How To Make Your Friendships Last Throughout Your 20s
The Debrief: Keeping your friendships going in the face of jobs, relationships and house moves is hard - but it can be done. Here's how...
My social life is a mess. While Taylor Swift manages to remain the MVP in crew of nearly 20 VIPs, I struggle to meet school friends for a Wahaca every six months. Nearly all my WhatsApp conversations start with ‘sorry for the slow reply’, and ‘Got to work late tonight! ‘Let’s go for coffee soon though?' is quickly becoming my catchphrase.
I'm not the only twenty-something who struggles with friendships. Loneliness tends to be associated with pensioners stuck in retirement bungalows, but a 2010 study found that people aged 18 - 34 are actually more likely to feel alone than over-55s. And loneliness is vicious little beast. According to psychologist Dr Anna Janssen, feeling isolated can lead to a change in mood, a lack of confidence and make you feel like you can't be bothered to connect with people. 'It's a negative cycle and it's hard to break,' she says. 'The longer you don't see people for, the more you assume it won't be okay.'
Strong friendships support you, strengthen your moral and cultural values and make you feel bloody fabulous, in a way no jogging-for-endorphins ever can. In fact, that buzzy feeling you experience when you just 'click' with someone is actually your body telling you that hanging out with that person is worthwhile and you should do it more.
But, in that case, why is it that we find friendships hard to maintain? What does T. Swizzle have that we don’t?*
Back in school and uni I had big gangs of mates, but recently I’ve found numbers dwindling. Life coach Lucy Sheridan explains this is for two related reasons. Firstly, meeting up is harder. While we were once guaranteed to see our pals, we're now picking different careers and moving to different cities. Nearly half UK graduates say they feel under pressure to work overtime and, in a 2011 survey, one in seven of us admitted to working 50 hours a week.
But, lack of time isn’t the only issue. Lucy says that relationships struggle because it takes us a while to adapt our attitudes about friendship to fit in with our new life structure. We assume we’ll have more energy than we actually do, and get annoyed at other people for prioritising work even though we know they have to. 'I think the decade is almost like a second puberty,' she says. 'We have to learn and relearn a lot of what it means to be a friend under totally different circumstances.'
Claire, 27, says she struggled to maintain a relationship with her crew from home after she moved from Manchester to London for her job. ‘I couldn't come home as regularly as I thought because of money and working weekends,’ she says. ‘There was a friend who felt I was making excuses and not caring about our friendship. Our relationship has never recovered. Now, another of my Manchester friends is getting married and I probably would have been a bridesmaid if I hadn't moved away. It makes me feel a bit lonely.'
It's easy to assume that 'maintaining a friendship' involves continuous messaging and rinsing our 16-25 railcards for cross-country trips - and that we're failing if we don't. But, life coach Lucy says it's worth giving friends the benefit of the doubt when they do get flakey: 'there's rarely any intention to avoid a friend, it simply gets pushed to the bottom of the list.' And, psychologist Anna adds that strong friendships aren’t necessarily about going out together every weekend. 'It's not how often we see each other,' she says. 'It's to do with the quality of time and the impact they have on your life.'
She says it’s important to realise that friendships are a choice. And, that the people we should push to the wayside are those who don’t improve our lives. If you dread meeting up with someone, or feel like a friendship is always very one-sided then the relationship might be one to ditch. Plus, if you feel like you can’t trust a pal, it might be worth reconsidering the friendship.
Emily, 25, struggled with maintaining friendships in her late teens and early twenties but says things turned around when decided to only remain close to the women who were really there for her. She says: 'I shook off the high school attitude of 'friends no matter what' and realised things should really be about mutual respect. We've all scattered off in different directions but also have the best catch ups, as we always have something - work, kids, travel, relationships, self-esteem - to give each other advice on. '
Life coach Lucy recommends planning catch-ups like these way in advance to make sure they happen. Start traditions like group holidays and monthly meals out, or sign up for a weekly classes together. 'Get real offline time booked in and protected, even if it's just a boozy shopping trip,’ she says. ‘Strive for a mega blow-out of concentrated attention.' She warns that social media can trick us into thinking we’re keeping in touch when we actually aren’t. ‘We can keep up the illusion of being connected,’ she says. ‘And yet not have to put in the effort that comes with staying in regular contact. It makes drifting away easier than ever before.’
Ultimately, there’s no simple solution to maintaining friendships in your 20s. We have to realise that as our time becomes more limited and each relationship becomes more complicated; we’re going to lose touch with mates. But that’s fine, as long as we put in the effort with the pals that matter.
On that note, I’m block-booking Wahaca for the next five years.
*THE SUPPORT OF THE ILLUMINATI
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