I’ve had the same friends for a long time. My closest friend is also my oldest, and we’ve had near-daily internet chats for going on 15 years now. Several of my closer friends are people I knew from high school, separated for a few years by location and logistics, but now back together and once again laughing about the same dumb things over slightly more expensive alcohol. It’s a good feeling, and I try to always be aware of how lucky I am to have it. Whether by choice or by circumstance, a lot of people fall out with the people they grew up with, and are left to fend totally for themselves when it comes to reconstructing a tribe from zero.
And there was a time when I thought that would be my case. Separated from nearly all my childhood friends – who were then at college, when I wasn’t – and then living in a different country, I thought I was destined to struggle to find acquaintances, and to hopefully meet a few imitations of my old friends along the way. I figured we would never have a deep pool of references, inside jokes, and shared experience to draw from, and that we’d be relegated to happy hour friends, joined over our shared love of half-price alcohol and complaining about work.
Because the truth is, it can be hard – really hard – to make friends as an adult. If you don’t have school to fall back on, or parents to force you to have playdates, actually taking the first few steps with a new friend (or having somewhere to meet them in the first place) is a huge obstacle. Many of us just assume that work will be our main source of friends from a certain point on, and that we’ll have to fill in the gaps by visiting our old friends whenever we can. And to be fair, I do know a fair amount of people whose “adult friends” mostly consist of coworkers, and I have slipped into that routine a few times, too. It’s convenient and totally understandable. But I have never liked that, and have been one of those people who looks at “the business of making friends” like a real business. I set dates and keep them, I follow up with people, and I try my best to charge through the awkward getting-to-know-you phase with confidence.
The truth is, to make new friends from nowhere as an adult, you often really do have “platonic first dates” that can be as awkward as their romantic counterparts. I’ve met (now very close) girlfriends in a bar, online, and through mutual friends. And I’ve actually been on those brunches or drinks where you ask basic questions, nervously laugh, and get a little tipsy to make up for the fact that you don’t have a ton to say to each other yet.
And in each of those cases, we pushed through because we knew there was something special there, just like in a relationship. We went on second and third friend dates, things becoming easier and more fluid as we began to share a history and points of reference, and now we’re each close in our own way. (One of my adult-girlfriends, with whom I shared a giggly first brunch only six months ago, now runs a website with me!) The friends I’ve made in adulthood are not at all the shadows of childhood friends I thought they would be, and not having 20 years under our belt in no way detracts from all the beautiful, meaningful friendship we have. We have our own inside jokes, our own activities, and our own, shared sense of humor.
And in some ways, there is an element that is different, but equally satisfying, to the friends you grew up with. You get to proudly say that you chose these people – just as your old friends are people you choose to keep around you today – and you get the unique joy of looking around your social group and knowing that you built it. And when the two groups are able to blend together and actually like each other, few things like more of an accomplishment. (It feels like when you’re a kid and making your Barbie dolls kiss each other. You made a little family all by yourself!)
The point is, if you are ever worried that your 20s will be a dreary landscape of forced, Office Space-esque friendships, fear not. You can meet potential new besties anywhere from your favorite website to your own office, it’s just a question of the effort you are willing to put in. When you accept that you will have to build a relationship, just like you do with a significant other, the possibilities are endless. (And by the way, if a friend-date is not working out, you don’t have to keep seeing them, and I’ve done that, too.) If you are willing to take the plunge and go on those first few friend dates, and nurture them as though they were a “real” relationship (which they are, not only romantic ones are real), you will be rewarded with unique and fulfilling friendships that start smack in the middle of “being a grown-up.”
Just because someone has known you forever doesn’t mean they know you the best. Your soul mates can be found at any age, and sometimes what really matters is someone who knows – and loves – exactly who you are today.