I have been increasingly having conversations with people my age about what friendship means to them, and how they navigate the complicated world that is making new friends as an adult. Where do you meet friends? Everyone seems already established in long-standing friendships. How do you go about befriending someone you admire? How do you navigate the miscommunications that can happen over social media? How do you decide when a friendship is ‘over’? How do you walk away from a long-term friendship when it feels one-sided?
So many things to consider. I feel like friendship (I’m speaking as a 20-something female here) is an area we don’t often talk about, or we feel too much shame to admit that we struggle with. We don’t want to come across as ‘weird’ for admitting we are lonely- and we don’t want to seem like we have poor social skills.
The more I have talked to people, the more I realise that I have some basic principles that help me to navigate friendships, and even to choose what type of people I want to be around to make my life richer. I still struggle sometimes but I find these principles make an enormous difference to my own mental health and quality of relationships. Here’s a little list.
Have friends who are nothing like you.
This includes their upbringing, their cultural background perhaps, their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and their interests. I have friends from backgrounds I can hardly wrap my head around. It’s kind of nice to not be surrounded by people who look the same, talk the same and have roughly the same social- standing as you. I’ve found it really rewarding to broaden my own horizons by spending time with people different to me. And this is challenging at first- we like familiar, we like comfortable. That’s totally expected. I approach it with an attitude of ‘what can I learn from this person’ and ‘how can we grow together’
Have friends who are completely different ages to you
I’m pretty passionate about this one specifically. I am pretty serious about having friends who are not in their 20’s in the same uni-young adult phase as me. I have friends having kids in their 30’s, friends in their 50’s, friends just finishing school, and I consider my own grandparents to be friends (we listen to each other, have cups of tea, care about how each other is going, i invite myself over all the time...qualifies as a friendship to me bahah). The age thing is important because I know I see things so narrowly according to my brief life experience. There is so much wisdom that people older than you can bring. And even just being exposed to ideas and advice from people who you trust, and have been around a little longer, is valuable.
Have friends who are willing to tell you the truth
This one is a good measure of whether someone is actually a friend or just someone who occasionally drinks coffee in the same space as you. I have blind spots I can’t see; we all do. I think having people around you who love you dearly and are honest with you is important. This is not about people that are blunt, or rude, or have no care for your feelings. They aren’t friends. This is about people who are willing to give you actual advice, to call out a poor decision you’re making, to warn you, to offer wisdom. If I am about to make a decision that I’ll regret, I have allowed friends in my life who know they can be honest with me about that. This one requires you to give friends permission to be honest with you. It’s a tricky one. But this grows you and your friends if it is done well. If the people you are around are there for good Instagram stories and the parties but not willing to be honest with you… something to think about?
This one deserves a blog post of it’s own (I might write about it later) and is something I have previously struggled to grasp as a concept. Boundaries though, are so necessary. This means knowing your limits- one example is a principle I have where I try to make myself unavailable to reply to people on messenger after a certain time at night. Another idea is limiting how much about yourself you reveal- I’ve sooo been the person who blabs everything about myself quite quickly and only later realised that the person hadn’t yet shown me they could be trusted. Boundaries, when violated, can make you angry with others without knowing why. A friend asking a giant favour that you feel is unreasonable can make you angry with them- being okay with saying ‘no’ to some people at some times can stop resentment happening and also teach the other person to respect your boundaries. Boundaries don’t just keep things ‘out’, they respect and protect what’s ‘in’ (you).
Be the type of person you would want to be friends with.
This obviously will be different for everyone, but here’s some traits I really value in people, so I try to offer them back as well:
-reliability (if I say I’ll do something, I really aim to do it. If there’s a planned time to meet, i’m there 5 minutes earlier)
-honesty (see above for honesty. I try and be honest back when I expect that from people)
-Being real. Friendship shouldn’t be about the image you have, or the memories that look good when you post them on Instagram. Let’s try to be more real than that. If i’m posting things on socials, more often than not I’m a bit bored or wanting it to look like i’m having a great time. But an actual great time is when i’m having too much fun to remember to take a photo of it.
-Trying to keep in mind it’s not all about me. While I stick to these principles and get enriched from them, there’s a give-and-take that is inherent in true friendship. I’ve been a ‘needy’ friend before, and thank God my friends stuck by me through those times. Sometimes friends might be ‘needy’ for a time too; I try to be careful not to write people off or quit the friendship too quickly because i’ve been that person. Sometimes you do give more than take. Sometimes it’s unbalanced. If it’s a season and not a permanent way of being…stick it out. On the flipside, sometimes it is okay to let go of ‘friendships’ that continually cause hurt, or feel forced, or are born out of convenience. Be kind to yourself in those regards.
-Kindness. This one is important if you’re going to do the honesty thing- kindness means being honest with extreme care. Kindness should be non-negotiable; it comes before judgement. Kindness makes you into a good listener.
As for where to start meeting good, quality friends: this is a tricky part. For me, I met some great people through volunteering and having shared difficult experiences, some through church, some through work, some through being involved in art communities. Hobbies can expose you to so many different types of people. And if you’re thinking to yourself that you really don’t know where to even start with this whole topic- start with yourself. You have things to offer others- make a list of them. Think about qualities you’d like to add to your list or work on. Writing it out might help clarify your thoughts. What qualities do you really like in others? What type of friend do you want to be? Start with what you do have control over.
Are there other things you value in your friendships? Things I’ve not included in the list? I’d love to hear what other people think.