What the heck happens to friendships when we get older? It’s a question I’ve mulled over for more than 3 years now, since the start of my last semester of college. Genuine friendships just don’t happen as easily or authentically as they once did. They just don’t.
Generally, friendships are formed at key points in life when we meet new people – first on the playground, maybe then a church group or high school friends come in to the picture, then in college or on the job, and each relationship looks totally different. I’ve been privileged to have several close-knit crews through different stages of life.
Led by our fearless and hysterical youth pastor and his wife, my first group of super close friends beyond elementary school was my church group. We were together constantly. I probably laughed more in a week with them then I have in the past couple years all-together. Not kidding. I seriously think those friends “got me” better than anyone else ever has … or maybe ever will, to be honest.
Then, after a terrible but enlightening year away from my hometown and a bought of what I later realized was depression, I met a crowd of people during my second semester of college who were kind of like me, a hard enough thing to find on campus when you’re a modest, conservative Christian who doesn’t want to be a recluse or super weird but also actually tries to live by Biblical principles. Alongside these friends, I became an adult. We had a ridiculous amount of fun. Adventure was paramount, but within the safe boundaries of common beliefs. We stayed out until early morning to watch people play soccer in a garage and eat tasty food afterward at a restaurant reminiscent of the inside of a tree. Together, we transformed from young, giddy kids navigating dates and test to grownups – graduating, getting married and starting careers. They are some of the most genuine believers and people I’ve ever met and I learned a lot from each of them.
I love these people. Seriously, I’m so thankful I’ve had the chance “do life” with them. We’ve cried together, laughed together. They’ve been by my side through tragedy and triumph.
But inevitably, even with all the good times and common ground, things changed.
In some ways we moved on, whether due to distance, new responsibilities, jobs, marriage. The semester before graduation and then into my first ever “big girl” job, this reality came crashing down. I’m totally okay being alone (shout out introverts!), but for the first time in life I was lonely … lonely to the bones! I was stuck between guilt for not seeing my pals as often and anxiety while adjusting to new places, a new job, new people and a new relationship. It was a rocky transition.
Has that happened to you? A relationship changes and awkwardness displaces once deep conversations. Chats about life turn into apologies for not catching up more often. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
It’s tough. But I think it’s normal.
You can disagree, but as the years have passed and after listening to several of my friends who are now in the same place, I think it’s a part of life. Friendships go through seasons. Just because things change doesn’t mean they have to be bad. It’s just reality. A solid friendship at 18 might look like late-night study groups and spending every waking hour together; at 28, married and maybe with kids, it might mean the occasional dinner, text or almost quarterly run-ins where you pick up where you left off (hopefully).
At the same time, you can’t underestimate the power of genuine friendship. I cherish my friends, past and present. I relish the times we do spend together at weddings, showers, small groups and the occasional weekend hangout. Practically speaking, I know friendships are vital. We need other people, their perspectives, their encouragement. Biblically, it’s also pretty clear that making yourself vulnerable and available to others is huge. Here are just a couple of ways the Bible talks about friends:
Friends make you better.
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Friends help you in times of need.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” So practical, love it!
This all can be difficult to come to terms with, and I can’t say I’ve handled each situation very well. I’m still learning, of course. There are friendships I should fight harder for. There are things I could do better, and in many ways I haven’t been the best friend, but in knowing I’m not alone, I can have grace on others and on myself.
If you’re about to go through a similar transition, maybe you’re a student about to leave for college, or leaving college for your career, here are a few tips – learned the hard way – for navigating change:
- Face reality – If you’re moving, graduating, starting a new job, chances you’ll see some friends less often. You’ll also make new friends. Likewise, if you’re transitioning into a stage of life with new responsibilities – a career, kids, marriage – you can’t expect things to just be business as usual. Stuff will change and that’s okay. Recognize it, consider how you can/should adjust, and roll with it. You may have to make some mistakes or have some tough conversations, but that’s reality. It’s better to anticipate this stuff than be blindsided.
- Talk it out – Speaking of tough conversations, if you find yourself experiencing those awkward feels around one of your old friends, or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with guilt because of your “poor performance” as a friend, talk it out with whomever you need to. I know it’s hard. I don’t always go through with it either. But try. Try to tell friends you’re struggling. Tell your pals you value them and how things are changing for you. Chances are they’re probably experiencing some of the same things. It’s hard to have conflict beyond a vague text on a screen, but it will be worth it.
- Don’t give up – You know the old saying, “make new friends but keep the old”? Yea, that. Even when it’s hard, take advantage of chances to spend time with those friends you hold dear. For the few people you seriously consider your “bffs”, keep trying. Keep getting together when you can, even if not as often as you’d like. Take opportunities to meet new people. Go to that small group where you don’t know anyone. Appreciate your coworkers – you see them more than anyone else so be their friend, too! Don’t give up … for their sakes and yours.
To my friends, thank you for being awesome. I love you and even if with the busyness of life, know I’m thankful for you and always looking forward to our next time spent together.