Making and maintaining adult friendships comes with a series of hurdles to jump. Several years ago, I left my very stable community, sold everything I owned, and set out on an adventure of full-time travel with my husband. It was only then that I realized just how important my best friends were to my mental health and sense of self. While naturally an independent person, I don’t rely on anyone else for much, but being away from the people who I had done life with for years made me realize I had drastically taken for granted their influence in my life.
While my experience is different than most, it boils down to the same simple truth…adult life is busy, and adult friendships take major work to maintain. If you are blessed to have a couple of good friends in your life, you have probably noticed that as you age, get deep into your careers, and build families, your friendships move to the back burner. Multiple research studies show that having a supportive social circle is a pertinent part of good physical and mental health, so losing contact with friends isn’t something we should just accept. Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to nurture your close friendships during the busy years.
Do something unexpected with your besties!
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How to Maintain Adult Friendships
What the last few years of long-distance friendships have taught me is that real relationships, romantic or platonic, take work. If you want your social network to be a strong and stable one, you have to put in the effort. And trust us: You do want health-boosting friendships in your life. Here are a few tried and true tips to help you protect your relationships with your true friends.
1. Keep your expectations realistic.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already come to the realization that your concept of friendship as an adult has to be tweaked a little bit. Your friendships aren’t going to look like they did in high school. That doesn’t mean they can’t be mutually beneficial and healthy, but you need to be realistic. Not every person you attempt to connect with is going to be a good friend match. Not all of your friends are in a place where they can devote time and energy to friendships.
While pouring more intention into your closest friends, just remember that they might not be in the same headspace as you right now. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you and appreciate the effort. No busy adult is going to be able to drop their schedule and meet up every time you get the inkling. You will need to plan ahead more than you did when you were young, and you need to expect a “no” or “maybe some other time.”
Try not to get insulted or frustrated. The best way to avoid hurt feelings is to avoid planning or dreaming about meetups before you consult your friend. Don’t spend two days planning this amazing night out in your head and then contact your bestie. That’s a recipe for disappointment.
On the flip side, if a friend is consistently not interested in setting aside time for you, it might be time to move on from that friendship. You’re not a doormat. You’re valuable. Your time is of worth, and your friendship is valuable. Don’t waste it on those who aren’t interested.
2. Make friendship a priority.
The harsh truth that nobody wants to admit is that having no time for friendship is pretty rare. Most people have time to pick up the phone; they just don’t. Case in point, my best friend works a full-time job running her own farm. Her husband has a separate business that she does all the finances for. She has four children ranging from an infant to two tweens, and they’re all involved in multiple sports and extracurriculars (aside from the infant). Her life is the epitome of busy. We still speak multiple times a week, and we make time for game nights and shopping together. How? Well, we make it a non-negotiable priority.
Yes, there are times when we can’t get together as much as we want. There are weeks (or months) when it just can’t happen. However, there are also weeks that I go watch her son’s basketball game just so I can spend an hour with her. There are times when I pick up her favorite Sonic drink and take it to her on lunch break so I can hug and show her that she is seen and important. Close friendships, like romantic relationships, must be made a priority in order to be successful.
3. Don’t ask for more than you’re willing to give.
Friendship is a two-way street. Sometimes you give more than you get, and sometimes it’s the opposite. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as one person isn’t doing all the giving, all the time. Friendship, like most of life, is a “you get what you give” kind of thing. If you never pick up the phone, don’t expect them to. If you never put aside other activities to make time for them, don’t expect them to either.
4. Choose your circle of friends carefully.
If your intention is to build healthy relationships, you need to choose wisely, especially when trying to make new friends. You don’t need a large group of friends. You have less time now to devote to friendship, and you need to focus on the ones that enhance your life. Think about the people who encourage you, give you honest feedback, make you laugh from the depths of your belly, and show up at 3 am when your house is on fire. These are the people you dedicate your time and effort to. Let everyone else be a casual acquaintance. Remember: You can’t devote the necessary time and effort needed for a strong friendship to more than a few people.
5. Schedule the time on your calendar.
Unfortunately, in the adult world, you often have to schedule your hangouts around youth soccer games, work trips, and community responsibilities. Spoiler alert: If you aren’t married, you might find the same applies to your date nights. In order to prioritize friendships, whip out a calendar, call your besties, and schedule time to spend together. Once it’s on the calendar, move heaven and earth to keep the appointment.
6. Be the kind of friend you want to have.
Think about the aspects of friendship that you value and the things that you expect your close friends to deliver. Then, deliver on those things for them. If you want friends that are there through thick and thin, you have to be that kind of friend, plain and simple.
7. Take ownership of the communication.
It stinks to always be the one who makes the call, but if your friend’s life is busier than yours, you may have to. You’re probably not interrupting anything. You’re not a pain in the butt, and you’re not a burden. They likely appreciate the effort, even if they don’t have much time to talk at the moment. Make the call. Send the text just to let them know you’re thinking of them. The more you communicate with your old friends, the more you both crave that conversation, and the more likely it is to happen again soon. When your friendships are “out of sight, out of mind,” it’s easy to forget how important they are. Keep communication at the forefront.
8. Think outside the box.
Hanging out with adult friends takes some creativity! Perhaps you offer to go get their grocery pick-up, arrange a joint babysitter so you can have dinner out, or utilize kid’s night at your local church so you can head to the coffee shop for an hour. The point is, it doesn’t have to be a full girl’s weekend for you to have meaningful time with your friend. Your get-togethers may have to look different than they used to. They might be short and occur at a weird time of day, but the effort is worth it!
9. Utilize technology.
While there are certainly downfalls to everyone being glued to their phone and spending hours scrolling through social media, technology does make communication easier in some ways. If you know that you can’t get together with your friends for a while, make a point to send them some funny memes, a relateable TikTok, or a blog article you think they will love. These little gestures keep you connected even when you aren’t together.
10. Be open and honest.
While vulnerability is a hard trait to master, most people are intensely drawn to those who are open and honest about their feelings. There’s just something refreshing and enviable about a person who is confident enough in themselves to be open. You don’t have time for phony, and you don’t have time for surface-level relationships. Be open to difficult and meaningful conversations, and be honest about what you expect from a friendship. Be honest in your opinions and your friendship advice. Present it lovingly, of course. Nobody wants to be beaten over the head with the truth. It might put you out of your comfort zone at first, but when you find a trustworthy friend, strive to be open with them.
11. Don’t let one failure lead to more.
Just because you missed one opportunity doesn’t mean you have to call it a failure. So you meant to plan a day trip for your bestie’s birthday, and you let the time get away from you. These kinds of things happen in real life. That doesn’t mean you can’t snag a quick gift they’ll love and take it over. Remember, you aren’t perfect, and your friendships aren’t going to be either. Just because you failed at communication last week doesn’t mean you give up on this week. Just pick back up and try again.
12. Do the little things.
Adult friendships are often based on little loving gestures. It might be all you have time for. A text message, a birthday card in the mail, or an offering to babysit so they can go on a date make all the difference. These little things show your friend that you care, and they are vitally important.
13. Strive for safety and reliability.
A good friend is a person that you can trust with your deepest feelings and your most intimate thoughts. Be a wall, not a gate. Any information that comes to you should stay inside your walls and not be passed on. Be a safe place for your friends, a place where they know they can come for advice and encouragement, not judgment or gossip.
People value reliability. When you make plans, try everything not to cancel. When your friend is in need, drop what you’re doing and make them a priority. Basically, show up for the people you love.
14. Give a little encouragement.
We all have enough judging eyes on us every day. Whether it’s demanding spouses, overbearing bosses, or needy children, most adults are burdened with the expectations of others in one way or another. Be the kind of person your friends can come to for a positive word. Don’t lie or be phony with empty compliments or faulty advice, but be the kind of friend that points out your people’s strengths and speaks positivity into those areas. Your close friends should know that you are a place where they will be accepted and pushed to be better. True friendships should encourage and challenge us to be the best versions of ourselves.
15. Get good at meaningful conversation.
If we’re honest, most of us could use a little help in the conversation department, especially in the days of smartphones and pandemic isolation. When you get a rare moment to spend with your adult friends, make the conversation meaningful by not shying away from tough questions. When your friend is talking, position yourself facing them with an open body posture and good eye contact. Practice active listening, meaning that you repeat important things they say, never interrupt them, and ask open-ended questions to clarify what your friend is saying.
Don’t shy away from difficult subjects. Don’t try to dominate the conversation, and take mental notes of your friend’s likes and dislikes as you speak. These little notes come in handy later on when you want to give a gift or make a special gesture.
16. Respect their personal space.
Be confident in yourself and in the nature of your true friendships. With demanding jobs, families, and responsibilities, no responsible adult needs a codependent friend. Make contact, keep up communication, and make an effort to spend time together, but if your friend just can’t right now, then respect their personal space. You and your closest friends are likely opposites in a lot of ways. Try to respect their personality, their boundaries, and their time.
Fun Ideas for Spending Time With Friends
Need a few ideas for spending time with adult friends? Get creative and look for activities that don’t take much time, a big budget, or too much planning. Small meetups are better than nothing!
Early Coffee Shop Date
The only time you have might be early in the morning before work. Take advantage of it and meet your bestie for coffee.
Quick Lunch at Their Workplace
If you have families and busy jobs, then your 30-minute lunch break might be the only chance you have to hang out. Take advantage of it.
While small activities are great, you should try to schedule some real quality time away from the normal, everyday stresses every once in a while. Once a year or so, try to schedule a spa day or road trip to your closest national park together.
This one probably won’t happen much, but if you get a long weekend, try to get away together. Spend the weekend in a nice hotel. Watch movies that make you laugh or schedule activities that you both love. Doing this just once a year can make a huge difference, not just in your friendship but in your overall well-being.
Sometimes it’s easier to get together if you bring the whole clan along. Hiring a sitter for both sets of kiddos is cheaper, and you won’t have to deal with any whining from the spouses. Choose something that allows for a good conversation, like dinner and a game of mini-golf.
Dog Walking Outing
Everybody has to walk the dog. Plan to meet your bestie in the local dog park or at the end of their driveway and do it together. It’s an easy way to get in some good quality time while doing a daily chore you have to do anyway.
When I had a home, my best friend and I used to spend time together doing chores. I would go to her house, and we would knock out her cleaning, and then she would come help me weed my flower beds. Good conversation makes yucky chores more enjoyable.
If you can’t get away from the kiddos realistically, just schedule your hangouts with friends at the local playground. The kids can run and laugh and climb, and you can enjoy a few adult minutes.
Alternating Dinner Nights
This Friday, I will cook, and we can play games at our house while the kids watch a movie. Next week, we do it at your house.
Special Event Celebrations
Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are the perfect time to show your friends some love. Whether you plan a surprise party, throw a dinner soiree, or just show up at their job with a present, don’t let the big days go by without acknowledgment.
We hope this article has given you some ideas and encouragement on pursuing adult friendships. They certainly come with a whole new set of challenges, but solid, life-giving adult friendships are possible with a little work. Choose your friends wisely. Be realistic about what you expect to get and what you can give, and enjoy the little moments! Adult friendships do look different, but their benefits actually make the rest of your life more fruitful and enjoyable. Good friendships decrease social isolation, let you know that you aren’t alone in this stage of life, and give you the encouragement and support you need to thrive in tough times. A true friend is worth their weight in gold!
How do you and your friends keep your relationships healthy? Share your wisdom with us in the comments!
Are you struggling to make friends as an adult? Try some tips from “How to Make Friends as an Adult (And Why You Should!)”
Still not convinced that friendships are that important in this stage of life? Check out “The Benefits of Having a Best Friend.”
Frequently Asked Questions
Devoting time to adult friendships takes understanding, effort, and creativity. Check out Adventures From Scratch: Friends Edition for some fun and simple hangout ideas!