Dealing with dwindling adult friendships

Words by Anonymous, 28 NSW

Being lonely as an adult sucks.

It feels sad and embarrassing to admit to struggling in creating and maintaining friendships at any age, but it seemed easier to address when I was at uni.

Figuring out why friendships are dwindling in the 20s and 30s – and what to do about it – feels more complex.

Changing ways of life

There is the pandemic, which changed our lifestyles – getting out of the house to work or get groceries is now optional for many. Inflation and cost of living has also made people more reticent about doing common social activities like dining out, seeing a movie or attending concerts.

But isn’t the human spirit stronger than the Australian dollar? I’d like to think that our desire for connection shall triumph over the inconveniences of capitalism – but post-work exhaustion, pricey parking and expensive drinks certainly don’t help.

Growing into ourselves

People move on, physically and emotionally. Some start prioritising their partners and families. Some begin a new chapter overseas. This is the age where our preferences become clearer – which means coming to terms with things such as “I don’t actually like hiking” or “the way you talk to me is rude and dismissive”.

We also become more aware of reciprocity in our friendships – of who checks in and who is intentional in keeping in touch.

There is grief that comes from realising a friendship is no longer working. Old friendships can fizzle out and die natural deaths – yet sometimes I still feel like I’m failing when I can’t make things the way they used to be.

Following the general advice

We have an abundance of advice on adult friendships and communication – get yourself out there, join meetups, do activities you enjoy, invite people to do things, make an effort. I tried all these and then some. I went to MeetUp events, joined various Facebook groups and Discord servers, tried my hand on friendship apps like Bumble.

Sometimes I had a good time, and then barely ever saw the same people again. Sometimes the interaction was more draining than nourishing. One guy I met at a bar asked point blank if I was a virgin – how he saw this as an appropriate question, I’m not sure. A girl I had brunch with said Gen Z kids are weak because they “keep going on about mental health” – the sheer judgment and lack of empathy is astounding. There are all kinds of crowds out there – they make for a good story, but not always a good time.

I know the antidote to this is to keep trying until I find the right people. But trying can be tiring.

Wishing things can be different.

These days I spend weekends lonely. When I’m not attending events or being awkward in public, I would often be at home, sheltering from the elements, doing chores and wondering how things can be different.

During these times I would think about my good friend Armi, who left for the US last year. Armi and I used to do a lot of things together. We attended drawing sessions, went to see musicals, tried wrestling and indoor climbing. Some of these activities I didn’t particularly find fun on my own, but I had a great time because I was with Armi. Rock climbing was not so painful when I could laugh about it with Armi and have a chat afterwards about what happened over the past week on the internet and in our lives.

Isn’t that what we all want – an intimate friendship with great conversations, where you can share experiences and see and understand each other?

Meeting Armi at work pre-pandemic was pure luck. I’m not sure how I can meet new friends like Armi these days without the structured proximity and time spent together. If a lot of people in Sydney feel the same way as I do, I believe something has to change to better support social interaction and promote a sense of community. In the meantime, I guess the best I can do is try in my own ways.


Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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