I read an article in the NY Times about how it is difficult to make friends when you become an adult. ‘Adult’, in the context of this article, meaning “someone who is late 20’s and up”, and friend meaning “best friend material”. Here is the link.
I read the article as soon as I read the title, because it’s true: the overwhelming majority of my best friends are from college. So I am a data point that concurs with this author’s thesis: as I grow older, I make fewer and fewer BFFs, and more and more KOFs (kind-of friends).
If it’s true, it’s depressing: are those of us who didn’t make enough friends as college kids doomed to a life of friendlessness?
Yes, the author says. He says, as you accumulate family and colleagues, you don’t even realize that you aren’t making friends – and perhaps losing old ones – until you’re hit by something big, like a divorce or moving to a new place.
As you hit your thirties and forties, you statistically start hanging out with a diminishing number of people (but grow closer to those whom you do hang out with). Apparently, when you hit 30, you start prioritizing; spouse and kids take up most of your mind space; and it is with lesser and lesser frequency that you can hit those 3 ideal conditions that make ‘real’ friendships possible. Proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages sharing confidences.
Family is a big downer on friendships. I lost a few friends to marriage; their wives (very justifiably) did not like me. I called up one of my college-friends who lives in Chennai and asked him if he’d like to meet, and without batting an eyelid (I could see him in my mind’s-eye), he told me, “I’m a married man now, I don’t think I should be hanging out with people like you!” After I got over the first retch of indignation, I think I understood what he meant: any invitation to him was automatically him +1. And the +1 may not like me very much.
One part of the article that really frightens me is the author’s assertion that we do not make new friends because we apply the brakes on our process of ‘exploration’, and self-exploration gives way to self-knowledge; as we grow older, our new friends ‘fit the mold’. We stop letting friends change us when we grow up. When I was a college kid, there did not exist the person in Chennai that I would not drink with. That circle has shrunk almost to a point now.
Time – available time – is a major factor. When I read the article to its depressing finale, I asked myself how many ‘best friend types’ I had made in the last few years. I could count – one. An entrepreneur who lives almost adjacent to my office. I asked myself: I meet so many people every day; why just one addition to the inner circle? One factor is definitely that he always seems to have time for me; if I call him and say, let’s catch up, let’s discover a new place to eat, let’s go to a magic show, whatever, I know that the default answer is likely to be ‘yes’. So few of my other new friends seem to have time for me these days…
And will that be me in a few years from now? Those twin evils of growing old – the family and the career – will no doubt take their toll on my time. Being an entrepreneur gives me a degree of freedom with my work hours that no salaryman can expect; but a married Q will be tied to the home and hearth as much as any of his other, former, friends.
And thus I see Age dragging me screaming and kicking from the kind of self-exploration and spontaneity in my social circles that I allowed to define my life in my 20’s. How dreary to see decade upon decade of sameness, Ajit at 70 the same (at heart) as Ajit at 30!
Why even go on?