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On the trials and tribulations of making friends as an adult
Yesterday, after dropping my kids off for their first day of their summer holiday club, I was listening to this episode of Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things podcast. A conversation between Glennon, her wife Abby, and actress Reese Witherspoon, they were talking about adult friendships, and how hard they can be to make and maintain.
This is something that hugely struck a chord with me.
My kids didn’t know anyone at their holiday club. Yet when I peeked through the fence a few minutes after dropping them off, I could see that they were already playing with other kids, forging new friendships. It looked so easy.
Growing up, I moved around a fair bit - I lived in four countries / cities before finally settling into life in London when I was in my early twenties. Each time I’ve moved, the ability to make new friendships has felt slightly harder. I’ve also, as I expect most people have, had a couple of upsetting experiences where people didn’t show up for me, or people turned out not to be who I thought they were.
In London, the tight friendships I had when I moved here, from my studies, and later from my first publishing job, have mostly remained strong. One friendship is notable in its absence (breaking up with friends is a whole other topic!), but most are still people I turn to when I need to talk, and who I see as regularly as we are able.
That said - people (including me) move neighbourhoods. We have busy jobs and kids and (for some of us - not me!) partners we wanted to spend time with. Meet-ups have to be scheduled far in advance. Planning a group holiday (which is finally happening next month) takes literal years. It’s not the free and easy friendship it once was.
Now, my local friendship group is primarily made up of other mums from my kids’ school, and though they are all lovely, it feels like, bar one or two, our connection always remains at a superficial level. Even when we have deep, meaningful conversations, it rarely translates into the kind of ongoing connection that I have with the friends I have had since pre-kids.
That makes sense, I suppose - I’ve known those other people longer, when I was more carefree. They’ve seen me actually having fun, before the main things on my mind were kids and money and my ex-husband’s latest shenanigans.
I’ve also noticed that I am the one holding back in a lot of my newer friendships. Because I’ve been going through a lot over these last few years, I worry that I’m too much for my new friends, so I hold myself back. And when you aren’t showing up fully as yourself, of course it’s harder to connect with people. That’s not going to change overnight, but I’m glad that I’m at least aware that I’m doing it, now.
In the podcast, Reese Witherspoon talks about how making new friends feels like jumping into a cold pool. When you step in gingerly, you feel every icy minute. But if you get all the way in there, and just dive straight in, you realise it’s not as cold as you thought. I feel like with many of my newer friends, I’m still at the point where I’m still up to my knees, not wanting my thighs to touch the water yet because I think it might hurt.
For a while, even the solid friendships I do have didn’t feel like enough to me. In my head, friendship is what you see modelled on TV - a group of close knit girlfriends who do everything together and know each other inside and out. I definitely don’t have that. My friends are not even concentrated in the same country, let alone in the same neighbourhood.
I wish I had those friends where we are just in and out of each other’s houses, and my kids feel like their kids, and vice versa. I feel like I would have that with a couple of friends who live on other continents, and that does still make me sad.
AND I realised that each of the friendships I have brings something unique, and rather than wishing they were physically closer, I’m starting to feel grateful that I had so many people I felt close to, emotionally.
Friends I would not hesitate to get in touch with if things weren’t going well
Friends I can chat to about work stress and money and parenting
Friends who have known me since I was a child
Friends who would drop what they are doing to help me and the kids if we needed them
Internet friends who know me better than a lot of people I know in real life
That’s a lot, and I am grateful for all of them.
I think in recent years, I’ve been pretty self-absorbed at times due to a lot of un-fun drama in my life. I know that haven’t been the best friend I could be. I’ve definitely withdrawn more than I’ve deposited in my friendship banks of late (something else they talk about on the show).
But I also need to stop seeing friendship as something I am bad at. I’m clearly doing better than I think. I need to actively make time for it, rather than letting friendships pass me by. I also need to put down my walls a little bit and let myself be vulnerable.
Ruth Poundwhite has a saying for finding clients ‘I am the right person for my right people’, which I say to myself all the time in my work. I guess I need to try and apply it to my friendships as well.
It is hard, though!
What is your experience of friendships, as an adult. I know I’m not alone in finding this difficult, but would love to know any thoughts / suggestions / ideas you think might be useful.
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