Adult Friendship: Fool’s Errand or Noble Quest?

Ah, women of a certain age.

I’m referring to my own age bracket, mid-twenties to mid-thirties. I just finished reading MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. This book was so on-the-nose for me that it was both painfully funny and just plain painful.

I’m a 27-year-old white woman living in a new town with her soon-to-be husband. I’ve lived in four states in four years, my friends from school are in Texas or scattered across the United States, and I don’t have any local, really-truly close friends.

Well of COURSE these guys are friends. Image via iloveyouman.com

The premise of the book is that it’s hard for women in their late-twenties to mid-thirties to make a new best friend. We all know it’s hard for men to make new best friends. But men have buddy comedies, bromances, I Love You, Man. On the other hand, everyone assumes that women make friends easily: we chat, we get involved, we’re friendly, whatever. But women have Bridesmaids, full of female competition and the difficulty of keeping lifelong friends; Sex and the City, which purports to be about friendship, but the hetero-sex-focus is built right in; and Thelma and Louise, which, well, yikes.

I’m one of those women who have always said it’s easier to be friends with guys. Less drama, more videogame fun  In elementary school I had a really close group of friends, and then in high school I had a rotating clique of close, if fraught, friendships. But in high school I hung out largely with my then-boyfriend and his friends.

A high school female friendship is, to my mind, a beast unlike any other. It’s prey to so much adolescent competition: for guys, for grades, for other friends’ attention. Mean Girls is exaggerated, but not by much.

When I hit college, I made good girlfriends again. The competition diminishes in college, partly because we’re all more confident in who we are and what we want, and we’re all looking ahead in terror at Real Life. Plus, it’s difficult to stay angry at someone when you’re relying on her to help you get back to the hostel in a country where you can’t read the alphabet, let along the language.

But then we all graduated and went on to jobs or more school, and we couldn’t just pop downstairs and pick each other up for brunch in the cafeteria. And random text messages just don’t cut it.

Is this even possible?

So now I’m (arguably) an adult, living with my chosen male life-mate, and settled semi-permanently in a place where I can find friends. But how do I do it?

I’ve got a couple of girl-crushes nowadays, sure, both in real life and online, girls I would love to move from the quite-friendly acquaintance space to the very close friend spot. Maybe you’re reading this, ladies, and wondering if I’m talking about you. (See how I inserted some needless drama?)

The trouble is, we’re all so busy just getting from day to day. And it’s hard to find someone I like who is not only local but also in the same life stage. This girl is great, but she’s got young children and maybe feels I can’t really relate. That girl is my age and we have some stuff in common, but our personalities don’t really mesh.

Early in life we make friends by circumstance, and we end up with tons of them. Later in life, though, we can choose our friends, but we find and keep fewer.

Rachel Bertsche, author of MWF Seeking BFF, goes on 52 girl dates, one a week for a year… and she doesn’t really end up with a new best friend. Friends, yes, but a best friend? No.

Is it an impossible quest? Will my new friends remain only friendly? Will I ever have someone I can call just to chat? I’m really not sure.

What do you think, readers? Women, how have you found adult close friends? Men, how about you? Or, do you readers think searching for adult friendship is like that snipe-hunting game kids play: cruel, hopeless, and tons of work that accomplishes only hurt feelings?

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22 thoughts on “Adult Friendship: Fool’s Errand or Noble Quest?

  1. Love this post! I’m a, ahem, little bit older than you, but still in that bracket. And yes, it is DAMN difficult to find someone my age who is best friend material. I have young kids, and I stay home, BUT I write. So I don’t fit in with the stay-at-home moms who want to talk about their playgroups (I don’t even belong to one), but I don’t fit in with the working girls either. Quite a pickle. Good thing I’m a writer and anti-social by nature. 😉

    1. I find that the staying home writing is a pretty big impediment to friend-making generally. Lots of people don’t get it and assume I’m just sitting at home eating bonbons. Which I would totally do if I had some bonbons. But mostly I’m working my tail off, and when they make vaguely insulting assumptions, it makes it difficult to become friendly. I digress, though. Maybe it’s good I’m anti-social, too! 🙂

  2. First, I love Adriana’s reply. Anti-social by nature.

    I’m quite a bit older than you and remember feeling that way. I moved somewhere new, was at home writing while my boyfriend turned husband was out in the world interacting with people. What happened for me is that I met people at events, parties, through freelance writing, through sitting at coffee shops and writing, but didn’t find a best friend. However, over time, I came to realize that my best friend did not need to live near me. I could call an old friend, my sister, my aunt when I needed a little true friend-love and enjoy the new friendships for what they were – uncertain but somebody to laugh with or to give advice to or to go to an event with. After many years of being in the same town (we finally settled down), having children, getting back to work, I found that some of those people who served the “have a laugh” function years earlier were now of the “lean on me” variety. Best friends rarely happen overnight but sometimes happen over time without your even realizing what you’ve been cultivating. And best friends in adulthood are often deeper friends because they live with you through real struggles and you see each other for who you really are . . . usually.

    We are all looking for somebody to connect with and that is why we usually find each other.

    1. That’s good to know. And it takes time, I know. It’s nice to think that the casual friendships I’m making now may turn out to be “lifers”–and all those casual things we do together are building toward a real friendship.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  3. Good post, Kristin.

    I’m 42. At this point, I relish connecting with my old friends via email and phone. I realize if I want/need to make contact with my good friends, I have to make the effort. Making new friends? A new best friend? I don’t see it happening because there’s just not enough time in the day. It takes a lot of effort. If it happens randomly and unplanned for me, I will consider it a gift from the cosmos.

    1. That’s a lovely way to think of it, and also a bit depressing. 🙂

      The whole time/distance issue is the biggie for me. I have dear friends, but they’re in different time zones, which makes it really difficult to stay in touch. It would be so nice to have someone here in town who is easy to reach… unfortunately, that’s where the time issue kicks in. None of us have time. If we want to spend time together, we have to plan it about a month in advance. It definitely takes effort.

  4. Love this post! I have struggled with finding new friendships over the last 10 years or so, mostly since becoming a parent to some high-needs kids – nothing like getting shunned from most groups of people you meet when your kid is acting out. Because of that, I’ve isolated myself and found it hard to find anyone to relate to, let alone who relates to me. But when I stopped looking for someone who could relate to what I was going through, when I stopped looking for a BFF, I realized what I needed was a friend who could be with me through all of the tough stuff I was dealing with and still like me and my kids for who we are now, not who society thinks we should be. It’s taken a crisis or three to see who is left standing there with us when the dust settles. Those people are my closest – though maybe not BFF’s – friends.

    1. That’s rough. I’ve experienced that crisis-sloughing of friends, and it’s unbelievably painful to see who can’t take the pressure. Still, those who come through, you know are worth loving, even if you can’t be joined at the hip.

  5. I wish I was best friends with Jason Segel.

    I never really had a best friend, I don’t think. High school was so long ago. I think I spent most of my time in a group, rather than spent time with an individual. This was 100% due to me living so far out (further than you).

    At community college, I did have one close friend, but we just fell away from each other one day and haven’t talked since. Wasn’t anything bad that happened, we just stopped talking for some reason. After that, I stopped even trying to meet people from my classes.

    I have a few close friends now, but no best friend. Well, I take that back. I do have a best friend, but he moved back to the Houston area for work. Plus, he drives me insane if we hang out too much. So I guess he’s not really my best friend.

    I think it’s just as hard for men to bond. Most forego friendship for their significant other, something I rarely have. Do I get annoyed? Sure. Do I blame them? Absolutely not. I continue searching.

    1. I wish Jason Segel would be my friend, too. I’ve considered stalking him, but I don’t think that would lead to friendship. 🙂

      I don’t really think of myself as HAVING a best friend. I have two wonderful friends who might tie for the spot–they’re my bridesmaids. But most of my college and definitely my highschool friends have largely become online/Facebook friends. It’s sad, but I think that’s part of growing up and getting busy.

      And I’ve been totally guilty of forsaking friends for significant others. Oops. I was young and naive and, well, it’s hard not to do.

      Male friendships fascinate me because you guys are a weird combination of completely unsentimental and fiercely loyal. Female friendships (often–NOT ALWAYS) fail on both counts — sentimental but willing to stab in the back… they’ll sniffle as they pull the knife out. Ouch.

  6. It’s hard to find new best friends. Everyone seems to be so busy! Most of my closest friends are phone friends–a grade school friend, a college friend, my writing friends. Having a friend close-by seems to only happen on TV shows.

    1. It’s true. Sitcoms have conditioned me to want girlfriends I see every day. I want a bar downstairs where I can meet my friends! …except in reality that would probably lead to larger jeans, a slimmer wallet, and a drinking problem! LOL

      That’s awesome that you have a grade school friend you’re still in touch with! I moved midway through junior high and didn’t manage to stay in touch with my elementary school pals, which saddens me. No one knows you like the people who saw you dressed up as Luke Skywalker when you were 10.

  7. I am right there with you, Kristin. I met my three best friends totally by accident, and we all live in different countries (USA, Canada, Scotland, Wales), which makes it difficult to get together. Two of them were at my wedding, though, which was the first time we’d all three been together in years.

    I don’t have a lot of friends around here except for the people I see at work. It is really hard to make new friends as you get older, and barring those “lightning strike” moments of love at first sight, I haven’t really made that connection with anyone since I met Ashley in 2008.

    I just realized that was four years ago. I think I need to get out more.

    Very good post — I definitely felt that resonate. I read it on my phone and my husband thought I was bobbing my head to the music; I nodded so much.

    1. My friends are scattered, too, though not internationally! That must be seriously rough. My two closest female friends are coming from Texas to be in my wedding, and Harry Potter drew us together this summer. The distance always seemed a huge barrier to me, but your friends are even farther. That’s rough.

      I’m glad the post resonated with you — we’re the same age, right? It’s nice to know I’m not the only twenty-something semi-loner out there. 🙂

      1. We are indeed the same age!

        I’ve always sort of gravitated toward having one or two very close friends and other than that not really having a large circle. I’ve also had a lot of guy friends. It does suck a lot that Julia and Jordan and Ashley are all so far away — but it also gives me more of an excuse to travel. 🙂 And we manage pretty well.

  8. Great post Kristin. I’ve definitely found it harder to find close friends as I age. I am lucky to have a few, but with small children, I don’t get to see my friends as much as I’d like…so not only is it harder to find friends, it’s harder to find time to spend with them!

    1. Thanks Laird!

      I get the kid thing. One of my potential pals has kids, and it’s rough for her to find the time for us to get together. I think she also worries that her kids will frighten me off, or that I won’t have fun if she has to stop what we’re doing to comfort a crying baby. Most childless folk don’t scare quite so easily… but that’s perhaps a different blog post! 🙂

  9. Great post! I feel your pain. I moved away just after high school. When I moved back to the area I grew up in 10 years later, I found most of my friends had left the area. My husband and I have struggled to make new friends. Everyone kept telling us that we would find a whole group of new friends once we had kids, but that will be a few years off (we plan to adopt). I have to say, I really miss having close girlfriends to be able to go out with on a regular basis.

  10. Really insightful post. I think I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always been involved in activities where there were lots of women. I moved from Honolulu to Seattle when I was 25 and went to work as a nurse –> nothing like grinding through the night shift (and the bloody marys at breakfast after work) to cement friendships. A few years after that I started singing in the choir at St James Cathedral, and I’ll tell you, my three best friends now were in that alto section with me back in 1991. My mom probably told me to join the choir to find a boyfriend, and while I never dated anyone there, I ended up with something even better.
    😉

  11. As one who tended to have just the 1 or 2 BFs but ‘lost contact’ as I moved first into further ed, when they didn’t, made a new one, lost her when I moved into higher ed, and she didn’t. Found a couple more there, but marriage, different area and even dif. country spoiled that, I actually found my longest lasting BFs in Playgroup!
    Yeah! And I was writing at the time, but also taking my boys to the village playgroup, where, because it was a village there were women of all stripes, and a whole bunch of us were university educated and had been in careers before having our chidren. Here I found people I liked, were like me and with whom I could find time to bond while we all helped out at the playgroup. As you can imagine WE didn’t just talk babies and toddlers! And with children grown and us back to our careers we still meet up for ‘ladies’ nights in’ and drop in for chats over a glass of wine now and again and of these 2 I would also call Best friends in that they are the ones I feel most at home with. So, in you have littleones don’t dismiss the playgroup – get involved.

  12. This goes for women even older than you. I was a mother late, so I was already out of sync with women who had already bonded over babies. I stopped working, so didn’t have the office network. I still have friends I have known since 4 years old. That’s great, but I’ve changed and at 50+ I’m looking for women who share my current passions. Strangely enough, I have found them in different parts of this country (we met online then in person as we traveled together for our shared interests). However, in my own home town I have been searching and searching for that one person with whom I can pick up the phone and go “Hey, I have a plan. You game?” and have her answer without hesitation “Sounds great!”

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