The 20′ struggle for authentic friendship is real.
Yesterday, I reached out to my long distance friends over a message to say, ‘is it too much to ask for a best friend?’ To both my surprise and comfort, all four of us found ourselves confessing the 20’s struggle of finding deeper, more authentic connections wherever we have ended up. It turns out this is no isolated struggle.
Perhaps, like me, you have recently graduated, moved to a new place or just faced the reality of watching others move on. Maybe, you’re working out who to be friends with, or where to turn to as you build a new community. Some of you will be surrounded by community but desiring those fewer, deeper and committed connections. Whatever your 20’s friendship need, and despite the joy of friendships already attained, feeling discontent is more normal than you think.
We are struggling to figure out friendship, particularly in the reality of our changing and transient 20’s.
Over the past year I have struggled to find and feel authentic in my friendships. But I’m also hugely grateful for those developed. A tension exists. I have walked with other friends across the UK and learned from their 20’s struggle also. Hopefully, in sharing these tensions surrounding authentic friendship, we can all be encouraged to hope for (and start to find) unfolding beauty.
‘I am so thankful to have so many vibrant friends in my life. But I feel like I’m bouncing from person to person, because I haven’t found a best friend who’s constant. If that’s the reality, I’ll take it thankfully, but I see others settling into more exclusive friendships around me, and often start to feel like I’m getting left behind.’
‘I’m married which is wonderful, but I’m in need of friends to! It’s hard to find life giving friendships where we are.’
‘I have some great friends, but we only see each other every month or so. I’m struggling to bring that joy of deep and authentic, best-friend connection into my every day.’
‘I’ve felt this way for years… as if I have all this fun stuff I want to do, but no one to share it with. I guess that’s just the 20’s struggle…’
‘Everyone seems to have that ‘best friend’ or ‘partner’ but it’s actually difficult to find. And no one tells you that you have to work hard for your friendships!’
‘I just graduated, and I’ve suddenly realised that the ‘real’ world is so much slower when it comes to forming friendships. I’m losing touch with so many folk I went to uni with.’
These statements are all (paraphrased) real tensions I’ve discussed with others. It seems that in the reality of post grad or 20’s life, there is a culture of struggle for friendship. They illustrate some of the issues in our individualistic society and expose the complexity of insecurity often felt. Most importantly, they indicate that it’s completely common to find yourself feeling a little discontent, and perhaps, a little lonely to.
Still struggling for authentic friendships
I’m still learning. We all are. But, as I have struggled for more authenticity in my friendships at mid-20’s, I have learnt a few things. I want to share a few thoughts and speculate on how we might be able to change the ‘norms’ of this transient 20’s friendship crisis – one step at a time. This isn’t exclusive, but a glimpse in three parts.
Want authenticity? Want freedom and life-giving friendships? You have to be vulnerable. There have been so many times, when I have missed out on friendship because I didn’t want to admit my insecurities.
Take yesterday for example: I was feeling alone and confused about something. I could have sat in that alone, but I took the courage to voice it, not knowing if I’d be met with care or not. Yet in being vulnerable, I led a conversation through which, others then felt safe to share. Incredibly, we all realised that the things we thought we were facing as unique sufferers, were things we all were feeling. This brought us closer, encouraged us, and brought us into a more authentic place.
Vulnerability is not simply about opening your deepest insecurities or off-loading everything to everyone all of the time. That’s not healthy or life-giving. But, having bravery to share more with somebody, plants seed for flowers to grow.
I have been actively trying to put this into practise for about 6 months now and here are a few things I’ve tried:
- Asking someone to join you doing something you’re interested in, even if you don’t think they would be. I’ve connected and found common ground with people I didn’t even know I could share with! Running has been particularly great fun with others.
- Joining in with someone else’s conversation. This obviously requires sensitivity- don’t go interrupting a deep chat! But is there a random conversation happening in your office? Have confidence to chip in and share. Just this morning three colleagues were chatting about how long they shower for (fun carbon footprint conversations happening here), and I chirped in. Yes, it was trivial and might have been a bit weird, but that’s vulnerability! We had a very fun and friendly conversation.
- Be open minded! When someone asks you to do something. Go! Do it, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. You might just bond with someone in the process.
- Share the funny and the failure. Did you see something hilarious? Do something embarrassing? Fall over? Tell the next friend you see and laugh about it. It’s always good to giggle and will make both of you more secure in authentically owning your shortfalls, learning to humour and enjoy them.
Now, we can attain as much vulnerability as we like, but unless we pair it with commitment, I don’t think we’ll ever solve the 20’s friendship struggle. Authentic friendships don’t bounce back and forth, sharing spontaneously and then calling it a day. All good, deep and secure relationships require commitment.
Let’s consider a romantic relationship for a moment. Somehow, in our culture, this still holds value. We are willing to commit. We decide and choose to spend regular time, scheduling in our ‘every Friday…’ or ‘weekly date night,’ which becomes habit. When the other is vulnerable, there is a deeper security, knowing that you’re not going anywhere. There is less pressure to keep your cool because you’re committed. You respect each other and that respect is played out in commitment to be there, to choose each other, and in a way, work towards becoming a family or ‘unit.’
Friends, if we are so able to bring commitment to our romance, why can’t we have the same commitment to our friends? I’m not suggesting this is required for every friend. But if you want deeper friendships, it’s maybe time to suggest to one that you explore that deeper commitment for a season. We all need a team. We can reframe friendship to move beyond the coffee date and busy schedule, to the weekly Friday night ritual or Monday morning run. We can make covenant with our friends to say ‘I’ll be your emergency cup of tea, anytime, any day!’
What if we all started making this commitment? How many more people would begin to model the notions of family, forming friend families or partnerships that feed into and source their participation in the wider social circles?
Note: finding and committing your people also requires letting go. There is a limit to the number of close, committed relationships we can attain. Hence, we need to spend a little time figuring out who the key, life-giving, vital people are and then decide to choose the faithful few – even when it costs.
Note 2: This ‘choice’ doesn’t mean we become a clique. It’s still vital that we open to interactions with wider circles, welcome the newbie and invite those in our spheres who could benefit from finding friends. The point is to help everyone on the way to a richer friendship life.
Hard work and service.
Loneliness costs. But so does friendship. Once we face that reality, I believe we may begin to see authentic friendships flourish.
True friends struggle in their friendship. Friendship, like any relationship, requires hard work and service. The 20’s struggle to find authentic friendship, perhaps, occurs when we are not struggling together.
I think today, the western culture around us feeds a false narrative that friendship is a selfish pursuit, where we will always feel fulfilled. We want people who make us feel good, we want to hang out entirely for our own fun and if anyone has a different opinion, they are no longer worthy of friendship. This is so fickle.
Friendship should be serving. We should enjoy friendship that inspires growth and serves another. Two Friends who are different in values or opinions but compete to out-serve each other (at times placing their own needs or ideas of fun aside), will thrive as they foster grace, sacrifice and unconditional care for one other. They will learn from each other and develop in character. Their friendship will move beyond fun to core memories embedded in love and service.
At times, friendship is hard. We don’t always agree. Patience will be required in a season, whilst another will bring joy. Generosity for your friends will cost. Choosing kindness is at times difficult. That is the reality of friendship – the reality that movies and Instagram highlights never show.
Towards the Authentic 20’s
May we begin to foster vulnerability, commitment and service in our struggle to find authentic friendships. We can change and transform the cultural 20’s narrative that brands us as the fleeting, ‘figuring-out’ transient characters of society – one step at a time. And the great thing? As we do this through friendships, we get to bring others along and lead the way ahead to authentic community culture.
How are your friendships? What are you struggling with? What do you dream of seeing in an authentic friendship?
For more resource and discussion on friendships, check out Jennie Allen’s Podcasts. As an alternative lens to my speculations, these discuss the issue of loneliness and the opportunities loneliness gives us to seek out others and build the invite you’re longing for.
Jennie’s podcast episode on loneliness:
Jennie’s Book, ‘Find your people – building deep community in a lonely world’ :