Friendships are among life’s most unique offerings. Here’s this person with whom you have a bond. You share things in common. You support and encourage each other. You call each other’s bullshit. Often, friendships are taken for granted. They’re easy to make when we’re younger. Then, as we age and are yoked with the responsibilities of work and family, friendships fade away and new ones become difficult to find and even more difficult to maintain. Friendships can be complicated. Some end because they need to. Others because life got in the way. Even so, the relationships are a crucial part of life.
Men in particular have a hard time with friendships. It’s common for men to lose contact with once-cherished friends and to not seek out new ones as they grow older. But it’s also common to learn from their mistakes. To that end, we spoke to a dozen men who all reminisced about their experiences with friends. They did so in search of lessons they wished they’d learned sooner, so that maintaining, valuing, and even sometimes ending their friendships would make a little more sense. From the silly to the sincere, here’s what they had to say regarding what they wish they knew about friendships.
1. They Should Feel like a Team Sport
When my friends are successful and accomplish something really incredible, I feel like I’ve accomplished something great too. A victory for one is a victory for all. Great teams don’t try to outdo each other in competition. Instead, they compliment each other while encouraging each other to be great at the same time. For the good of the team. Showing up to celebrate those wins and encouraging your friends is a way to strengthen and maintain those friendships. Friends like that consistently show up and contribute to your growth as an individual, which makes them ideal teammates. Over time the players may change, but the sentiment should still remain the same.” – Cedric, 40, Philadelphia
2. Friendships Come and Go, And That’s Okay
“Your friends also update and change based on the season you’re in. Friendships are formative in our younger years, especially from high school to college. However, as we step on to adulthood and focus on our own lives and careers, most friendships take a back seat. Many would feel sad about it and find that they are no longer close to the friends they used to be close to. However, the reality is that your friends also change depending on where you are in your life. Once you become a dad, you will have a greater affinity with those who are in the same season as you. Nothing is wrong with that.” – Ian, 38, California
3. It’s Okay to Be Vulnerable
“I come from a generation of men whose closest approximation to friendship was whoever you didn’t mind sitting in silence next to in a bar every week. It’s something that I’ve noticed has changed dramatically in recent times. My son was talking about the kinds of things that he and his friends talk about and how they support each other, and I actually got a little jealous when I realized that I don’t even think I’ve had a conversation with my best friend in years that wasn’t about sports or our wives.
I wish that I knew it was allowed and acceptable to actually share your feelings with your friends and seek support from them. That your friends shouldn’t just be people you can tolerate, but people that you genuinely enjoy spending time with. In the weeks following that conversation with my son, I have made much more of an effort to meet my best friend in situations that aren’t centered around drinking. It still feels strange to discuss things openly and honestly but I’m very much looking forward to this next form of communication, and I only wish that my eyes had been opened to it earlier.” – Jonathan, 52, Georgia
4. Sometimes, They Have to End
“I had a friend who cheated on his wife. The keyword there is ‘had’. He brought it up as if he was bragging about it, and it just felt wrong and icky. It was like he was still in college, talking about all the girls he hooked up with that weekend. As he was telling me, I realized that I was disgusted and disappointed in someone who I had considered a close friend. That broke my heart. I didn’t say anything but have gradually cut off contact with him to the point that we haven’t spoken in a few years. That moment was definitely a ‘nexus event’ for me. I realized my priorities were that of a husband, father, and good person. I’m not a frat guy anymore, and I don’t want to be around anyone who still thinks they are.” – Ted, 43, Iowa
5. You Can Pick Things Up Again With Close Friends
“You won’t always be able to spend as much time with your friends as you might want to, because life throws more and more curveballs as you get older. Especially when you least expect it. But with some friends, it won’t matter. However much time passes without you being able to hang out doesn’t affect true friendships. As soon as you do get the chance to get together, you’ll pick up almost exactly where you left off and it’ll be like no time has passed at all. Not all of your friends will end up becoming your best friends, and some of them will disappear without a reason and you’ll never see them again. But the good ones will be there time and time again, despite all of the things that are out of your control.” – Jimmy, 37, UK
6. It’s Difficult to Make New Ones as an Adult
“As an adult, I’ve made exactly one ‘new’ friend in the past five or six years. I’m talking about an actual confidant who I’ve grown to genuinely love. It made me realize that making friends in my youth was so easy, probably because my standards for friendship were different. Adult friendships are likely between co-workers, or people we simply run into on a regular basis at the gym, or out to eat, or whatever. And those people are great. But, they leave. I’ve had work ‘friends’ get new jobs and I never heard from them again. In adulthood, it’s so difficult to maintain a lasting friendship that’s actually based on being friends, rather than convenience. But I guess that makes the one true friend I’ve made most recently pretty special.” – Aaron, 42, Indiana
7. They Need to Adapt
“I wish I had known that friendships aren’t about hanging on to the past, but looking to the future together. In order for those friendships to survive, they need to change and adapt and grow in the same way you do. When I was younger, holding on to friends was easy, we’d just hang out and do the typical fun activities. But as an adult, and especially as a father, my responsibilities get in the way, and I simply have other priorities. Sometimes, that change in priorities can get in between the friendships, unless the friendships learn to change with you. I do find that most of the friendships that have survived are with those that have also become parents because they understand those new priorities in the same way.” – Ty, 37, Texas
8. It’s Important to Make Friends of All Ages
“I’ve been retired for 10 years, and I’ve made so many friendship discoveries that have to do with the ‘long haul’ of life. I wish I’d known to make friends with people of all ages. The older you get, the number of friends who are close to your age decreases. It’s just life. My wife has a friend she made when she was five years old, but that is incredibly rare for people our age. Making friends takes practice and patience, and requires commitment. When we were younger, maybe our friends would move because one of their parents got a new job. Now, it’s not uncommon for our friends to move closer to their grandkids. In this life, you need all kinds of friends.” – Ed, 77, Tennessee
9. You Can (and Should) Have Many “Best Friends”
“As kids, there was only one best friend. It was you and this person, ride or die. You were his or her best friend, and vice versa. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that ‘best friend’ isn’t a person, it’s a level. It’s a level of friendship above ‘friend’ or above ‘acquaintance’ that many people can exist in for many reasons. I have a lot of best friends. That’s because I connect with all of them in unique, powerful ways. Some, I have deep conversations with. Some, I can always count on to make me laugh. They’re all my best friends, and I say the more the merrier.” – Brent, 48, California
10. They Can Be Devastating
“Generally speaking, I haven’t known the pain of a tragedy within the confines of a cherished friendship until I hit my 40s. One of my best friends — a woman I’ve known for almost 20 years — had two miscarriages. Another friend of mine was just diagnosed with cancer. These are devastating realities you don’t think of when you’re young, but they happen. The thing is, even if I’d realized that fact sooner, I’m not sure I would’ve been any more prepared to face everything that was coming. It’s the part of adult friendships that just sucks.” – Joe, 49, Massachusetts
11. They Keep You Young at Heart
“I’ve always been scared to grow up. Even when I was a kid, I was just filled with anxiety about my life as an adult, where I’d never be able to play video games, read comics, or play with toys again. Obviously, that hasn’t been the case, and I think it’s because I’ve realized the power of friendship as it relates to staying young. Not stuck in the past, but fond of all the stuff you grew up loving. I certainly don’t play as many video games or read as many comics, but my friends and I text about that stuff all the time. All of the common interests we had when we were kids, we still have as adults, husbands, and parents. Some of us have even been able to share them with our kids. I wish I’d known adulthood would be like this. It would’ve saved me a ton of worry.” – Jay, 40, Connecticut
12. They Require More Effort When You’re Older
“Friendships are effortless when you’re young. You go to the same school. You live in the same dorm. You move away from home and live in the same apartment. Proximity may not be the driving force behind your friendship, but all it does is help make things easier. When you start settling down, getting married, and having a family, you have to really work to maintain your friendships. You have to plan – sometimes months and months ahead of time – to see each other. And in between those in-person times, you have to make an effort to keep in touch. In truly great, healthy friendships, the effort is worth it, though.” – Chris, 48, California
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