Look at Life: Adult Friendships

20th April 2018

Would you like to come out and play? The minefield of making friends when you’re an adult…

By Claire Moulds

When we were younger, friendships blossomed from a combination of proximity (living on the same street, being in the same class at school) and shared interests (going to ballet lessons, supporting the same football team). Once we flew the nest, especially when we moved far from home, friends became our family, whether they were ‘work friends’ or ‘housemates’. But we all reach a stage where we don’t seem to be making new friends anymore and some of our more long-standing friends don’t quite ‘fit’ the way they used to in our lives.

Recently I turned 40 and decided to host a small dinner party at a luxury hotel for my closest friends to mark the occasion. To be fair, it was the weekend before Christmas so I thought it reasonable to rule out those who had more than two hours to travel, but, even so, it was very interesting to see who made the final guest list.

If you’d asked me when I turned 21 who would be sharing my 40th celebrations, I’d have listed a handful of schoolmates, maybe seven or eight uni pals and made predictions about future work mates/house mates/family. As it was, my best friend of 29 years was the only school-friend there; I didn’t ask anyone from university and the table was made up primarily of work connections: either I’d worked with one of them or my husband had.

While some might argue we feel closest to those we spend the most time with (which is why ‘work friends’ play such a big role in our lives) most of us have friends whom we might not speak to in over a year but with whom we can instantly pick up where we left off, as if it had only been the day before.

That’s all to do with how integrated you’ve felt in each other’s lives in the past. A more telling factor when it comes to maintaining a friendship is how much the values you share change over the years. In the case of many of my school and uni friends, the transformation of their values over the years has now left us poles apart in terms of where we stand on things like politics, money, family and the environment. In contrast, my birthday guests and I all share a fairly similar outlook on the world. That’s not to say that friends shouldn’t challenge each other or expand each other’s horizons – the world would be a very dull place if we were all the same! – but too much conflict in a friendship is ultimately harmful rather than helpful.  

And while making new friends might not be as easy as it was when we were younger, it’s important that we not only maintain but expand our friendship circles over time for our own wellbeing.In a recent pair of studies, involving nearly 280,000 people, researchers at Michigan State University found that the older we get the more important friendships become to our overall happiness and health – often more so than the relationships we have with our own family members.

Assistant Professor of Psychology William Chopik, author of the study, observes: ‘Friendships often take a “back seat” in relationships research, which is strange, especially considering that they might ultimately be more influential for our happiness and health than other relationships. Friendships become even more important as we age, so it’s smart to invest in those that make you happiest. If a friendship has survived the test of time, you know it must be a good one – a person you turn to for help and advice and someone you want in your life.’

When it comes to making friends as an adult, it certainly helps to replicate the situations that led to the creation of new friendships when you were younger. For my husband and I, taking up ballroom dancing lessons a year ago has led to us becoming good ‘pals’ with most of our class, and good ‘friends’ with one couple in particular; we now see them socially outside of class, enjoying a shared love of food, music and rugby.

Without a doubt, friends are a vital part of our journey through life, bringing colour, laughter, a new perspective and invaluable support to our day-to-day existence. And who wouldn’t want more of that?

Find Your Local