The Politics of Friendship

In my early-to-mid 20's, I welcomed the company of seemingly like-minded new people and befriended folk with a moderate amount of enthusiasm. As I inched towards 30, I found that sustaining newly minted friendships became a bit more complicated and difficult to sustain as major life-events unfolded, interests changed, or connections simply tapered off and waned. Now that I'm 34, I find the prospect of building new bridges daunting. I've realized that not only have I reached an impasse of sorts in my personal life, but as much as I enjoy spending time alone, sometimes it feels bleak out on that ledge without someone to chat to or be silly with. The older I become, the more difficult it becomes to cultivate or sustain new friendships with folks in my age group . 

After college and well into adulthood, the pool of friends becomes diluted, people become more consumed by their own endeavors, and relationships start becoming more compartmentalized to fit where people are in their respective lives: mothers tend to gravitate towards other women who have children, free-wheeling singles want to hang out with other single social butterflies, couples want to hang with other couples, etc. At best, social relationships don't go beyond superficial and are fleeting. 

Every now and again, while mulling over certain aspects of life and human nature, I come across something that touches on specific life challenges. The New York Times published a piece written by Alex Williams. Williams touched on the difficulties of navigating newer friendships during a certain age in space and time…
In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends — the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis — those are in shorter supply. 
As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.
No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now. Williams writes.
Experts also weighed in; suggesting fluctuating conditions such as an “internal alarm clock”, proximity, and settings that don’t really prompt folks to want let down their guard enough to share personal information, are also factors; which is apparently why most people have more success meeting and establishing close (and enduring) friendships during college. 
As close as folks can  become at work, often times that dynamic can change once the work-relationship is over and especially when workplace politics start to weigh-into the developing friendship… 
“The workplace can crackle with competition, so people learn to hide vulnerabilities and quirks from colleagues,” says Rebecca G. Adams, professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 
“Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins.”
Of course once regular hanging-buddies and best friends start to cultivate romantic relationships, which also can affect the dynamic of a friendship, their priorities shift and the thought of being a third-wheel makes you cringe.  
And of course for me, aging brings about a certain level of self-awareness that has prompted me to be a little more discerning about the type of people I build with; and to take a no frills, zero tolerance for drama/the self-absorbed/or the disingenuous approach... and at times this can lead to a lot of moments spent alone. Either way, building and formulating new friendships has become a daunting exercise in futility, especially in this social networking age; and while I have no interest in imploring someone to be friends, I proceed accordingly and try to accept my interactions as openly as I can muster without letting any trepidation I feel from prior experiences, mar chances of potentially meeting someone cool or at the very least, a great professional contact. I also make sure my own ego is in check. I’m a firm believer in letting things unfold organically and just being genuine and getting along with anyone making a sincere effort to get on (and get to know) me. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t lament those younger days, not having to contend with the politics networking and building entails in this current technological age, once you reach a certain age.


Unknown said...

I'm 35, and meeting new people is not my thing anymore for a couple of reasons: I don't want to put in the time to get to know anybody else. It seems like I get caught up with worrying about their problems more than they do. And I too, like being by myself.

I could get along just fine talking to no one for long periods of time. My Cousin says that's not normal though. I disagree. *shrugs*


TiffJ said...

re: "It seems like I get caught up with worrying about their problems more than they do."

--Exactly! And I had to learn to stop allowing people to project their issues onto me... and I also had to learn to stop taking other people's problems personally, particularly during those moments I either got thrown under the bus or when folks suddenly turned on *me*. I had to remember that it wasn't about *me*, let it go, and to just move the hell on, because it wasn't worth my sanity. That's not what friendship should be about.

rubyphoenix (Tianna Glass) said...

Every now and then, I decide that I want to actively make friends. Not acquaintances, but real friends that I can call and hang out with for no reason, or even call and chat with. I have no idea how to do this. I still yearn for it sometimes, but I'm not even sure where to start. It's like dating but weirder. You meet someone who you think is really cool and you want to get to know them, but you don't want to seem over eager. You can't come on too strong. Do I just invite them out for coffee? What if they don't drink coffee? Is a movie too intimate?

This usually ends with me not calling and reading a book instead.