I was 26 years old the last time I spent an evening with my ENTIRE group of friends from high school. We’d reconnected a month or so after I graduated from college and the eight of us gathered at a wine bar on the beach to connect and catch up after a few years apart. It was evident we didn’t want the night to end. What was scheduled to be a 2-3 hour reunion at this wine bar turned into about 6-7 hours, a trip from the wine bar to a karaoke bar Downtown, then to a nightclub, and then finally taxied home by a slew of boyfriends and fiancees. We all connected via text the next day comparing our over-the-age-of-21 hangover struggles. That was the last time we spent an evening altogether and the last time I saw a few of them. Perhaps in a small way, we all knew that this reunion was rare, or that it would be our last.
There’s something about your mid-twenties that changes the way you view friendship. And then once you hit thirty, something changes again. A light bulb goes off and you begin to view relationships from a total adult lens. What you value changes. What you look for changes. What you hold on to changes.
Your priorities are different.
I realized that, at one point in my life, I craved both quality of friends AND quantity of friends. Before understanding the [Enneagram] twoness within me, I’d merely associated more people liking me with being more likable. And that was my end game. Being liked. Needed. Wanted. It never occurred to me that some of those “friends” weren’t necessarily quality friends. That they were simply occupying a numerical slot on my roster. And the most devastating part? I was doing the same on theirs. I learned the latter the hard way. And after a number of so-called “friend hurts” – as well as the inevitable progression of my age – I came to realize why the phrase “Quality over Quantity” even existed.
I’m now creeping into my mid-thirties, and quality utterly and completely rules the friendship game in my world. Call me selective. Call me an exclusive. Sticks and stones. What’s better than knowing what I want in a friendship is actually knowing myself. Knowing what I can offer, knowing what resonates deepest in me, knowing my level of commitment, and knowing that the person I’m engaging with is actively pursuing the same end goal in this relationship.
When discussing friendship among women, the common consensus is that 1) it’s hard to find and build genuine relationships and 2) that there’s just no time for it.
This quarantine has given me all sorts of “summer break as a teen” vibes – staying up all night, sleeping all morning, eating all day, and having all sorts of free time to do as you please. But it’s also a reminder of how much time we fill with all of the things that are, in some ways, stripped from us right now. How much time we spend at work – away from home. Or how much time we spend at family functions, social outings, birthday parties or weekend activities. Yes, in some sense we feel busier now juggling endless Zoom calls and balancing our sanity with everyone under one roof – BUT – the moment restrictions let up and life finds it’s new normal, time will be somehow stripped away once again. Anyone else feel like time took on a whole new meaning in your 30s? Once my 30s hit, navigating friendship and finding precious, quality time to cultivate it became harder and harder. Between growing romances, and babies, and job promotions, and travel, and their families and my family…it became absolutely necessary to plan ahead, to pencil dates in the calendar. Of course, always with the understanding that these could totally change if a husband, child or job required our attention more. But the concentrated effort to be in the presence of one another was developed.
So how do we cultivate meaningful relationships in our 30s?
Here are a few tips that may help:
FIND NEW WAYS TO CONNECT.
This season is the season to hone in on your creativity, people! With limited access to people and places these days, I’m enjoying the creativity that my friends and I have developed in staying connected. It doesn’t take much, really. Anything that translates to “hey, I was thinking about you” does the trick for me. Luckily, I have some pretty awesome friends who’ve checked every box from middle-of-the-day FaceTime chats to drive-by food, flower, and champagne deliveries, to Zoom spa nights and parking lot Margarita meet-ups at Chili’s. THESE will be memories that I remember when I think of Covid – amongst other things of course – but these ones are sweeter.
BE RESPECTFUL OF ONE ANOTHER
A simple guideline to friendship. And human-ing in general, right? Navigating adulthood can be a beast sometimes. And there’s nothing harder – and more damaging – in friendship than guilt being added on top of an already stressful calendar or to-do list. The beauty of friendship in this decade is simply the understanding that our priorities all look incredibly different. And then accepting that. Present options for connecting until something works for both of you. And pleeease, don’t ruin the time you DO catch someone’s attention (whether by phone or in-person) by merely speaking of all the time you don’t get to spend with that person or bashing them for neglecting you as they handled other priorities in their life. Pick up where you left off and maximize your moment! My friend, Shelli, does this phenomenally! Shelli and I have been friends since the 4th grade (yes! 20+ years) and sure, we spent almost a decade together in school which made it super easy to build, but once we graduated, our lives went in opposite directions. To this day, Shelli and I have a mandatory monthly dinner date (give or take 1-2 weeks) and from the moment we greet, we’re catching up and squeezing every bit of conversation we can out of our 3 hours together. When plans need to shift, she’s extra flexible and always comes up with a plan B, C, or D. Her effort matches my effort and it’s one of my most special friendships.
INDIVIDUALITY IS KEY.
There’s, literally, NOTHING better than knowing you are bringing your total self into a friendship. Feeling completely comfortable in all of your quirks, your flaws, the snort when you laugh, your crazy dance moves, your gifts, talents…everything. Resting in your authenticity and being truly accepted is a level of freedom that will only enhance other tips necessary to cultivate these relationships in the healthiest way. It unlocks the door to more transparency and vulnerability, more diversity, more fun, more adventure, more levels of friendship.
Speaking of vulnerability and transparency, OPEN UP! One thing I struggled with – for years – was feeling any worth in my thoughts and opinions. My words didn’t matter. I stayed silent and let my “friends” around me unknowingly mold me into who I needed them to need. It was a subtle transformation on the outside, but it was wrecking me on the inside. It’s like going around in life with tape on your mouth. Think about how many times you’ve had an opinion to express or a joke to share – imagine being silenced? Express yourself. Don’t confuse vulnerability and transparency with weakness. NO. These two qualities usher in trust and are the building blocks for the firm foundation of meaningful friendships.
NAVIGATE YOUR BOUNDARIES
Honest moment? This is a hard one for me. Boundaries are easy to set, but with family and my closest circle of friends, they’re most difficult to enforce. Can I get an amen!? There’s a point in any new friendship when you just know it’s different than the others. When your connection is elevated and you get a sense that you’ll be doing a lot more life with this individual. Am I right? For me, it’s in those moments when I need to be reminded of my emotional boundaries in friendship and make sure that I’m either 1) quite firm in them, or 2) if any feel like they could be in jeopardy, I need to vocalize them or make them known. One of the boundaries I struggle with the most is neglecting myself and my own feelings to make certain that my friends are okay, happy, satisfied at all times. In many ways, I aim to be the peacekeeper even if it sacrifices my own peace. If a friend has an issue – whether with me or not, I tend to assume that it’s mine to “fix” or “solve.” Lately, I’ve been feeling the Lord holding His hand against/in front of my chest – almost holding me back in a sense saying “stop, this one’s not for you.” Sharing these boundaries – and challenges in maintaining these boundaries – with friends helps me stay in check and helps them in holding me accountable. What is your boundary? What line do you have drawn in the sand when it comes to friendship? Do your closest friends know this?
“How’s your heart?” That’s one of my favorite questions. At least when some of my friends ask it, because those “some” typically take my answer and follow up with “why’s it (good/meh/okay/sad)?” They dig. They’ve learned when to dig, how to dig, and how long to dig for. And they’ve taken the time to understand that I’m still learning to express my feelings – I’m still learning to find worth in expressing my emotions. So even though I’m struggling, it’s easier for me to isolate and shut down than to openly share right away. And so they dig and don’t allow me to fester too long. Learn your friends enough to dig. This doesn’t just have to pertain to digging up hard emotions. In conversation, on fun girls nights, get curious and ask questions about their lives – their childhoods, their likes/dislikes, their struggles and hardships, and celebrations. This continues to build the foundation of a safe space where they can open up and become more and more transparent about their lives.
Woody Allen once said, “80% of success in life is just showing up.” In order to create a meaningful friendship, make sure you are showing up. Physically and figuratively. How are you making your presence known? This could, quite literally, mean being there for special occasions or just because of moments. But it could also mean a simple check-in. A quick test to see how your friend is doing. A card in the mail to let her know you are thinking about her. Consistency, more often than not, reaps consistency.
Some of my favorite moments in friendship are those where we say “can I just keep it real for a second?” I call them “friend moments.” Moments when I can unleash my flesh and get something off my chest quickly, moments when I connect with a friend over a comment on periods or drinking, eating something I shouldn’t be, moments when we binge trash TV and then critique it as if we have any idea who these people really are. Moments when we ooh and aaaah over houseplants and kitchen appliances, and moments when we hop on a 6:00 pm Zoom call (#Covid) looking like we literally just rolled out of bed <— No? Is that one just me? Just keep it real.
INVEST ALL OF YOU.
I read something on Google that said “intentional friendships have a mutual investment. This means you don’t have one giver and one taker, but two people mutually engaged to see growth happen.” So beautiful. But that was a novel concept to me when I first saw it. Mutual investment. For so many years, I felt like the giver. So much so, that at one point, I spent a season simply taking just to try and even the score. It took me years to experience any type of mutual investment in friendship and while it was refreshing, it still wasn’t a concept I grasped fully enough to seek in future relationships.
PARTY IN THE PRESENT.
BE FUN + BE PRESENT + BE GRATEFUL
This is one of my favorite tips. And don’t sit there thinking I sprinkle this one out from my little friendship podium. It’s likely my favorite because it took me the longest to absorb. This tip was one I only recently began to chew on and implement in my own relationships. Let’s break this one down:
BE FUN / Simple as it sounds. Have a good time with one another. Find reasons to celebrate. Celebrate the small stuff. Laugh often. Go on adventures. Make memories. Balance out the crying and deep vulnerability chats with some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fun! Some of my best friendships have some of the most insane memories – some of those stories, I can’t even believe it was ME in the middle of them!
BE PRESENT / This was the kicker for me. Leave your past friend hurts out of current relationships. Rest in the RIGHT NOW. I could’ve easily ruined one of my best friendships a few years back when I continued to compare our current state to our past. I lived in a state of nostalgia, constantly wishing I had now what I had so many years ago – the same closeness, the same need for one another, the same crazy experiences. But the reality was, I was pushing away growth and age and progression of life. I was begging to push the pause button on a life that was moving with or without my permission. My friend was embracing the change and moving forward. I was doing my damndest to pull her back. And we clashed. Hard. After 13 years of friendship, I succumbed to my broken heart and walked away. Unsure how to cope with my emotions, subliminally aware that I had to start walking forward myself and embrace the change in season. It would take about 15 months for that learning to happen and thankfully when I reached out to her all those months later to reconcile our relationship, she was there, ready and willing to move forward. I’m thankful for having to learn the hard way. I’m thankful for her grace as I crawled my way to her level. And I’m thankful for what our friendship looks like today. That we are able to connect and create new memories without the expectation of things having to look like something of the past. The past is the past for a reason. It’s behind us. The only way to continue building pasts that we are proud of is to be present in the moments we have now.
BE GRATEFUL / Always be grateful for the friendships you have around you, but also be grateful for the ones you once had. No matter the circumstances that may have led to your separation, rest assured that you took something from that dynamic and used it to mold your current role. Sure, I totally miss the good ol’ days when my childhood bestie and I were IN-SEP-AR-ABLE. But I’m also kinda in love with the women we’ve turned out to be and there’s something so beautiful and restorative about the way we’ve circled back after all these years to uplift, encourage and support one another, just in a different – and in some ways, more distant, way. Be grateful for the relationships around you and find ways to express that gratitude every now and then.
I was 26 years old the last time I spent an evening with my ENTIRE group of friends from high school, 31 years old when I started discovering and incorporating some of the above tips into my “new” friendship game plan, and 32 years old when I started implementing them into my “existing” friendships.
I no longer crave a multitude of “average” friendships because I now know what it feels like to experience a few close, absolutely intentional, dynamic, incredible, soul-filling relationships. And I’m grateful for the girls I do have in my close circle. For those whose seasons are newer and for those who have truly walked through my growing trenches with me and decided, for whatever reason, to stick by my side.
Just know, it’s never too late to cultivate the meaningful friendships you may have been praying for or dreaming of.