As we get older, many things change: our appearance, our interests, our goals, our routines, and our relationships. I’ve found the latter to be especially true.
Sure, my hair’s grown, I now enjoy camping, I’m no longer pressed to lose weight, and I actually go to bed at a decent time (because I can’t keep my eyes open past 9 pm) — but my relationships have evolved significantly. In sum, my romantic relationship and my relationships with my family have become greater priorities, while my friendships have taken a backseat.
When friendships change — and they will, especially in adulthood — along with everything else, it can be difficult to maintain these important connections. But it isn’t impossible. With the right dedication, mindset, and maybe a little trial and error, you can do it. And we’re going to help.
Why Do Friendships Change in Adulthood?
At 27 years old, my time and energy are focused on building a life with my now-partner Andrew (and our golden retriever Summer) vs. going out with friends, meeting new people, being a social butterfly, etc. These changes — more time with Andrew/Summer + less time at bars and socializing with strangers — also equal more family time. But where do friends factor into the equation?
Today, my friendships look different than they did 5 years ago. Sometimes, it’s a quick text exchange, reminding each other that we’re always there. At other times, it’s an hour-long Facetime that covers the last month’s life updates. And at others, it’s still giggling over drinks at our favorite bar or brewery.
My priorities shifted in early adulthood, which largely led to the evolution of my friendships. And as it turns out, I’m not alone in this. Research shows that our priorities get shuffled after college and friendships typically fall to the bottom of the list. Additionally, studies suggest that we have more friends in childhood, teenhood, and in our mid-twenties simply because we spend more time around more people. But as we dip our toes into building a career and/or family of our own, other relationships take center stage while our friendships fade into the background.
Hopefully, this eases some of the guilt you might feel about losing a friendship or falling off with your friends. If you need further reassurance, Shontel Cargill — Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Regional Clinical Director at Thriveworks — assures us that “it’s natural for friendships to change as we progress through different life stages.”
How to Maintain Friendships as You Get Older
Now, let’s focus on the present and priority here: how you can maintain your current friendships. Here are a few pillars to prioritize.
This pillar is two-fold. First and foremost, show up for your friend when they need you — when they’ve just been fired from their job, they’re grieving the loss of a loved one, they’re going through a breakup, they’re simply stressed and overwhelmed by life, etc. Times like these demand you reshuffle those priorities again.
Secondly, be there (as often as you can) even when they don’t need you but are reaching out. Pause your Netflix show for 15 minutes to answer their phone call; pause laundry-folding for two seconds to respond to their text — even if ignoring their call or text doesn’t seem like a big deal. Because those I’ll-call-them-back’s and I’ll-respond-laters rarely pan out.
Cater to Your Unique Personalities
Mold your friendship around your personalities. In other words, find activities and methods of communication that work best for the two of you.
If you hate talking on the phone, opt for texting and Snapchat videos instead. If dinner and drinks don’t appeal to you, try something new that you’ll feel excited about — this’ll better ensure you follow through and also truly enjoy your time with your friend.
Remember That Small Gestures Go a Long Way
You don’t have to chat every day or see each other every week to maintain your friendship. Small, low-effort gestures truly go a long way. If you see a funny meme that you know would make them laugh, send it their way. If you’re running errands near their work, say hi and drop off a coffee.
Continue to keep your unique personalities and friendship in mind here, too. For example, if your friend prefers to keep her personal and professional lives separate, or gets in the zone when she’s at work, don’t barge in on her (that’s what it’ll feel like). You could snap a picture of her office instead and shoot her a text: “I just walked by your office! Thinking of you and hoping you’re having a great day.”
Put Them on the Dang Calendar
This isn’t meant to make time spent with your friend feel like another to-do item — instead, it’s meant to solidify this time with them as a priority. Plus, timeboxing (or putting your to-dos directly on your calendar) is a habit of personal time management that helps you take back control. And it’ll benefit you in more ways than one.
Consider taking this one step further and create a weekly, biweekly, or monthly tradition. For example, every other Saturday, you and Ana grab coffee at your favorite spot downtown. Or, on the last Sunday of the month, your friend circle gets together for a movie marathon. You determine the activity and the timing (again, based on personalities and schedules) — but creating a tradition of sorts will better ensure you see your friend on a regular, reliable basis.
Get Used to the Ebb and Flow
Finally, accept that your friendship is going to fluctuate. There will likely be periods when you chat and hang out more frequently. On the flip side, there will also be periods when you don’t talk or see each other for a little while.
This is normal — but if you’re experiencing the latter, and you miss your friend or want to check in, take the initiative to reach out. And remember, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. A quick text or even a tag on Facebook can go a long way. Also, be understanding if your friend “ghosts” you for a little while. It isn’t personal.
There’s No Shame in Hitting Reset, with the Help of a Professional
We hope the pillars above will prove effective in helping you to maintain your friendships in adulthood. If, however, there’s a specific friendship that’s hanging by a thread and needs a deeper intervention, consider working with a therapist. Friendship therapy (yes, friendship therapy is a thing) is also a good option if there are specific problems in your friendship that you’d like some help addressing.
“There are many benefits to seeking friendship therapy whether alone, as a pair, or in a group. For friends receiving treatment together, therapy can provide a safe space to articulate needs and work through grievances in a healthy and productive way,” Cargill explains. “For people addressing issues in their friendships on their own, a counselor can help guide you through various stages such as grief, resolution, and healing.”
If you’re interested in seeing what friendship therapy is all about, we’ve got you. Consider bringing it up to your friend or exploring its benefits on your own. Either way, it can help you get your friendship back on track.