I graduated college five years ago and since then, I’ve struggled off and on with the concept of making friends. It was so much simpler when I was younger. Back at school, we were all forced into close confines with each other and for many hours a day for at least five days a week. It is no surprise that long-lasting friendships were formed. When you’re forced to slog through AP Calculus or are trying to memorize all of the capitals of every country in Europe, it is easy to form bonds with those around you. And those early years are nothing short of a tidal wave of anxiety and change—from first boyfriends and girlfriends to periods and zits and changing bodies.
But our adult years require real, true friendships too. And although everything in the world might not seem as new as it did when you were 12, it still requires besties to make it all bearable. I “lost” some of my friends as I got older. Some moved away for grad school or moved on to new jobs. Others found their passions and pursued them greatly, pulling away from our core friend group (The Chicago improv scene is a doozy!). And I, too, pulled away, unable to deny the force of work obligations and new loves and everything else that can transpire in your 20s.
With that said, I’ve still been able to carve out friendships post-college. It is NOT impossible, but it does require some changes. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
1. Everyone you meet won’t be your mirror image.
Making friends while growing up felt easy and the friendships we made felt so genuine. But were they? I’ve realized now that many of the friendships I made when I was young were a result of not really knowing myself. Likewise, I think my “friends” didn’t know themselves either. When we grew apart, it felt like a slap in the face, but really, we were just different people beginning to finally understand ourselves. Now that we’re older and we all understand ourselves a little better, we allow other people to be different from us and we’re not threatened by that fact. We’re not looking for our mirror image, but rather, people with different experiences to open our eyes to new things.
2. Work and play CAN mix.
I spent a year working at a museum after college and then jumped head first into the then-burgeoning start-up culture. It was the first time most of my co-workers were my age and I was terrified. I couldn’t possibly be friends with these people. These are my colleagues, I bemoaned. But making friends in the office can have a two-fold benefit. On the one hand, you’ve found people who can understand your frustrations and won’t judge. They’re right there in it too. AND it doesn’t hurt to make friends in higher places. As icky as it might seem, networking can help you advance your career. Might as well network with people you genuinely like. 3. ALL your friends don’t have to mix.
I have all different types of friends based on my numerous interests and paths in life: start-up friends, college friends, childhood friends, music fan friends, art scene friends and writer friends. Not every person is going to like each other. Do you like all of your friends’ friends? Probably not. And there’s no point in forcing it. We’re all adults now. Cherish all of the friends you’ve made in all of your different life and career choices and don’t feel obligated to form the sort of singular, all-encompassing friend group you cultivated when you were younger.
4. Indulging your passions is a GOOD thing.
How did you make friends as a child? For me, it was often during the school play or after school in gymnastics practice. Who’s to say you can’t do the same thing as an adult? The idea first sounded cheesy and juvenile to me, but it actually works. I became super interested in the live lit and storytelling scene in Chicago so I began to attend and perform at events. From there, I began to see the same faces and began making friends with the people also interested in this small community. Sometimes side projects and activities are friendship breeding grounds.
5. Your adult friendships can never be the same as your childhood friendships.
Once I learned how to let go of my idea of friendships of the past, I was able to embrace friendships in the present. No, you won’t see them as much as you might have when you were in the dorms, but the friendships you form as an adult can be just as worthwhile and valid as when you were younger. Sometimes we need to compartmentalize our friendships or adapt them to new life circumstances and that is OK.