The older you get, the more difficult making (and retaining!) friends can be. And when a pandemic swoops in to fully reformat your life? Forget about it. This past year made connecting with others even more difficult, as so many social spheres dissipated. (Farewell, work wives! Goodbye, gym buddies! Peace out, happy-hour chums!) Now, as we (hopefully) prepare to return to the real world, it’s worth reconsidering what friendship means in the first place, because we might want to rethink how we make adult friendships.
Making friends as a grown-up (and the stress associated with it) is the very issue explored in the fourth episode of The Well+Good Podcast, with host and producer Taylor Camille Smith in conversation with Clare O’Connor, head of editorial content at Bumble; Danielle Bayard Jackson, friendship expert and coach and author of Give it a Rest: The Case for Tough Love Friendships; and Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, co-hosts of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast and co-writers of Big Friendship. They unpack why the friendship meet-cute is overrated, and why you shouldn’t fear putting yourself out there when it comes to making platonic playmates. "There should be no shame associated with saying, 'I’m in the market for friendship right now,'" says Friedman.
Likewise, they touch upon a few common misconceptions people have about friendship, and how to actually keep your social relationships evolving in a happy, healthy way. Below, find the common myths the pros want you to abandon when it comes making adult friendships (and keeping 'em) in a post-pandemic world.
Here are 3 of the biggest misconceptions about maintaining and making adult friendships.
1. Meeting friends and making friends are the same thing
If using apps to meet people still isn't your bag, consider the loose connections in your circle. "A lot of us are overlooking friends of friends [with whom] we have ties that we've already established, but for whatever reason, we've dismissed them as not being contenders for friendship," says Jackson.
You can also take a second look at your social media feeds. "I just think that there's so many ways to meet people," says Sow. "I've made some of my closest friends on the Internet…we found each other on Twitter, and they're now very close friends."
2. Being friends with someone should be easy
Friendship shouldn't also be hard, per se, but it does often require work—just like any other kind of familial or romantic relationship. "If you're trying to sustain something, long-term, it's not going to be easy," says Jackson.
She points to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, which investigated participants' loneliness levels over five years. Those who thought friendships happened because of luck were found to be seriously more lonely than those who believed friendship took effort. Why? Because those in the effort camp probably devoted time and energy to nourishing their friendships. "If we go into it thinking it's supposed to be easy, and then we run anytime it gets weird or awkward or hard, then we're going to be starting from scratch every day," Jackson adds.
3. We should all have a "best friend"
We all have friendship tiers of some sort, but Jackson finds that in adulthood, calling someone a "best friend" can breed some real Bridesmaids problems.
"Now we have these expectations that go along with it," say Jackson. "We won't verbalize them, but secretly we expect like, 'okay, well, you need to be the person who shows up for me, and you need to be available when I want to talk. And you need to be able to know the right things to say. And if you start spending a lot of time with this other woman, then I'm going to feel a little threatened by that because you're supposed to be my best friend.'"
While "best friend" may not be an effective label, Sow and Friedman suggest embracing "big friendship." "A big friendship is one that has lasted a long time, that has maybe endured some big changes or shifts and difficulties that involves both people showing up, and really giving of themselves, and being vulnerable, and making an effort to know, and be known," says Friedman.
If you're looking to keep a big friendship strong or start up a new one, give this episode a listen. And hell, why not share it with a buddy, too?
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