5 lies about adult friendships

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When we have a problem with our romantic partner, family member, or even a coworker, the first person we turn to is often a friend. Our friends are there when we need a listening ear, words of encouragement or sharp advice. They help us solve problems and cope with difficult feelings that arise from personal or interpersonal struggles.

But who do we turn to when the problem is our friends? The other important people in our lives don’t always have a sense of our friendships. In addition, we might refrain from turning to another friend if we fear being seen as “gossip” or if we know people in common and want to avoid putting them in an awkward situation. And what happens when the problem is that we don’t have other close friends to turn to?

There is another major obstacle that can make it difficult to manage Friendship challenges – the
misconceptions
we have on our friendships as adults.

Friendship Shame

In my
work on friendship
, I am often struck by the gap between the ideas we have about our friendships
should
be like and the reality of what adult friendships
in fact
involve.

Many of us expect that in our early adulthood we will know how to make friends and overcome the challenges that come with those relationships; that these are skills we learn early on childhood and adolescence, and by the time we leave college or even high school, we should have “understood” it. The problem is that not only this belief
false
, it can make us feel like we are the only person struggling and feeling disappointed, ashamed or alone. This, in turn, makes it much less likely that we will seek advice or support if (or when) we are struggling.

Of course, these types of expectations and beliefs exist for romantic relationship as well as. The difference is that we are generally much more willing to talk about it. For some reason it’s much easier to admit that we find meet awkward, or that we have trouble meeting potential mates.

However, by not being open, with ourselves or with others, about the difficulty or confusion of friendships between adults, we strengthen the belief that
all the others
knows what they are doing. We also don’t give ourselves the chance to put our ideas about friendship to the test and realize that they might not be quite right …

Common misconceptions and truths about adult friendships

1. We should knowing how to make and keep friends in adulthood.

Navigating friendships as an adult can be difficult. Like all relationships, friendships take time and effort, and it’s not always easy to initiate, especially when we’re trying to balance our other relationships and responsibilities. The challenges we encounter in our friendships can also change throughout our lives. Even if we were successful when we were younger, we might suddenly find ourselves in a new city or a new stage in life where we are struggling to expand our social circle,
maintain old friendships
, or even disengage from an unhealthy or toxic friendship. And as wonderful as technology is, it is changing the way we interact and creating new opportunities for misunderstanding that we must learn to deal with.

2. We do not have sufficient friends.

There isn’t an exact number of friends we should be aiming for. What counts as “enough” for one person may not be the same for another. It is much less about the number of friends we have and more about our perception and satisfaction with the social support we receive. Having even one close friend can have an extremely positive impact on our emotional and physical well-being. It is really better to aim for quality rather than quantity.

3. We should have a “best” friend.

As we age, our understanding of what a “best friend” is may change. What is more important than the labels or the status we give to our friends is whether our friendships are
reciprocal
– that is, the two members of the friendship consider the other as a friend. It might sound simple enough, but research suggests that up to half of our friendships are actually
not reciprocal
! It may also help to remember that one person doesn’t have to meet all of our friendship needs. Having a friend we confide in or turn to for help and one we call for weekend outings is no less special than having a best friend or “us.” With whom we do everything.

4. We should hang on to childhood friends.

Stability is an important marker of a healthy friendship. While it can be difficult to maintain our friendships, especially when we are at different stages of life, so much good can come from having long-term friendships. However, people do change. And with that, our friendships too. Maintaining a friendship that no longer serves us because we are afraid to let go is not in our best interests. As we get older, it is normal that we
trim
our group of friends to those we value most, which may include childhood companions or more recent friendships. The friendships we develop as adults can be just as close and fulfilling as the friendships we made when we were younger.

Essential readings on relationships

5. We are a “bad” friend.

There are many reasons why we can judge ourselves harshly, especially when we are in conflict. It may help to remember that conflict is inevitable in any close relationship, including friendships. It can happen with a college roommate, coworker, or best friend over 20. Even though we see ourselves as “conflict averse” and generally prefer to avoid direct conversations or confrontation, we can still be affected by the uncomfortable feelings that result from difficult situations or the thought of anticipated conflict. Of course, endless conflict is another story, but going through its ups and downs doesn’t mean we’re a bad friend or that we’ve done something wrong (and that doesn’t necessarily mean our friend is or has been). ). It is often part of a normal, close friendship. It’s part of being human. And learning to deal with conflict successfully can actually bring us closer to our friends.

What can you do about the misconceptions about friendship?

  • Write down your self-imposed rules or beliefs about your friendships and your role as a friend (i.e. should, musts, and have to do).
  • Challenge these ideas with more realistic and useful thoughts. Changing your ‘to do’s’ to ‘wishes’ is a quick strategy that can make a big difference in your willingness and ability to connect with others – e.g., “I need to make more friends” against “I want to meet new people.”
  • Accept that being critical is really counterproductive. It won’t motivate you to show yourself off and be vulnerable in the way that is necessary to build genuine and close friendships.
  • Recognize that you are not the only one struggling with friendships. We can all afford to think about ways to strengthen and develop our friendships and social circles.

In the end, the key is to be open. It doesn’t necessarily mean opening up to a friend or sharing their struggles publicly. It can be as simple as recognizing our struggles and strengths internally and being open to information and experiences that conflict with our ideas about what adult friendships are meant to be. This kind of opening isn’t just the starting point for challenging misconceptions we have about our friendships – it’s essential for being able to develop close, authentic relationships and maintain healthy relationships.

The references

Almaatouq A, Radaelli L, Pentland A, Shmueli E (2016) Are you the friend of your friends? A poor perception of friendships limits the ability to promote behavior change. PLoS ONE 11 (3): e0151588.

Bhattacharya, K., Ghosh, A., Monsivais, D., Dunbar, RIM, and Kaski, K. (2016). Gender differences in social concentration throughout the life cycle in humans. Royal Society Open Science, 3 (4), 160097.

About Palmer Mohler

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