I don’t know if it’s something in the cosmos, the air or simply just turning 30 but myself and basically everyone is my life seems to be going through some pretty intense life changes. Whether it be career, relationships or simply a shift in life priorities it appears that no one is immune. It’s also got me thinking of how important my friendships have become as we navigate these life changes. The 21st century is no joke when it comes to maintaining healthy adult friendships. It’s easier than ever to stay in touch with people and know what that junior-year study-abroad roommate is up to even though you haven’t actually spoken in 10 years but it’s also harder than ever to be a good friend. Our lives are far more transient than they’ve ever been. It’s much easier to move, change jobs and meet new people who you otherwise would never have interacted with. But it’s just as easy to let friendships go. Friendships are far more fleeting than they used to be and in a world where there’s pretty much an app for everything there simply isn’t a shortcut to being a good friend – and no, Instagram doesn’t count.
Now I’m no perfect friend. No one is. We all get stuck in our own solar systems and let’s be real we barely have enough time for ourselves these days. But it’s been a goal of mine to be a better a friend and truth-be-told it’s got me thinking a lot about what that actually means. So today I want to chat about healthy adult friendships and what it means to really show up for your friends.
The internet has changed everything – for better or for worse. The internet can be an incredible place to meet new people with shared interests, but your friendships cannot live exclusively online. Trust me – I’ve been there. When I first started THM it was so exciting to meet like-minded people who shared similar interests to me but one of my biggest regrets is the in-person friendships I neglected because of the excitement of my internet friendships. I look back now and 95% of the “friends” I made online are no longer in my life and well, I was kind of a shit person to the people who already were. Healthy adult friendships need to cross the online threshold. No – they don’t have to be exclusively in-person. I have friends who live all around the world so that isn’t always possible but when you look at the wide lens of your life, if the majority of your friendships exist exclusively online you may want to re-evaluate your priorities.
Social relationships are quite literally good for your health. Research has shown that friendships can extend our life expectancy and lower our risk of heart disease. Quality friendships can reduce our stress levels and release a surge of neurochemicals that improve our quality of life. In-person friendships release more “feel-good” chemicals (oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine) in your brain than online friendships. We are by nature social beings so we all need to feel that sense of belonging with others.
Make it a Value
Speaking of priorities, how much do you actually prioritize your friendships? One of my biggest realizations was that I really value being a good friend and I really value people who feel the same way. We oftentimes get so stuck in our productivity levels and checking things off our to-do lists that we don’t actually take the time to assess whether we’re living by our values. The other day C and I were playing the gratitude game (we each list 3 things we feel grateful for) and I realized that amongst all of my life changes I am grateful that I can show up as a good friend to the people in my life. It’s not something I always valued (or realized I valued) but as I get older I see how important it is to me. If it’s something you value too, prioritize it.
Quality Over Quantity
Adult friendships feel different from friendships growing up because we all have lives! When you’re in high school and college it seems like you’re surrounded by a million friends and it works! Because your life=school and friends. When we get older, we have work, romantic relationships, families, kids, friends, personal time… a lot more to fit in. Rob Dunbar has done studies on adult relationships and claims you can only have five really close friends. These are the friends that you regularly are doing life with, they know what’s going on with your day-to-day and they go deep with you. The next circle out are what I like to consider “fun” friends. You hang out with them in groups, you have fun, you know and care about them but it’s a different relationship than someone that knows the depth of your soul. The circles of friends go out from there. The reality is, we all only have so much time and energy and can’t give every one in our lives our all. And that’s okay. I would rather have five close, soul friends than 25 peripheral friends. Make sense?
Is It The Right Fit?
If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve likely experienced a toxic relationship. You know the quote, “it’s not you, it’s me”? I truly believe that is the case when it comes to friendships. Nine times out of ten, the other person is not out to get you. They are not intentionally trying to sabotage your life. This is about you and how you are showing up in the friendship. Are they bringing out your best or your worst? I have created this list of reflections to think through with your adult relationships.
- Do you shrink yourself, your needs or your boundaries around this person? Are your needs, feelings and boundaries respected?
- Do you feel validated?
- What is the foundation of the friendship? Negativity? Gossip? Toxic qualities or things that uplift you?
- After being around this person do you feel nourished or drained?
- When their name pops up on your phone do you feel negative, neutral or positive?
- When you have an upcoming plan with this person do you feel negative, neutral or positive about it?
- Do you feel emotionally supported? Emotionally safe?
- What do the people in your life that you love and trust feel about this person and this relationship?
It is natural as you get older to grow out of friendships. It’s okay for someone to move from close friend to periphery friend. It’s also okay to realize you may not be able to show up for a friend in a way that they need and/or vice versa. Give yourself and your friendships permission to evolve.
As I’ve moved through different seasons of life, I’ve realized I want to be intentional with my time, energy and emotions. I’m not going to partake in a friendship that drains me. I’m going to prioritize friends that lift me up and bring out the best in me. I’m going to do the personal work so I don’t repeat tendencies and patterns I’ve made in past relationships. Friendships aren’t easy but they should always make you grow. I’m a highly sensitive introvert who needs a lot of alone time and space to function in the world. Part of my process is knowing it’s okay to say this to my friends – if they don’t understand, that’s on them not me. But it is my job to set the boundaries of my relationships. We all know those energy vampire friends who suck the life out of you. The painful truth is that you need to communicate your needs to them and not expect them to change. If you do communicate these needs and they fall on deaf ears – girl BYE. But if you never do then you can’t expect them to read your mind.
It’s Time to Break Up
I honestly believe that breaking up with a friend is one of the hardest things to do. I’ll admit to having ghosted people before because I was too scared to communicate my needs but I’m learning and growing and am proud of the work I’ve done even if I don’t always get it right. One of my biggest realizations when it comes to friend break-ups is that pointing out all their flaws and everything they do wrong is not the right way to go about it. It comes back to boundaries and being able to say to someone “this isn’t working for me in my life right now and I need space/a break/closure”. Sometimes that means moving a close friend to a periphery friend and sometimes that means ending it entirely but listing out a laundry list of issues is no way to go about it. A friendships may feel wrong to you but it doesn’t make the other person wrong. Only in recent years have I had this realization and approaching friend break-ups with this method has lessened so much anxiety I can feel around it. Trust me – you’ll feel much better about yourself when you communicate YOUR needs rather than pointing out someone else’s flaws.
I’m oftentimes asked what my proudest accomplishment has been from running my own business and without fail it’s always the same response: I keep showing up. Awards, page views, likes are all fleeting but the fact that I’ve consistently shown up here for over 7 years is by far my biggest accomplishment. I’d like to feel the same way about my friendships. When I look back on my life I hope I can feel that same sense of pride in my relationships. I hope I can feel like I showed up for the people who needed me. I hope that as I navigate many transitions throughout my lifetime that the people who I needed most showed up for me. It isn’t always easy, but its worth it.
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