Writer Briallen Hopper once had a close friend explain her priorities in precise order: her child, her husband, her work, her friends.
“In her life, a kid thing would always trump a partner thing; a work thing would always trump a friend thing. This was the best way she knew of trying to impose some order on life’s complexity, but to me it seemed like a terribly reductive way to think about human relationships—plus, it was no fun to know that I would always be the lowest priority in her life. Our friendship didn’t last,” Hopper writes in a lovely essay about friendship in New York magazine.
Maintaining strong friendships can be difficult for any practicing adult, but as Hopper points out, the challenge is particularly keen for single people:
“It’s difficult to organize your life around friendship in a world that’s built for couples, and it’s doubly difficult when your time with friends is seen as a fun extracurricular instead of a basic human need,” she writes.
I thought about Hopper’s essay recently because I’ve spoken with a number of single people who are pining not so much for a romantic relationship (though they’d be happy to find that too) but for a certain kind of friendship. They watch television shows where the single characters have deep friend networks—they cook big dinners together, help each other move, and are always available for emergency Negronis when heartbreak occurs.
Real adult lives aren’t always like that. Friends marry, have children, move across the country. This means that single people often find themselves at age 27 or 33 or 62 with unwanted space in their social calendars. This happens all the time, to very good people, but there is almost nothing in our culture that acknowledges this particular rite of passage. We understand that it’s normal for a single adult to search for love, but search for friends? That’s just embarrassing.
But if you scratch the surface, you find many others going through the same thing.
Many years ago, I went to a speed-dating event. Although it was billed as being for men and women in their thirties and forties, I frequently found myself sitting at the table with men in their sixties.
It was depressing, but something wonderful also happened. In the ladies room, everyone was laughing.
The woman standing next to me by the mirror gave me a sympathetic smile. “How are you doing?” she asked.
“Hanging in,” I said. “You?”
Reality shows like The Bachelor would have you believe we’d have been sizing each other up and cat fighting. Instead, in aloof New York City, we were bonding.
I didn’t find a date that night, but I did end up going to dinner with two women from the event. That felt like the luckier break.
How do you make new friends? How do you nurture the ones you have?
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.