Friendship is something we don’t often think about as adults until we find ourself without it. It’s one of the most difficult types of relationships to maintain because of its less formal construction and lack of felt obligation, but friendship still brings great value to our lives and should be prioritized. Friendship often plays a larger role than family when it comes to our day-to-day well being and happiness, according to Psychology Today. But why is it so hard, and how do we overcome the obstacles in the way?
An article from The Atlantic explains that it’s primarily the voluntary nature of friendship that make it difficult to maintain. Family you’re stuck with. Marriage a relationship laid out on paper you promised to maintain, so you’ll naturally prioritize your spouse. But friendships are the piece that can be shifted around to make room for other things as necessary, and as we get older and gain more responsibilities, friendship can fall by the wayside. Whereas in college you lived with your friends or across the hallway from them, or in childhood you played with your next-door neighbor all afternoon, the contrasting lack of proximity in adulthood combined with packed individual schedules makes getting together last minute nearly impossible. So we are left to schedule coffee three weeks out and hope nothing comes up in the meantime that must take priority.
Psychology Today suggests several practical ways to make and keep adult friendships despite the obstacles we face. First, weather transitions together. Wait out big changes like marriage and having children — don’t abandon ship or assume the other person no longer wants to spend time with you just because they now have a spouse or a baby. Once the initial chaos of the transition subsides and they can lift their head above water, they’ll be ready to reconnect.
Being consistent with connecting — however small — is the central key to maintaining adult friendships. Whether it’s a text to check in, sending a card or remembering a birthday, any initiated connection builds relationship capital and makes your friendship stronger. If you keep missing each other, try scheduling a regular time to chat on the phone or grab lunch each week. Don’t worry so much about the “should”s and do what you can. If you missed a big event or aren’t able to throw a surprise party for your friend, it’s ok. Stop by with a small gift or send a heartfelt card. It really is the thought that counts. All the little things add up to create genuine, long-term friendship.
Making new friendships as an adult can be even more difficult. But taking small risks can go a long way, according to Psychology Today. It requires going out on a limb — inviting someone to go to an event with you or revealing something slightly deeper than surface level about yourself — but being vulnerable breeds connection. If it doesn’t work out, don’t sweat it. Think of it almost like dating — you don’t assume you will marry the first person you go on a date with. If the friendship doesn’t get off the ground, shrug it off.
Above all, be flexible with your expectations, risk being vulnerable and stay consistent with connection — whatever that looks like in your stage of life — and you’ll be blessed with friendships that can last the long haul.