On my 28th birthday, I had a lot of reflection to do. Think of anything a 28-year-old would be thinking about and chances are that I thought about it.
One thing I reflected upon was how to maintain meaningful friendships in adulthood. By meaningful friendships, I don’t mean having occasional “what are you up to?” chats with your friends.
I really value friendships — like a lot. I want to be able to talk to my friends abouot deeper issues. I still need the joy and thrill it is to have friends that I can count on—and who can count on me for getting through different life situations.
Meaningful friendships have been very instrumental in helping me examine and get rid of unhelpful beliefs like homophobia and other unhelpful and dangerous forms of absolutism. Meaningful friendships are growth opportunities for everyone involved, and I don’t want to give up on them as I age.
At the same time, many friends my age are also preoccupied with things like getting married, having children, pushing hard in their careers, getting their masters or doctorates, and so on.
This is not as easy as life was in university at 21 where what we cared about was pretty much making good CGPAs. With new challenges, forming a meaningful friendship can be really tough—but from the meaningful friendships I have, I was able to develop an approach to making and keeping those friendships alive.
One of the saddest parts of what it means to be an adult is that most adults give up on the talents and interests they had as young people as more responsibilities begin piling on in their lives.
Talents and interests are some of the most common ways I have always made friends in new environments — Not just as an adult. When I first moved to India, my very first group of friends was not the ones in my engineering classes but the those I played basketball with or jammed with in the music club.
As an adult, I found that this is still an effective form of making and keeping meaningful friendships for a few reasons.
- Many adults reconnect with their talents and interests as a way to escape their hectic work lives.
- As adults, it’s not very easy to just walk up to someone and ask them to be your friend like young people can. So talents and interests can serve as a meeting point for people who can actually make meaningful friends.
These shared interests can open the door to meaningful friendships with you. The friends who helped stand-in for me when I was required by the Indian government to register an Indian person as a business partner and so on were the people that I met on the basketball courts, or the ones that I always played guitar with, or the ones I painted and shared my painting passions with.
Talents and hobbies serve as a great meeting point for people and during what feels like play, people are much more laid back which means they’ll let you more into their lives than if they met you in a boardroom somewhere at work where you both are trying to be as professionally animated as possible.
People you meet at work can often turn into meaningful friends as well—you should not entirely avoid them. But you should not feel like they are your only source of making new friends.
The good thing with interests is that they aren’t fixed. You can always develop new interests by remaining curious and through those, you keep learning. And continue developing a circle of friends who can not only laugh at each other’s memes, but share your journey of progress as well.
I desire some level of independence but I also find so much comfort in having relatable experiences. When I speak my truth, I find people with similar life experiences or similar beliefs and there is so much power in having friends that share similar beliefs.
I was born and raised in Africa, with a high level of homophobia, in a country and community that considers one religion as absolute truth and the only way to live. My challenge is that I don’t share these beliefs. I am straight but I understand that it is not the only sexual orientation that exists. I was born into a Christian family but I also respect Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains,… all have their beliefs that I can get so much benefit from experiencing, so I don’t hold my Christian faith as absolute.
This has affected the nature of friendships I have here, because it makes me feel I have to fake the friendship if someone thinks that gay people should go to hell or that foreigners should be deported, or that all other religions are fake. This conflict in beliefs poses a hindrance to forming meaningful friendships because the friendship comes with a lot of conditions and issues to hide.
Speaking my truth and seeking to reconnect with my true self has led me to find people who share the same open-mindedness as I do and with these people, we talk and help each other out regardless of where we are in life. I am not afraid that when I share my thoughts with them, they will judge me for it—because they already know what I think about those ideas.
Meaningful friendships must stand on a pillar of as much unconditionally as possible. Meaningful friendships cannot be formed or satisfactorily maintained on lies and pretense. If you seek to form a meaningful friendship with anyone, you owe them as much of your truth as possible.
One of my qualifications of what it means to be an adult is that you must have a lot of understanding. As an adult, you will always be able to have an idea of the nature of the relationships that you have. You will be able to tell when the friendship is full of life and when it’s instead life-draining for either you, the other person, or both of you.
Friendships age, just like anything else, and with this idea in mind, you will naturally treat each of your friendships as something worth keeping while it is still alive for both of you.
Psychologically, we tend to hold much value on expensive things and things we know are limited. In my friendships, a “goodbye” has always carried so many emotions compared to a “hello”. This idea plays on the principle of scarcity.
It is more of a psychological shift that we have to adapt if we want meaningful friendships. I have learned to use this sense of scarcity to understand where to put my energy in friendships and know what I value. Here is how.
Having spent more than half a decade in India I found that I had many friends from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Africa. I have friends in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Sharjah, Isreal, China, Afghanistan, UK, US, Canada, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia. Within India, I have friends in Vellore, Chennai, Uthukkottai, Bangalore, Mysore, Coimbatore, Thrissur, Kochi, Nagercoil, Nagpur, Bareilly, Delhi, Assam, and so many other places. But I have not been to all those places.
Knowing that I am probably never going to visit all these places to be with all these people creates two possible courses:
- I can drop the friendships or allow them to fade
- I can find a reason to hold them close despite the distance
The fact that being presented by these two options automatically creates a principle of scarcity where I know that my time with them is limited. If I choose to have them around, there has to be a very good reason why. I can reach out to them in chats as I assess whether I should keep them around as friends, and when I find that our friendship isn’t strong enough at the moment, I give it distance. In most cases, it ends there—but sometimes, we rekindle the friendship with time.
Knowing that my friendships aren’t always going to be here helps me be more thoughtful and true when I am with them. “Carpe diem mentality” if you’d like. And when the time comes that the friendship has to grow, you won’t be fumbling around trying to fulfill unresolved ideals.
I do not “break up” with friends. But as an adult, I cannot keep up with all of them and I don’t think it’s the best way to nurture friendships.
When I see a friendship isn’t like it used to be, I simply shift the identity of the friendship. Some friends are simply “Hi” friends and these people, it can take me months or a year to catch up with them. But my more meaningful friendships cannot go more than a month of not catching up, so I make a point to do that.
I do this so that I can have more time to have meaningful conversations with people. If I spend much of my time forcing conversations with long-lost friends and laughing at their memes, it takes away from the time I need to nurture meaningful friendships with those people that are interested.
I also make sure that I don’t force any friendships, because doing so only hurts the friendship. Sometimes, meaningful friends become Hi friends and vice versa. I know that as an adult, that friendships can change, for the better or the worse and so I don’t dwell on memories of what could have been or what was when I have friends.
As a rule, all my friends have the potential to be meaningful friendships even if we are simply Hi friends at any one given time. The rotation keeps my friendships alive and when they end, am also thankful that I had them.