Note: This is an entry I wrote in 2014 that I wanted to include as part of the blog reboot, given the list of 5 is on-theme :)
I [not so] recently entered the second quarter of my life. A quarter I imagined would be remnant of Rachel, Ross & the gang, where my friends would be my makeshift family until I got my ish together enough to have my own family. We’d sit around, laugh, drink coffee and navigate our way through our confusing late twenties together.. because that’s just how it works. Assuming I was on the same track, I moved to a big city and took a big job and was completely intoxicated with excitement. At the time, I didn’t realize I was too busy Mary Tyler Moore-ing to notice the reality of my situation. It never occurred to me that the excitement of a new city was also paired with the fact that I didn’t have an existing network. And now, a couple years and several acquaintances later, I still haven't built much of a local network. I'm lucky to have some amazing people in Chicago that I know from past lives, but I'm talking about making my own, consistent, brand-new friendships. The further I get into adulthood, the more I realize I have absolutely no idea how to make a close friend.
How did this happen? Best friends are just something I’ve always had, more specifically, something I’ve always had in close proximity. Friends are the one constant in life that help you solve your problems; I never thought that friendship (or lack thereof) would surface as a problem itself. Back in college, I used to groan that a restaurant wouldn’t take a reservation for 12. Now I am annoyed that my iPad and I don’t count as a party of 2 (I want a table, damnit!). And it’s not for lack of effort; I’ve been on girl dates aplenty. But I think the farthest I’ve gotten is a pleasant rapport where we like each other’s status updates and often text that “we should meet up sometime soon!” but never do.
So I’ve been racking my brain, what is the problem? How come no matter how many networking events I go to, intramural games I play in, or drinks I get with a friend’s sorority sister’s friend’s colleague’s cousin (true story), it feels so difficult to develop meaningful friendships as an adult? Is it them, is it this city.. or, god forbid, is it me? When I was younger, I would have answered this with a series of excuses as a coping mechanism to make myself feel better. Now, as a self-proclaimed mature and worldly woman in my mid-twenties… I will still make excuses. But as many great thinkers before me have done, I will disguise these biased excuses as pillars of truth in the form of a numbered list. So here is what I (and other friends whom I’ve asked in similar situations) have found are the most common setbacks in the art of adult BFF making:
1. You don’t know how to make friends.
The more I thought about it, the more I became unsure if I’ve ever actually made friends all by myself. Have I devoted a concerted amount of time, effort, and planning to the pursuit of a platonic relationship? At any given point in my life, I’ve always had some sort of affiliation provide a commonality that spoon-feeds companionship. Childhood, college, social organizations, and work have all [understandably] produced my dearest friends by giving me a platform in which to meet them. And now, with my only locally applicable (not to mention most time-consuming) outlet being work, I am at a loss. At times I wonder if I don’t know how to try since I’m so used to being supplied a default set of friends. When something greater than the two of you automatically plans gatherings and provides conversation topics, it takes a lot of pressure off. The consistency and the conversation are provided, as well as mutual people to talk about. We all love to talk about people (whether we admit it or not), and I’ve noticed that not having mutual friends can make a conversation stale. Without a distinct common thread to revert back to, I often feel like we exhaust every potential topic of discussion in 40 minutes, making a second friend date rather unlikely. Moral of the story- I should get more involved in after work activities. Why don’t I already do this? See my next point.
2. You set out for the big time, and then you have no time.
If any of you have ever moved to a new city to pursue a job, a relationship, or maybe just the unknown, you probably can relate. It is exhilarating to move away, shedding yourself of any defining context that your hometown, college, or existing network gave you. It is equal parts exciting and challenging, and the unfamiliarity serves as fuel in pursuing your dreams and developing a sense of self. But once the novelty starts to fade and you find yourself in a full-blown routine, you realize you’re a workingadult and everything is different. You miss those easy hometown friendships that you once so willingly left behind because you now realize adults don’t have time to take on new full-time friends. You realize people are suddenly busy; they have significant others, jobs, families and existing friend groups that supersede the desire to pursue an acquaintance. Gone are the days when you have all the time in the world to invite people over to marathon TV series. Gone are the days when you have a purpose to spend hours crafting theme party costumes or to pull all-nighters filled with delirious laughter. You realize those lengthy hangouts expedited the friend making process in a way grabbing a drink never could. You meet up with a potential new friend, and even if you click, it’s often weeks (if not months) before you can coordinate schedules for a next gathering. At that pace, it’s difficult to get acquainted, much less attached at the hip.
3. “I fell in love with my best friend!” syndrome.
When I’ve presented this issue to others, they often comment that spouses/significant others are the BFFs of adulthood. Whether it was that way from the beginning or evolved from spending time together, it is an inevitable and obvious dynamic. And it has become charmingly trite to shout from the rooftops that you’ve found a best friend in your significant other. The thing is, I wholeheartedly support this sentiment. My significant other is my best friend, but he’s also a guy who I'd like to maintain some level of attraction to me. And he shouldn’t have to hear about how the nail salon was out of Essie’s Chinchilly so I had to go with Cocktail Bling. I think people idealize this friends/lovers 2-for-1 deal and forget the importance of separate, non-romantic friendships. In my opinion, these different types of relationships benefit one another and make you less needy by having varying areas of fulfillment. But many people seem to disagree, as relationships either make people a package deal or make them fall off the face of the earth entirely. We need to find a happy medium; that middle ground between bringing your curmudgeon boyfriend to watch Pitch Perfect and not responding to my request to watch a movie for 3-5 days. I know you looked at your phone, I saw your post on Instagram. And yes, it stings.
4. You are only fun if you are single.
This popular notion was news to me in recent years, though I don’t necessarily agree. On the one hand I get it, as I previously mentioned, being in a relationship can make you reclusive. On the other hand, people in relationships that are in the BFF market often get the shaft. I find that when I have a new friend prospect, if they are single and find out I’m in a relationship, they are noticeably less interested. For example, I’ll be in a group setting, and a round-robin discussion about the men in our lives will commence. When someone tells a story of a recent dance floor make out, the group is all ears. But when I speak of my contentment in my long-term relationship, people are noticeably bored. It’s like I immediately become less cool. And maybe that’s true, depending on how you define cool. But I’d appreciate being given the chance! Sure, I’m not yourbest candidate to close down a 4am bar and pass out on your couch so we can share morning-after stories. But I will still listen to those ‘had to be there’ stories, I will help you analyze text convos, I still love to talk and go to long dinners and stay out [reasonably] late. I still love girl-power-man-hating top 40 music and have relevant anecdotes from year's past. Just because I’m not on the prowl doesn’t mean I’m an unrelatable human being. I did the single thing until I found the awesome relationship thing, and I know everyone else at that table would do the same. So can’t we all just get along?
5. You want to fast-forward to the good part.
I don’t want to girl date. I want to do away with the small talk, the polite laughter, the empty compliments and the mechanics of presenting myself as a likable person. I just want to bebest friends already. You know, the 'let’s just share a dressing room' phase, the emergency contact phase, maybe even the ‘my unborn children will call you Aunt’ phase. I miss that closeness, where no topic is too trivial to pass judgment or too deep to induce discomfort. Where we could have a lengthy conversation about our deepest fears and then have an equally lengthy discussion about why someone's occupation on the Bachelorette is 'Pantsapreneur.' I want someone to ‘get’ me, but I don’t know how long that takes or how to get there again. And I know impatience is not the answer, and as much as I want to come out and say “let’s just talk all the time and do everything ever together!,” I know that’s not real life.
So there you have it, some minimally researched and mildly evidenced examples of why adult friend-making is hard. Regardless of which particular situation you may face, I think the common theme is that being in your twenties is just complicated. We can’t all be on the same page at this point in life; I have friends with two kids who are my age but also friends who are still backpacking Europe that are my age. So without enough in common, enough time, people that are too relationship-py or too single, maybe it’s just not going to be easy right now. Maybe it’s the price I pay for choosing to move far away. Or maybe people who sit at home on a Saturday writing 1,800 word essays about why they don’t have friends don’t have friends for a reason. Just kidding, those people are awesome. You should probably befriend them.