/ Relate /

Staying in Sync: Friendships and the Age of Adulting

Adulting is Hard

It’s challenging to be an adult in the 21st century. Between the jobs, the kids, the homes, the bills, and the technology (Apps! Emails! Texts! Emojis!), obligations are everywhere. Time slips away in 15 minute increments when you check your phone absentmindedly. Maintaining true and meaningful relationships is harder than ever and, while cherished, these are often the first to suffer when life gets too busy.

And yet, aren’t relationships–friendships included–what life is supposed to be all about? Spending time with those with whom you have a shared history, a shared viewpoint, or a common interest? Why is it that sometimes we connect with old friends on all cylinders and sometimes on just a few?

Cutting Hard and Deep

Every 12 to 24 months, our ties of friendship go through change. For me, as part of a military family that moves a lot, the cycle goes something like this: we move, we settle in, we go to a few functions, and we meet people. And of the people we meet: some won’t be my cup of tea, some will become the hey-let’s-grab-coffee-sometime acquaintances, and every now and then, I’ll find someone I really click with. It will start with laughing at the same jokes, a common interest in running or travel, or a side comment that brings a smile to both of our faces. That spark of new friendship ignites. (All the while, mind you, while I am making phone calls to “old friends” from here, there, and everywhere to lament about how much I miss them.)

If you are military or have led a nomadic lifestyle, you can probably relate. At some point after those initial meetings and shared laughs, you’ll hit a point of deciding whether to “cut hard and deep” or to let it go. You’ll be out at a coffee and suddenly share a little bit of yourself that maybe some other “good friends” of yours don’t even know about. Like the time I told a new friend over drinks that I stole something from Gimbels when I was five years old and got caught. I don’t recall why it felt right to share that experience, but it did. (She, by the way, did move her purse a little closer after I shared that little nugget. Nevertheless, we became quite good friends over the year.)

There will be an internal mental moment of deciding whether or not this new relationship is worth the effort. I’m about to share a piece of who I really am with you, will you do the same? 

Friendship is like Clockwork

Over dinner with friends about a year ago, my husband and I were marveling that after so many years of moving, of getting settled, of trying to find our fit, we finally felt our truest selves while living this crazy life abroad with people you could say we hardly knew.

Why was that? Was this just a crazy charmed moment where the friendship planets aligned or was something else at play?

We joked to these friends about the “cutting hard and deep” moments we’d all had over the years, and how many great people we’d met over time after sharing some obscure bit of ourselves. As dinner continued, we also lamented about how, at times, it was hard to connect with friends at home. One of our friends, a veteran of the nomadic lifestyle, smiled knowingly: “Everything fits here because you’ve found people whose life gear is spinning at the same rate as yours.” Likening friendships to gears inside a clock, he drew out an analogy that felt freakishly relative to our experience. Those of us living a “change heavy” lifestyle, he proposed, are more like small gears.  We go through a lot of movement (aka: change), in a short amount of time before completing a full revolution. We sometimes complete several revolutions in the time it might take a larger sized gear to complete just one. Those living a more established lifestyle, for example, are akin to large gears. Life is still moving forward and happening just as fully, but the rate of whole scale change is slower as a large gear.

Stay Interconnected

Having given this a bit of thought over the last year, this is by no means to say that one lifestyle is better or worse than the other. Your gear size is relative to others and ever changing–as is theirs. One person’s small gear may seem like a big gear to another. But for us, it helped give us a paradigm to explain why we felt so comfortable in such a foreign place so quickly. We’d found a community of like-minded “small gears,” people from all walks of life and varied experiences. It didn’t necessarily matter that we didn’t have a thing in common; our rates of change were the same. It also helped us to understand the evolution of our friendships back home: why sometimes we fall right back in step, and why sometimes there’s a rub.

Friendships enable us to stay interconnected. Like the gears in a clock, our relationships hold each other aloft, move each other forward, and prevent each other from spiraling off into isolation. And “life” will always test these ties. Sometimes the machinery plugs along with everything in sync, and sometimes gears fall out of alignment and need to be greased (in varying forms of reaching out, listening, time, and patience). Big gears need the small gears and vice versa.

If you find some of your friendships evolving, I encourage you to keep this in mind: the rate of change we each face is different, everyone’s comfort level with change is different, and the change that change itself imparts on each of us leaves each of us different. With each revolution of our gears. But it’s the staying interconnected that makes for beautiful machinery. For don’t we all rely on the friends around us to keep us moving, to keep us grounded (as well as aloft), and to remind us of who we were before we became who we are?