“I feel like I’m losing all of my friends,” I said to my therapist. “And I feel like it’s my fault.” He assured me that this isn’t the case. In fact, it’s a fairly normal occurrence for anyone in their mid-20s.
Life in your mid-20s is strange. Some of your friends are getting married and having kids while others are still living at home. Some of them are starting careers, some are getting divorced, and some of them have absolutely no idea what they’re doing with their life — I’m in this last category.
But no matter where you fall on the spectrum, there’s no doubt that life changes dramatically when you’re in your 20s. Some people even say that your 20s are the most important years of your life, but they do fall in a strange in-between spot.
We’re no longer in the innocence of our teenage years, the subject of so many coming-of-age movies, but we’re not quite “full adults” with families, houses, and mortgages. We’re adrift, floating somewhere between — lost at sea without a map to guide us, and a storm is forming on the horizon.
When the rain comes crashing down, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of it all. Everyone is experiencing their own private storm, and nobody comes out the same on the other side. Your life will change, the people around you will change, and you, too, will change.
Inevitably, people will drift apart, carried away on their own currents. It’s sad, but it can be a good thing too.
As we come to learn more about ourselves, our priorities shift. When I was younger, I thought getting a girlfriend was the most important thing in life. I thought a relationship — any relationship — would make me happy. As it turns out, some relationships can make you miserable.
But as you grow and spend more time with yourself, you start to understand the things that are important to you, and as unfortunate as it is, sometimes your friends’ goals don’t align with yours. That’s fine; you aren’t your friends, and your friends aren’t you.
Just because something ends doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth having. The friends you have when you’re younger help shape who you become and those memories can still be important to you, even if the person in them isn’t anymore.
You make new friends
Many of our friendships result from forced social interaction, whether that be at school or at work. Some people thrive in these settings, but find it hard to maintain friendships when that unifying location becomes a thing of the past.
But the benefit is this: you can make new friends that line up with your new lifestyle. If you’re starting a new job or picking up a new hobby, you’re likely to be surrounded by like-minded people. I’ve written before about my experience bouldering and how that activity has opened the gateway to new friendships in my life.
When I was in film school, my friends and I bonded over our love of movies. In high school, we played Grand Theft Auto over Xbox Live. In elementary school, it was enough that we were in the same class.
Despite modern advances in social media, there is still the theory of Dunbar’s number that suggests we can only maintain a social circle of about 150 people. But when we look at our Friend List on Facebook, that number can sometimes be in the thousands. It would be nearly impossible to maintain that many quality friendships.
And that is exactly the key reason you need to set limits for yourself.
Quality over quantity
I wasn’t a popular kid. I was bullied a lot. Kids didn’t like me — they thought I was weird and annoying. One time, a kid tried to fight me on a basketball court at the park near my house. When I didn’t show, he sent a friend of his to knock on my mom’s door and bring me. I never ended up going, but I also never heard the end of how I’d “chickened out.”
When I got a bit older, the bullying stopped. People actually started to like me, laugh at my jokes, and invite me to things. I had a hard time saying no to anything — I was afraid that if I did, I would be seen as “uncool” and people would stop liking me.
Everywhere I went — college, different jobs, bars, weddings — I wanted everyone to like me. If someone didn’t, it shook me to my core. I felt this way for a long, long time.
But now, as people have slowly filtered out of my life, I’m starting to realize that having a small social circle doesn’t make you a “loser.” It makes you happier.
In fact, Dunbar’s number isn’t 150 — it’s a series of numbers. 150 is the number of casual friends we keep, but the number of our best friends? Five. The theory claims that there are five people with whom we can have true, deep, intimate relationships at any given time.
When we look at our social media accounts, it’s likely that we have more than five friends on any given platform.
Social media and our obsession with followers have skewed our perceptions of self-value. We often believe that having a large following will help us feel fulfilled, but when those numbers are nothing more than pixels on a screen, how are we supposed to feel anything at all from them?
I’m not saying you should only keep five people around in your life, but it’s worth it to consider which five you can truly confide in. Who are the five people you turn to when everything goes south — when you’re going through a rough breakup or going through a depressive state?
Don’t spread yourself thin trying to keep up with every single person who has entered your life. Sometimes, relationships are only meant to be temporary. Make time for the people who truly understand and appreciate you.
When you’re lost at sea, there will be a small lifeboat with a few other people. Hang on to them. These are the people that matter, and the ones for whom you matter.
While the rest of the ship sinks into the ocean, there will be other lifeboats full of other people, but the ones with you now are the ones who will ride out the rest of the voyage with you.
Keeping this in mind will add perspective to your life and ensure that you’re not wasting energy on the people on those other boats — and when I say wasting energy, I mean energy in worrying. Worrying whether they like you. Worrying whether they’ll be around forever. Worrying if you’re worth their friendship.
If your little boat comes close to another, shout something out across the water. Extend a hand, but don’t change your course. Sail ahead towards clear skies and the shore with your own boat of friends, and let the others land where they must.