Fact: I have a core group of about five girlfriends who have been in my life for all of 13 years. At this point, I feel like we’ve been through just about every milestone and issue you can think of: bad breakups, falling in love, getting married, having babies, family tragedy, personal tragedy. And while making friends in your 20s can be a tricky affair in that a majority of those connections can (and often will) exit your life as easily as they entered it, I feel like my crew has cracked a code of sorts, despite having wildly different interests (and, at this point, lives) than we did in our 20s.
In fact, while on a hike with one of my besties, I recall us commenting on the fact that the chances of us all meeting and choosing each other again in our 30s was not actually likely because of said differences in personalities. But, with over a decade and so much history under our belts, I can’t picture my life without them. So, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder: Is there a magic formula to finding friends early in life and actually making them stick? Is it simply a matter of sticking it out or is it a pattern of bonding experiences that keeps you in it for the long haul?
According to friendship expert and author Shasta Nelson, it’s actually a bit of both … and then some. Keeping friends (and relationships) at any age is difficult and takes quite a bit of leg work, but making it through your roaring 20s can feel especially hard mainly due to the fact that you’re still figuring yourself out and going through so much change at this time. “Most of the friendships we make in our 20s are built around school or college, who we work with, and mutual friendships,” she explains. “And when one of these periods of time or situations comes to an end, that is when the friendship tends to end, as well.” This can be why so many people experience a revolving door of pals in this particular decade and find themselves with a much smaller pool at the end of it. “Studies have shown that, after the age of 30, people have fewer friends,” says Nelson.
And while some people may simply not be meant to be in your life for the long haul, there are definite steps you can take to get to “lifer” status with a select few — three to be exact, according to Nelson. Check them out below.
One thing I can say about my group of girlfriends is that we’ve managed to navigate some serious changes in the weather together. Thanks to social media and a far too active text chain, we keep tabs on each other on a regular basis. And while I’ve definitely lost some close people in my life to growing pains and change in general, these five have managed to stay in the game. We manage to rally for every birthday, life celebration and milestone, and the occasional dinner or happy hour (if we somehow figure out how to sync our 30-something schedules). Even if we haven’t seen each other in months, we simply pick up where we left off.
“The number one reason friendships don’t make it is because they don’t transition or survive life changes,” says Nelson. “The consistency you once created is no longer there. You have to figure out how to recreate as you evolve.” This can be as simple as scheduling regular phone calls or dinners with your friends, but a proactive and regular presence is absolutely essential here.
In your 20s, you’re literally swimming in a sea of new experiences and change, so going through that excitement with people in the same boat feels natural, safe, and easy. I met my girlfriends when I was a freshman in college and literally experienced a plethora of “firsts” with them — first real job, first love, first heartbreak, etc. This made bonding and supporting each other seamless because we were all in it together (literally). As we’ve gotten older, our lives have definitely wandered to opposite directions, but we’ve never stopped rooting each other on along the way (even when we don’t quite understand or relate to each other’s choices).
As one gets older, and begins to carve her own path, it can get harder to relate and even support a friend’s evolution. Nelson says this leads to disconnection and a lack of positivity in the relationship. “You stop being fully in,” she explains. "If you feel like you’re not on the same page, your friend is judging you, not adding value, or the enjoyment factor is just gone, the friendship will most likely disintegrate.”
Positivity can be a hard value to uphold when you lack a common thread that holds you together. And if you truly feel like the friendship is no longer serving you well, it’s your prerogative to walk away. However, if you truly want to hold on to your bond, make a concerted effort to nurture your friendship and cheer your friends on through the growth and the change, and comfort them through the trials, too. Also make sure you are being served in these areas as well (and speak up when you’re not).
One of the major lifelines of my longterm friend group is the fact that they know me arguably better than anyone else in my life. They know the flaws and the strengths as well as the major pain points in my life. Showing these layers and sides of oneself is not easy and, according to Nelson, it’s this vulnerability that fuels longevity. Because without true, deep connection, you are treading shallow water, which dries up quick, especially as life gets harder.
Being vulnerable is actually a skill that Nelson thinks 20-somethings do naturally well, because you rely on your friends for so much support and encouragement at this stage. It’s when you enter your 30s and 40s that you begin to feel more self-reliant and independent and are less apt to being so open and deep with those around you. Without even knowing it, you lose connections because the vulnerability is no longer present. “We should incrementally increase our vulnerability to reflect the level of history we’ve built with someone,” says Nelson. “People want to feel seen. If one of us isn’t being honest, the relationship stops feeling meaningful.”