Friendships are often an essential part of young people’s lives, but what happens when we grow up?
When we’re kids, our friends are mostly chosen for us. They’re the people who live near you, you go to school with, or for a lot of young people – their parent’s friend’s children. This can mean you don’t really get a choice in who you spend time with, but it can also mean that there’s always someone around, or at least plenty of options to make friends.
So, what happens when we are adults?
When we grow up, we can pick our own friends. We can choose who we want to get to know and spend less, or no time with people we don’t click with. We can also choose to find people who like similar things to us or share in our values more than people who are just in close proximity.
This is great news for a lot of people and actually as we get older, our friendship circles get smaller. This can be for a number of reasons, including that we choose to form deeper and longer-lasting connections with a smaller number of close friends over having casual relationships with many more. However, the main thing it comes down to for most people is time.
How do you find the time?!
Many adults have responsibilities that most kids just don’t have. Yes, we can make our own decisions and have more freedom (cake for breakfast, anyone?), but we also tend to have jobs, families and commitments that stretch our time.
Friendships are an essential component of our support systems and can provide us with happiness, entertainment, and security. So if connecting with others improves our wellbeing, how do you maintain this as an adult in the modern, busy world?
There are hundreds of articles out there that detail how difficult it can be to make friends as an adult, let alone maintain the friendships we do have. This has only worsened throughout Covid-19 which has put a strain on all relationships, but friendships have been hit particularly hard. People have not been able to gather in social spaces and had to keep to one household or ‘bubble’, which for many has excluded all opportunities to connect in-person with friends.
So, as a relationships charity, we wanted to give some advice on how you can maintain your friendships, balancing those important connections alongside all the competing priorities!
Setting expectations and boundaries
Managing expectations of others and learning how to set your own boundaries is essential for maintaining any relationship in your life. What can you give? What do you need from others? What is reasonable? How can you negotiate this?
It’s likely your friends have different commitments and expectations than you as you’re different people! It’s also likely that when you account for family, work, caring responsibilities, education and all the other stuff that makes up our lives, your schedules are unlikely to match up. We’ve all had or been that friend that has much more time available, but we’ve equally probably been that friend who can’t find 10 minutes to themselves in the week.
It’s important to set expectations of how involved you can be in one another’s life, reassuring your friends that if you’re busy they’re still important and come to shared agreements of what time together look like.
It’s also okay to say no, and you should give your friends room to say no too. In a healthy adult friendship, there needs to be space to re-schedule and work around one another. Friendships should bring you joy and make your life easier, not be another ‘thing’ on your to-do list. How can you make that happen?
Quality not quantity
Whilst how much time you can and want to spend with friends differs between people’s preferences and lifestyles, you can still make sure that the time you do spend together is quality time.
By quality time we mean prioritising that person, for the time you are with them. What good is it going for lunch if you both just sit on your phones? Turn off outside distractions if you can and connect with your friend, catch up properly and try to be present in the moment.
Also consider the frequency of which you’re touching base with people in your life. Would spending an afternoon together once a month be more feasible and more enjoyable than a weekly 1 hour catch up call?
It sounds so simple, yet many of us struggle with it! We’ve all been guilty of not communicating with our friends as well as we could, holding back, or even letting issues or problems build up because life gets in the way or we don’t like conflict (who does?!).
However, maintaining an adult friendship, like any relationship, requires really good communication. You can’t arrange quality time or set expectations or boundaries without open and honest discussions. You also need to be able to approach things calmly and maturely with your friends if you are in conflict over a difference of opinion or your friendship itself, or it can snowball and become difficult to deal with.
In this case, it can help to treat your friendship as you would an intimate partnership – if your partner was irritating you, or there was an issue, you know it would be healthy to raise this sooner rather than later.
Good communication can also be supported by taking a mature approach to conversations and expectations. Whilst your friends might not share all your beliefs and opinions, you likely have enough in common to be in each other's lives by choice. Most of the time this is shared values. If you can withhold judgement and remember that despite your differences, there is common ground, it’ll go a long way to opening up the lines of communication.
We all love spending time with our friends and it’s important to stay connected, grow alongside your friends and be a key part of one another’s support networks.
From the catch-up calls, social-distance walks and crying over coffee, to celebrating birthdays and trying new things together, all of these experiences we share with our friends help to build the fabric of our lives. And hey, if friends can be forever, it’s worth a little bit of effort, right?