How to Navigate Adult Friendships Well in the Millennial Age

Navigating adult friendships can be difficult. Like, middle school difficult. Why is no one talking about this?! It’s something I’ve personally struggled with and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Adult friendships require time and effort – things we aren’t always able to give.

We might suddenly find ourselves in a new city or stage of life where we struggle to meet new people, maintain old friendships, or disengage from unhealthy friendships. Even with all of the technology we have these days, it seems like there is more distance than ever before.

Older millennials like myself can remember the familiar MySpace “Top 8” roster where we straight up told the world who we liked best (while coding cute wallpaper and finding the PERFECT profile song). Eight seemed like an appropriate number of friends…though, admittedly, we struggled over the last few in the lineup. As demented as it was, I miss that commitment and transparency!

The key word to remember with adult friendships is RECIPROCITY. Whatever labels or status we give our friends should be based on whether or not our friendships are reciprocated. This might sound simple enough, but research suggests that up to 50% of our friendships are unreciprocated! This leads to superficial and unfulfilling relationships. As adults, ain’t nobody got time for that!

If you have a friendship that seems unreciprocated, I have some truth to lay on you: [S]HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. Let go and let God. Quit wasting your time and energy on people who are not holding space for you and focus on making time for the people who are making time for you.

This past weekend, I was able to spend quality time with THREE good friends. This didn’t happen by accident. It took:

  1. Intention – reaching out
  2. Planning – finding the time and committing to it
  3. Priority – choosing to set aside time despite competing offers
  4. Sacrifice – giving up time focused on my work and family commitments

While it can be tough to maintain our friendships as adults, so much good can come from having long-term friendships. There is a level of comfort and familiarity that only comes from thousands of hours spent together. There is no short cut to finding this level of intimacy. When we go through the toughest of times – infidelity, divorce, career disappointments, and health issues – we need deep rooted friendships we can rely on.

Continue investing yourself in those quality friendships that are being reciprocated. If your friends are not SHOWING UP for routine maintenance, you may need to reinvest yourself in more fulfilling relationships. It’s also important to remember that having a “bestie” is great but having one friend we confide in or turn to for support and another we call for weekend outings is no less special than having one “best friend.” The title doesn’t matter, only the reciprocity. Diversify your stock options and invest yourself wisely – you’re a grown up now!

Dr. Tess Breen
Dr. Tess Breen
Tess in a College Professor specializing in emotional intelligence and personal development. Her focus is on transformational leadership and she has a passion for teaching principles to support leadership development and positive change throughout the community. Follow Tess on Facebook and Instagram @drtessbreen

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