Being a good friend and being good at adult friendships are not the same thing. I realized this recently when I received a text message from a close friend about a mutual friend’s bridal shower. It was the day of the celebration and not only was she bummed I couldn’t attend, she was also pissed that I hadn’t even responded to the invite. The friend who texted me, meanwhile, frequently, patiently, kindly and without judgement reminds me when I forget important stuff like this. It happens often.
When I was younger, friendship was easy. I wrote letters with colored gel pens to friends sitting right next to me. I made locker collages on birthdays and talked on the phone for hours. Everyone’s feelings were carefully, meticulously (if not obsessively) catered to. It wasn’t all altruistic goodwill; there were societal pressures and repercussions. But it all got done.
Now, as an adult, I have a job and bills and responsibilities outside of the universe of best friendships. Time really does fly, just like my parents said it would. With each minute that gets eaten by adulthood, one more good intention does, too. It is remarkable how quickly it becomes too late to send that card; that text; that wedding, housewarming or baby present. It’s terrifying how easy it is not to call or show up to things that matter. What if one day all of my friends wake up and realize how much I suck at this?
The truth is, some will. Some have. Probably more than I’ve yet to register. Not all friendships that carry into adulthood are hard; proximity helps. Similar schedules and circles makes it easier. Not all adult friendships are going to last, either. People are going to hurt us, and we are going to hurt people who we did not mean to hurt. (Somehow, I just learned this.) But I’m positive that the friends who we are meant to stay with forever understand that. They are forgiving of our work-induced black-hole absences or when we bail because we need sleep. They know that we do not suck. We are still very good friends, especially where it counts.
Adult friendships are a little bit sad in this way — how sometimes, we concede to less-than exemplary demonstrations of our sincere love. And in return, we reciprocate the understanding. It’s not that we don’t want to make birthday collages on grown-up lockers for one another without needing a Facebook reminder, it’s that we can’t. Not always.
This does not mean giving up. I have a lot of cards sitting on my dresser that I intend to mail once I finally buy stamps; there are a few friendships that I cracked and want to repair. At the same time, I have faith that certain sisterhoods are built to withstand periods of not-so-good friendship, and when they do, I will thank those enduring souls for their patience, send magnificent bouquets of flowers and be prepared to reciprocate.
Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt.