If You Want Solid Friendships, You Can't Operate On Auto-Pilot

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
seb_ra/Getty Images

When you’re an adult, maintaining friendships, even close ones, is super fucking hard. It feels like there is always an obstacle making it hard for you and your bestie to put in quality time. Work and families are ridiculously time consuming. Trying to plan a dinner around the kids’ after school schedules, your spouse working late, or your own constantly overbooked time can mean it’s months before you see each other — even when you live in the same city.

Sometimes, all you can do is send a quick “OMG I hate everyone” text after the third meeting that could have been an email. Your bestie may shoot back a similar message, adding that their annoying co-worker is using the communal microwave to reheat fish again. It’s not much, but it’s something to tide you over until you can either have a real conversation or see each other.

Maintaining friendships long distance is also incredibly hard. Thanks to social media and phone plans with limitless texting, it’s a lot easier to be accessible. But that doesn’t mean that we have a limitless amount of time. My best friend lives on the other side of the country, and there’s a three-hour time difference between us. Even though we talk frequently through one medium or another, it still requires a conscious effort on both of our parts.

Our life circumstances are different too — I work from home and she works in an office. Our work hours are similar, so we’re more likely to email during the day, but there have been plenty of times where she’s stayed up late to talk to me on the phone or I’ve interrupted what I was doing to talk to her. One night she called me needing to talk. We were on the phone so long that my young son put himself to bed.

One of the biggest assumptions about friendship is the belief that they shouldn’t require work. WRONG. A friendship is just like any other relationship — if you want to make it work, then you have to put in the effort. If you’re only putting in 20% of your energy into maintaining a friendship, you can’t then expect that your friend is going to give 80% to make up for you lack of commitment. And you shouldn’t expect them to.

When you’re the friend who’s putting all the effort into keeping the relationship afloat, eventually it’s gonna sink. Being the friend who always makes the effort to reach out is exhausting. We have enough on our plates without then having to be the one who does all the work maintaining friendships. And it doesn’t make us feel like you value the friendship.

Our needs and wants as people are constantly shifting and changing. That’s a normal part of life. As we get older and figure out more about ourselves, we may realize that what we need from a friendship changes. As a result, our friendships with certain people may change. Again, normal. But, if you’re feeling shifts and changes, you should tell your friend about the changes you’re feeling. By letting them in, you’re making them an equal partner in the direction of the friendship.

There’s no doubt that maintaining friendships requires an intentional effort from all the people involved. Of course, life gets in the way. Kids get sick, we may end up with a huge work project that consumes all of our free time. Our extended families may suddenly need us. Maybe you just can’t afford a babysitter for a night out. These are all things that just happen. But we shouldn’t continue to use them as an excuse to let our friendships fall by the wayside. More often than not, those are actually the times when leaning on our friends makes everything better. Having someone to vent to when everything is just a little too much makes that overwhelming thing seem a little more bearable.

But, if your friendship does end up falling by the wayside, there are ways that you can fix it. Communication is key. If you are really going through a tough time, tell your friend. A real friend won’t hold your problems against you. If anything, they will try to help you figure out a way to alleviate pressure from you life. Or if you just need some space to go dark for a while, they will understand and give you the space you need. True friends, no matter how close you are, will want what’s best for you. And they will do whatever is in their power to make sure you’re happy, even if that means you won’t get to see each other for a while.

If it’s about time, try setting up a phone date or check-in time. The conversation doesn’t have to be long, it can be as simple as “you good?” and letting that be enough. Write it in your calendar to maybe shoot your friend a quick email to let them know you’re thinking of them. If you see something they like, don’t hesitate to send it to them. They will respond when they can.

Maintaining friendships doesn’t just mean putting in quality time. It means being supportive of the other person. Not feeling like you’re capable of being a good friend right now? Be honest. Your friend would rather know that you’re going through something than think that they’ve done something wrong. Life, and the changes that it brings, don’t have to be a death sentence for friendships. They may cause your paths to divert a little, but true friends will be there when you come back, no matter what.

This article was originally published on