The friend in need, or the friend who only needs? Let’s talk about everything no one told you about navigating friendships in adulthood

“Friendships don’t magically last forty years…you have to invest in them,” says Carrie Bradshaw to Miranda Hobbes in a bus to Atlantic City, a trip that she somehow managed to put together with her friends. Bradshaw is no example of a good friend, but this probably must be the only sensible thing she has said. Sure, all relationships need investment, but no other relationship is expected to be on the back burner as much as friendships are.

I was 20 when a childhood friend was getting married. I was nowhere close to it, but threw myself into her celebrations the way she’d wanted me to. I didn’t care that I didn’t understand why one would want to get married this early, she was happy, so I was happy for her. We were planning a bachelorette when her father told her, ‘You’re getting married now, stop this ‘friends friends friends’ all the time, there are more important things to do’. Ouch. Another less extreme example. I have a cousin I was really close to, who grew apart when she got married. I overextended myself as much as I could, but when I couldn’t, I was okay with the natural distance. My mom, however, said it’s on me to keep in touch, because ‘now she has kids, she’s more occupied’. So my masters, placement, job, moving out, and living on my own, none of it is occupying. Gotcha.

Society is all about aspirations. When you’re in school, you aspire to get into a good college. Then, comes finding a good partner. Then, having kids. Also, side by side, be there for your parents, be present for your family functions, spouse and family included, etc. From our childhood, we’re told to be a good son/daughter, a good sibling, a good spouse. The list goes on, but almost never includes being a good friend. It’s almost as if friendship is a filler between your life’s transitions. The suckiest part about it? You don’t get to know if your friend has ingrained this ‘friendship comes later’ attitude till you’re a full grown adult, and end up being left behind for more important life decisions. And then, you find out. Well, I feel sorry for you.

Actually, I feel sorry for myself. I am the friend who didn’t fall for the society-set hierarchy of important relationships.

This isn’t a rant about losing friends. In fact, it’s only natural that when your definition of friendship evolves, the number of people that qualify as a friend dips, and it’s no one’s fault. When you’re in school, everyone most commonly has the same shit to deal with — teachers, other friends, exams, a crush or two. Easier to bond, right? Then comes college — your stream determines your mind space and the kind of people you want to hang with, who bunks classes, who doesn’t. Group sizes go from 10 to maybe five, and then there are multiple groups, the calculation can go on but I’m guessing you got the drift.

However, the toughest one to navigate is when you’re in the middle of just life things — the job struggle, the marriage pressure, the long-term relationship’s collapse. Welcome to your 20s, it sucks, you’ll love it (will you?)

When it comes to navigating friendships in adulthood, there are two things that determine your closest friendships — effort and expectations. Can we keep in touch with our inner circle every day? Maybe not. Do we still make the effort to check in with them every now and then, and make sure we know of all the big things that matter to them, and they know of us? Did you pause before answering that? Exactly. That’s effort.

The expectation part is where lines can get blurry. We expect that our problems are similar, or that we must live the same kind of life to understand each other. And when that doesn’t happen, we withdraw. The single friend thinks her issues are too trivial for the married one, and the married friend feels his or her single friend would not “understand”. But isn’t the essence of an adult friendship the maturity to be able to be individuals leading different lives, but still be there for each other, and still get along? I should know; my best friend of 15 years and I haven’t lived the same life after the first two years of our friendship, and yet, here we are, me babysitting her one-year-old, and she listening to my dating horror stories with as much attention as she did back in the day.

A life-changing experience recently determined where I stand on what my friendships mean to me. In May this year, in the middle of the raging second wave, I lost my grandparents, both of them, within 12 hours of each other. No, it was not COVID, which left us even more unprepared, and traumatised us further. Yes, peak of grief. No one can visit, no one can condole. One one hand, some of my closest friends, or those I thought were close (given they were always comfortable emotionally dumping on me) thought an Instagram DM with a “so sorry” was enough. And then there were those friends that called, messaged every morning, saw me the first chance they got, checked in with my mother, offered to do whatever they could to comfort me. This heartbreaking incident was enough to tell me one thing — I’m no more at that age and in the space where I want friendships that only take — be it my time, emotions, or my love. And I realised that as adults, the friendships that stick are truly the ones that are with you ‘in sickness and in health’, the ones that sit with you in your grief like no family or spouse can. Grief changes people, and it changed me enough to know that I am a friend who has been like family to many, and hell, I deserve the same.

So do you, and so does anyone. Friends are families you get to choose, right? Chosen family isn’t meant for the back burner. After all, even Charlotte York said that our friends could be our soulmates. And I can’t help but wonder — do you ever get through anything without your friends?

I know I never do.

Also Read; The Discomfort And Necessity Of Boundary Setting