“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” ― Helen Keller
ADULT FRIENDSHIPS are qualitatively and quantitatively different from those of our youth — even when those friendships are holdovers from that earlier time. And they are as important as ever. Friendship helps protect us from stress, anxiety, and depression, and is particularly beneficial later in life. In fact, according to a study cited in Time, having supportive friends in old age was a stronger predictor of well being than family ties.”
Yet adult friendships can be just as challenging — if not more so in some ways — than romantic relationships. This is, in part, because we often carry forward misconceptions about friendships from our childhood.
For example, we think that making (and keeping) friends should be just as easy for us as adults as it was when we were children. When making a friend was as simple as asking, “Will you be my friend?”
But friendships take time and attention, and adulthood is full of changing priorities and responsibilities. We simply don’t have as much time to nurture friendships as we once did, and so those friendships tend to get pushed aside. Perhaps you moved to a new city for your career and lost contact with previous friends. Or you went away to college and never went back to your hometown. Or you’ve moved frequently for other reasons.It’s never too late to revive those once-strong and vital friendships. Click To Tweet
You may also have lost touch with friends due to shifting life directions. You’ve gotten married and had children, for example, while your friends focused on their careers. You just don’t have that much in common anymore. Friendships tend to fade away under these conditions. When you go weeks or months without connecting with someone, you begin to think less often of them as someone to go to for support and vice versa. They are simply not as much a part of your life.
In all of these situations, you may find yourself feeling lonely and challenged to make new and meaningful connections.
The good news is that it’s never too late to revive once-strong and vital friendships that have been neglected due to life circumstances. They can be nurtured back to life with regular contact — even when that contact takes the form of phone calls, emails, and texts.
Another common misconception is to think we should have a large circle of friends. But actually, you’re more likely to have fewer friends than you did when you were younger. And that’s just fine. Having a few close friends — people you enjoy being around, whom you can depend on and be vulnerable with — is more important for emotional health than having a large circle of people with whom you do not have that deep connection.
Through the following writing prompts, I encourage you to examine your beliefs about friendships and discover what still holds true for you; to find the gold in your adult relationships; to identify and create a plan to nurture positive friendships for the future.
- Describe the qualities of a good friendship. Then look back over your description and notice any self-imposed rules or beliefs about friendship (those “shoulds” and “have-tos”). Question each statement you’ve written about “good” friendship — is that statement 100% true? Write about how it feels to question these statements.
- In what ways are you a “good friend” and in what ways are you a “bad friend”? What beliefs underlie these judgments?
- With whom do you choose to spend your time? Do you surround yourself with smart, positive people or with people who tend to be negative and/or emotionally needy? What effects do your friendships have on your outlook?
- Who is your “best friend,” and why? What does this person offer you (and what do you offer him or her) that no one else does?
- How often do you get together in person with your close friends? What do you do together? How do these activities build and nurture your relationships?
- What do you currently do to nurture your friendships? Is it enough or do you feel you need to do more? If so, what would that be?
- Freewrite for ten minutes about all the obstacles, including any fears, that keep you from making new friends or nurturing existing friendships.
- If you have somehow isolated yourself over time and don’t have any close friends (or your only friend is the person you sleep next to at night), make a list of your interests and hobbies. Then explore what’s available in your community — local groups you could join that share these interests, volunteering, etc. Go to one of the group meetings and see what happens.
- Make a list of actions you could take to reconnect with old friends or recharge current friendships. Which of these actions most appeals to you and why?
- What are the best qualities of the friends you have? Write a paragraph for each person praising these qualities. Then be sure to let them know how much you appreciate these qualities and their friendship.
Adult friendships, like any relationships, take work. But they don’t have to be as hard as we make them. If we are mindful of how we choose our friends and then make nurturing those friendships a priority, we can have satisfying, close relationships with the people who most matter to us.