Friendships are an important part of life. Many of us crave that sense of companionship or having someone we can go to during difficult times, to bounce off ideas, and have a good laugh with. As you get older, friendships can feel few and far between. They get more difficult to maintain, and you’re less likely to make new ones in your day-to-day lives.
You might have friendships already, but chances are the dynamics have changed. As for me, I often feel like I’m the outlier friend.
A Change in Dynamic
When we’re young, school and mutual friendships are a common thread that binds us. We’re pushed into the same environment with the same group of people every day. It’s only natural that we form our own bonds and groups.
We make these friends by regular proximity and then meet more friends through them, building a circle. Once we graduate, however, many of us go different directions. We get jobs, go to school, or move out on our own to different areas. Even today, the communication is often few and far between with people I used to talk to all the time.
As we get even further into the depths of “adulthood’, these dynamics shift more drastically. People get time-consuming careers, find spouses, and have kids. As someone who has been parenting since the age of 20 with no plans to have more kids, this can feel divisive. My kid is in a completely different stage of life than all the newborns and young kids cropping up amongst my peers. Chris and I are getting to an age of more freedom, while others are at a more locked-in, all-consuming stage of life.
As a natural introvert, making friends is not something that comes easily for me. It takes a long time for me to warm up to people. I either have friends I’ve had since I was young or am adopted by extroverts and fall into their friendship group. Mutual friendships is even how I met my husband! Though, we still don’t remember when exactly we met.
Here and there, I’ve made some friends from work that have carried over to real-life friends. Still, the amount of friendships I’ve developed in my adult life can probably be listed on one hand.
A common problem I encounter on top of being introverted is that I don’t find a lot of people I feel I relate to. Part of this might be the area I live in, but if I find myself in a conversation that I don’t have much interest in, I’m not super engaged. Sometimes people do try to engage with things that interest me, like my travels. However, if I feel like they’re just humoring me or if it’s not someone I’m comfortable around yet, I’m not quick to launch into conversation. I’m not a natural talker and quite the empath. If I sense that it’s only talking for the sake of talking, it’s hard for me to vibe with the conversation. I’d rather sit in silence, but I find silence is uncomfortable for a lot of other people.
Am I the Outlier?
Aside from a couple of close friendships I’ve made over the years, I’ve had two distinct friend groups since I was a teenager. One group consists of old friends I’ve known since 9th grade or earlier. The other is a group I was almost adopted into after coming around with my ex all of the time.
Both groups consist of some great people and we have fun when we’re together. But, there is a common thread when I’m around them. I often feel like the outlier friend. I feel like I’m the one that doesn’t belong. Perhaps it’s a bit of imposter syndrome, but I feel like I’m on the outside looking in and everyone else in the group is better friends with each other than I am with any of them. I catch myself thinking “Well, it sounds like they hang out and talk all the time”. Meanwhile, I probably haven’t shared even an extended text conversation with any of them in a long time.
This sometimes creates a sense of sadness at not being someone’s go-to person or feeling like I don’t have that go-to person of my own. Then again, I’m not sure how many adults do feel like they have that in their lives outside of their partner. It may just be the nature of getting older and paving our own paths in life. I’m sure many of us miss those close-knit groups from our younger years when we all had a lot less worries.
I’ll be honest, I may be the outlier friend by my own design. I’m notoriously bad at keeping in touch with people. I’ll forget to text back (or intentionally not text back if I’m trying to spend less time on my phone or in a certain headspace that day), I won’t respond if I don’t have anything more to say, and I’m horrible at initiating hangouts with anyone. Usually, I’m feeling stressed from my day-to-day and need the time on my own to unwind, or I don’t have the mental energy to arrange something with complicated schedules on either end. If I do try and things get complicated, I often take on a “fuck it” mentality. That’s probably how I wound up initiating get-togethers less in the first place.
On the other hand, I am always there to listen and will always be there in times of need. And if something is planned in advance and I say I’ll be there, I will be. I’m usually down for most things, as long as it’s not extremely short notice and I haven’t had time to pep talk myself up for socializing.
Though I’m bad at keeping up with friendships, I am grateful for the times when we do make an effort to get together. Whether it be our yearly friendcations, celebrations, holidays, or meeting up for dinner, we find ways to get together. It would be easy to say screw it to those things, but somehow we still manage to make it happen.
Who knows which friendships will stand the test of time as our lives continue to change? Some have been around through so many stages of life already and I’m sure they’ll be here to stay. While some days I feel like I have more acquaintances than friends, I know in the end we’re all just trying to navigate life and find our way.
I still can’t say I’ve figured it out. Muddling through life is a big factor in not keeping in touch as well as I could, but I’m lucky to have companionship in many forms. I know those friendships that are meant to last will still be here when I need them. I’m also one of the lucky few who actually enjoys spending time with family. Not many say the same.
How have you navigated friendships in adulthood? Do you struggle with maintenance like myself? Do any other introverts out there feel like friendships are more challenging for them?
One thought on “The Outlier Friend”
This was such a thoughtful exploration of friendships and how our roles/places within them can change. I have noticed things shift as I get older (it seems harder to make new friends as I age); but I do have a core group of people in my life that I am lucky to be a part of. You’ve given me some food for thought here as I think I need to adapt better to new situations, etc. Thanks!