When I first moved to Philly in 2016, I was 27 years old and didn’t know a single person. I had lived in San Francisco for the past 10 years and had managed to build a strong support system there. This task of making meaningful friends as a transplant in my late 20s proved a challenging experience.
In my early 20s, I used to be the type of person who would always call one of my closest friends the minute something big happened and I needed advice. But after some reading in my mid-20s, I began to question this habit.
Borrowing an ego?
In The Defining Decade, author Meg Jay describes why your 20s are important and how to make the most of them. In one chapter, she details how behavior like my younger self’s tendency to always call my friends when spiraling was robbing me of the opportunity to calm myself down, arguing that I was “borrowing an ego.” Jay claims that constantly reaching out in a moment of need is letting someone else’s frontal lobes do the work. She warns that if we “externalize our distress too much, we don’t learn to handle bad days on our own. We don’t learn how to calm ourselves down, and this in and of itself undermines confidence.”
I took these words to heart and stopped calling my friends every time I was in a crisis and felt incapable of processing it myself. I began to rely on myself more, and that independence felt good.
Then and now
During my college years, it was easy to form strong bonds with friends because I didn’t have many responsibilities. I could spend quality time with them almost every day. But I no longer have the luxury of abundant free time to develop that kind of rapport with people.
Now, in my 30s, I find that most of my peers put the majority of their energy into their romantic and familial relationships. They’re less proactive about making friends than they are about finding romantic partners and being successful in their careers. Friendships are put on the back burner and only become relevant again when something happens in life that leaves folks needing the extra support.
I had knee surgery this year, and it forced me to assess the quality of my friendships in Philly. It really hurt to have close friends not check in with me when I was unable to leave the house for a month. After living in Philly for three years, I thought that I had developed a good support system here. Post-surgery, it was pretty clear that these friends weren’t ride-or-dies; meanwhile, friends from California were offering to fly out and support me through recovery.
An adult investment
People can be fooled into thinking they have plenty of friends because they always have someone to call when they want company for a beer. But do you have someone in your corner that you feel comfortable reaching out to when you’re weeping? As I head into my 30s, I find it harder to ask for help when I need it.
It’s easy to forget that friendships need time and investment, just like romances or families do. There are people in my life whom I would love to become closer to, but because of our mutually busy schedules, we end up being able to meet up only once every couple of months. If I feel a personal connection and want to develop it into a stronger friendship, I ask the person to hang out one-on-one. Pursuing friendships when you're older takes effort similar to pursing a romantic partner—you have to actively prioritize quality time with friends.
Who is there for you?
People accept losing contact with good friends as a part of life. But good friendships don’t just fade naturally. They weaken because people become so self-involved—or so invested in prioritizing romantic partnerships—that they are not as present or open with others. As a society, we’ve never had so many ways to distract ourselves from feelings of loneliness. When a time arrives in which you really need extra people to lean on, you realize there's no one there because you haven’t nurtured those friendships.
Up until my late 20s, I leaned on my friends for strength, but I spent the following years seeking strength in myself. Maybe I took it too far when I read Jay’s words encouraging me to establish my own coping mechanisms. Because I chose not to lean on other people in times of need, I started to erase the core value of friends. If you don’t let anyone in, how is someone supposed to be there for you? Ultimately, who are you trusting with your vulnerability?