Let’s be honest: school is a never-ending merry-go-round of potential friends and relationships. From pre-school to college, all of the essential ingredients for building lasting, open friendships are all around us at all times. We have the constant proximity, the ability to let loose and be ourselves in social settings, the lubrication of alcohol (towards the later years of our studies, I should hope), and a certain fearlessness about trying new things. We are still in a part of our life that we expect will be changed and molded each day; there is almost nothing about us that is completely settled.
And it seems that the friendships formed during these years are often imbued with an inexplicable but incredibly powerful durability. Even as we grow out of one another in terms of life choices and personality, we can often forgive faults in our school-age friends because the connections seem to transcend the expectations of adulthood. People with whom, at age 25, we might have little in common with can still be an incredibly close friend, as long as they were made at a crucial, formative age. I think we’ve all found ourselves a bit nervous when introducing a new friend or significant other to some of the more “odd” friends we made back when there were no rules to who could hang out with whom.
But as we launch into the worlds of professionalism, propriety, responsibility, bills, and sensible happy hours — where do our new platonic love affairs come from? There are now few places in life in which we find ourselves in constant proximity with people in our age group, and let’s not pretend as though the workplace is always a cornucopia of chill people we’d love to become best friends with. We’re often stuck with people around whom we feel uncomfortable at best, irritated at worst. And even if we do really hit it off with someone whose cubicle is next to ours, the professional environment doesn’t usually encourage the same kind of free-wheeling experimentation and socialization that school did. How are we supposed to stay up all night with this office friend, drinking and talking about everything that is beautiful and important in life, making mistakes and going on adventures — all when we have to get up at 7 a.m. the next day and be presentable for the boss?
There seems to be an undercurrent of competition in so many adult relationships, a feeling that people have very much settled into their opinions and judgments about what is and is not acceptable in life and are always ready to apply it to those around them. At the end of the day, no matter how good a work friend becomes, it is very likely that the both of you will still be in direct competition — for a promotion, for social status, for a nebulous kind of “success” that all adults are after. The genuine, unabashed support that is easy to give when we’re in school becomes a liability as soon as you are a grown-up. Everyone around you is expected to be navigating life in a neat, organized, efficient little stream, and no one wants to be the one who cannot keep up.
This year, I made a very good friend by simply meeting her in a bar. She was clearly not having a good time that evening, and my friends are luckily the “the more the merrier” type, so I invited her to join us. We got to talking for a long time outside, and finished the evening by exchanging numbers and promising to call soon. Unlike most drunken “ohmigodyouaresoamazingggg” encounters that happen in a bar, we did call each other, and became fast, close friends. We even went on vacation together, which previously had seemed a rite of passage relegated to friends you make in a much more intimate, less “adult” context. And true to form, some of our friends reacted strangely to our chance meeting. “You met her in a bar?” they would ask, “Like a guy?” As though the only people who can happen to meet while out and find that they really enjoy each other’s company are two people who want to have sex.
Yet, as much as this experience was affirming about how one can forge new, profound friendships after school is over, it is not a common one. And the reactions of friends who find the spontaneous formation of platonic relationships to be bizarre after a certain age only affirm the fear that many of us live with as adults, not even realizing it. There is a fear, though — a fear of being embarrassed. Putting ourselves out there, making mistakes, looking like fallible human beings: it’s all so easy when we are in the thick of experimentation and recklessness and extended childhood. As adults, there is a certain reservation we are supposed to have about everything that keeps so much honest conversation from occurring between us. The fact that I told my friend on the first night I met her that she was really cool and I wanted to hang out with her again is not at all strange. The fact that so many people condescendingly thought I was “brave” for doing so definitely is.
So how does one make friends? There is no formula, no guarantee. But one thing that deep friendships which fly past the markers of superficial brunch acquaintances all have in common must certainly be honesty. There has to be a moment where we are unafraid to be ourselves, to be weak, to be silly, to laugh at ourselves. Even though we are constantly trying to impress each other with our jobs, and our apartments, and how very adult everything is, we cannot let ourselves be consumed with image. If we’re not having an easy time meeting people, there are endless clubs, hobbies, organizations, or just new hangout spots that we could try — but try we must. The spark of curiosity and forthrightness that followed us through school and allowed us to make lasting, beautiful connections with other humans cannot be put out by the desire to be “normal.” Because with our real friends, we are anything but “normal,” and I’d rather be defined by the wonderful people I bring into my life than how organized my furniture is.