistically have a core four or five friends who are unwavering. Does quantity effect the quality?
Currently for my doctoral dissertation I’m studying intense romantic love experiences in emerging adults. So far, I’d be willing to bet that these love experiences translate to other relationships as well. Those core four or five I mentioned, the same ones I felt an instant connection to when we first met, I can’t begin to describe the deep love I have for them. It’s not sexual or romantic attraction, but emotional and spiritual, still much like how some people would describe their connection to a partner.
So much meaning and fulfillment comes from friends. Once I got out of my own way, learned to open up more organically, and let go of yearning for connection that I’d read and saw between others, I was able to finally feel and experience the unique connections I co-create in life. I believe that to really get the most out of any of our relationships (and to be able to give), it takes personal development.
What a beautiful thing—friendships! Go toast to your friends and be among them. If you like this page, please share it.