Maintaining friendships as we grow older can be a challenge. Despite our best efforts, our close connections can suffer as we become consumed by an endless array of work responsibilities and family commitments.
Gone are the days of friendship bracelets, handwritten notes and matching outfits, when our biggest concerns were keeping our crushes hidden and stretching out our curfew as long as we could.
Yeah, we still need friends
While the bonds we form in our early years may not last into adulthood, having a social network on which we can rely becomes no less important as we age. Many have cited the value of close friendships in their golden years, with social isolation and loneliness being linked to a higher risk of a number of physical and mental health conditions.
Relationships in our 30s, 40s and beyond look different from those in our formative years and so should the way we approach them.
For most of us, our academic years provided ripe soil for friend-picking. From sand trays to social clubs, there were numerous opportunities to connect with our peers. Even if making friends was difficult, you can likely recall the few that stood out and helped you navigate locker combinations, playground rivalries and passing periods.
As we enter adulthood and our lives become more segmented, our friends often fall into categories based on our work, hobbies and community interests. If you’re an avid cyclist, you likely have friends who share your passion. If you’re active in your child’s classroom, you’ve probably made pals with fellow parents.
While our social circles are readily widened by local engagement, we don’t always develop ties that expand beyond the confines of our commitments. Similarly, connections at our jobs can span from colleagues to confidantes, but these too can come with their own limitations.
Another challenge is that building and maintaining friendships takes considerable time and effort. If you expect to reap the rewards without putting in the work, you’re headed for disappointment.
Like all relationships, our sisterhoods (and brotherhoods) demand our attention, care and consideration. As workloads increase and families grow, it’s important to have close friends in your corner that you can lean on after a long day.
So how do you form strong friendships in adulthood and what can you do to keep them thriving? Here are some tricks of the trade:
This may seem counterintuitive, but don’t expect to become friends with everyone you meet. Trying to force a connection when you’re just not feeling it can quickly become draining and will likely fizzle out before you’ve even made it to your second glass of wine.
Instead, think about the types of people you most enjoy spending time with and who bring out the best in you. Consider who you feel comfortable being yourself around and who you’re confident will be there for you when your favorite Netflix series ends/ boyfriend breaks up with you/ hubby forgets to take out the trash/ boss yells at you/ kids color the wall.
Don’t be afraid to screen out anyone you don’t jive with. At the end of the day, you decide who makes the cut and who doesn’t.
Know what you’re looking for
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a weekend yoga buddy or occasional brunch companion, then it’s OK if your new chum doesn’t knock your socks off. Deeper connections may require a more thorough vetting process, but if you’re simply seeking to widen your social network, consider grabbing a coffee with an acquaintance or fellow yogi. At the very least, you can bond over that new pose you’re still trying to master.
Put yourself out there
For many, our closest friends are scattered across the globe. It’s not uncommon for graduations, marriages, promotions and pregnancies to pluck our friends from our immediate vicinity and plant them on the other side of the country. While technology can help us maintain long-distance relationships, having friends that you regularly spend time with in person is irreplaceable.
Seek out like-minded souls by joining a club or attending community events. Be vocal about your interests and spark conversations with strangers. Consider using an app like Meetup to connect with locals over a shared passion. The more deliberate you can be about making new friends, the better your odds of forming connections that stick.
Invest in longstanding relationships
How long have you known your oldest friends? Ten years? Fifteen? Thirty? Maybe you were neighbors, went to school together or were introduced by family members. Whatever the origin, keep your friendships that have stood the test of time fresh by finding new ways to connect.
Plan a vacation or weekend getaway together, schedule a phone call once a month or more often, write each other letters, have an impromptu gab sesh, treat yourself to a spa day, or go for a walk together each week. Our existing friendships are a priority and deserve to be treated as such, even when hectic schedules place increasing demands on our time.
Think about the friendships you admire. They can be from TV shows, books, movies or even your own life. Odds are, they didn’t evolve overnight. While you may have instantly bonded over your shared love of vintage bookstores, the roots of lasting friendships run much deeper.
Making friends as an adult can be challenging, invigorating, wearisome and rewarding, sometimes all at once. Don’t try to rush it or feel discouraged if you’re struggling. Use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and find gratitude in the relationships which continue to sustain you.
Look at yourself
Finally, consider the type of friend you want to be toward others. Friendships are a two-way street, with each party responsible for her attitude, actions, commitment, values and expectations. When you think about the qualities you seek in a friend, ask yourself what you have to offer in return.
I hope these tips help as you navigate the hurdles, humor and highs of friendhood. Take a moment to reach out to your closest pals and tell them how much they mean to you.
Here’s to you and the friendship you dole out on the daily!
Written by: Emily Rose Barr
This story originally appeared in Baltimore’s Child Magazine.