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Navigating changing friendships in your early 20s

Sarah discusses how friendships change in your early 20s and how developing as an individual in this crucial part of life can lead to unexpected changes in friendships.

I love my friends. I could talk about each and every one of them for hours on end, listing my favorite memories we have together and all the things they do that make me smile. Not to be dramatic, but I truly would be nothing without the love and support of my friends. However, like many others, I have really struggled with the transitions that my friendships have gone through as I’ve gotten further into my twenties.

I met some of my best friends on my very first official day of uni. For three years we saw each other almost every day, living together, going for drinks, walks, coffees, hosting parties, visiting each other’s families; we became such fundamental parts of each other's lives. Having graduated, we were forced to leave behind the weekly pub trips, spontaneous coffee dates, and daily debriefs, and our friendships had to adapt to the reality of our new lives. In-person catch ups are reduced to FaceTime calls, and daily debriefs now take the form of monthly podcast-length voice notes, as we work hard to keep each other updated on everything that’s going on in our lives.

As we get older and become increasingly independent, we need different things from our friendships, and are often unable to give our friends the same amount of attention and commitment as we could when we were younger. I’ve been disappointed by the formality of adult friendships; the sporadic ‘checking in’ texts, the “great I’ll book you in for six weeks on Tuesday”, the traveling up and down the country, the meeting for a quick coffee in our lunch breaks. It seems strange to me that the people I love the most and who know everything there is to know about me now have to be shoehorned into my busy schedule, slotting in amongst work meetings, family commitments, and the weekly food shop. It all seems so far from the days when we would fling our arms around each other every morning, where plans were just a quick text away, where long chats and sleepovers were a regular Saturday night.

Despite the diculties that ever-changing existing friendships present, your twenties is also a great time to meet new people and make new friends. As someone who has been very lucky to have a series of small, very close groups of friends, I was surprised when I began forming new friendships in my twenties. Having spent years developing close-knit, supportive, and trusting friendships that began forming in my teens, I didn’t think that I would be the type of person who could make long-lasting, meaningful friendships in my early adulthood. This all changed in the very first lockdown of 2020, where I found myself chatting with a girl in my seminar group from uni as we tried to make sense of complicated novels through the even more complicated medium of Microsoft Teams.

Over the course of the next few months, we chatted through a series of daily video updates, detailing every mundane aspect of our lockdown lives. Even though our friendship looks very different now than it did in the beginning, I couldn’t believe that I had found someone so like me, completely by accident, and during such a strange time. Starting my first proper job after uni, I found another unexpected friendship. Within a week we were inseparable. An extension of my own mind, at the end of the time that we worked together we could practically finish each other's sentences, and she remains to this day one of my best friends. I still can’t believe that I somehow stumbled upon someone else who was so on my wavelength, and who filled a space in my life that I didn’t know needed filling. To me, these stories are proof that we can nd friendship under almost any circumstance. Friendships can be found everywhere, and often when you least expect them.

Making new friends as an adult is not always easy. In my first few months living in London I met countless new faces, most of whom I have only seen a couple of times since then. When you’re constantly surrounded by new people, it can be difficult to feel like you can be completely yourself around them. It can make you second guess yourself and question whether you made a ‘good’ impression on them. As a chronic overthinker, I find new social situations draining, usually over analyzing everything I said or did the minute I get home. Sometimes you just want to be around people who understand you, who know where you’re coming from without you having to explain. For this reason, I have found myself reaching out to reconnect with old friends who I lost touch with, or drifted apart from over the years. One of my friends from school, who I met when I was 14, has recently come back into my life with all the joy, openness, and familiarity that I was craving. Despite having its foundations years ago, our friendship feels new in so many ways, as we catch up on the years we missed. A few months in, I can’t remember a time when we didn’t see each other.

As we move further into our twenties and everyone’s friendships begin to change, it’s so easy to compare your own to the ones that you see in other people’s perfectly curated Instagram posts; to assume that everyone else has more friends than you, spends more time with them, or is ‘better’ at maintaining their friendships than you are. As we all know by now, social media is not reality, and the friendships you see on there are likely not as perfect as they seem on the outside; even if they are, they shouldn’t be a reflection on the quality or quantity of your own friendships. There is no standard for how many friends we should have, or how much time we should spend with them. If your friendships look less like a girls’ trip to Greece and more like watching a film together in silence, that’s okay! If your friendships are less everyday catch ups and more seeing each other once a month over coffee, that’s okay too! Friendship is what you make it, and each of us want and need different things from our friends. As our lives change and we move further into adulthood, so do our priorities, our plans, and our views of the future.

As we grow and change, so do our friendships. Unlike at school and uni when you’re thrown together almost every day and making friends is fairly easy, adult friendships require a lot more effort. It's natural to grow apart from people when you are on different paths, or at different parts in your journey; it’s not always easy to relate to someone whose life seems so different to yours. A friendship has not ‘failed’ if it doesn’t last for very long, it has simply reached a natural ending. Every friendship you have, no matter how long, teaches you something about people, about yourself, and about life. Sometimes growth can strengthen friendships, giving you new opportunities to support your friends in their own journeys, and to help them achieve their goals.

I am so aware of how lucky I am to have such incredible friendships. At risk of sounding patronizing, for those of you who are struggling with your friendships at the moment, or are finding it difficult to meet new people that you get along with, have faith. My advice is simply to be open to friendship in all its forms. Our future friends are everywhere, and we can continue nding them for many, many years to come!


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