When I think about people I was close to in my 20s, I’m still loosely connected to many of them: Kate. Julie. Anna. Sean. Patrick. Leland. But when I’m thinking about the people I can call when something’s wrong, the list is short: my sister, Crystal, Kailey. I feel so pathetic when I bring this up, but I still don’t have almost any friends in Reno.
It’s easy, in your 20s, to feel like you’ll always be able to make friends. People move through your life so much, especially in the early part of your twenties. Classes, crappy short-term jobs, the people your friends know. My twenties, as well as most other people I know, have been about figuring out who you are. You try on various kinds of friends along with new identities: am I the type of person who’s always down to party and closes down the bar on the weekends? Am I the type of person who studies a lot and has friends that always talk about esoteric stuff, trying to out-smart each other all the time? Am I the type of person who’s outdoorsy and always up for a new adventure?
Most of the extraneous people, the ones from your discarded selves, drift away slowly but surely. You make promises to “grab lunch or coffee or something sometime” and then it doesn’t happen because no one is trying very hard to make it happen. People inevitably move and it gets hard to schedule phone dates and Face Time and then it’s been a year since you talked to them and that’s that.
Once you get to your late twenties and (presumably) your thirties, new friends are hard to make. You try so hard to find points of connection with other people, a basis for possible friendship. You root for the same team? Let’s go watch a game sometime! You like reading? Let’s go to the bookstore together sometime. You like wine? Happy hour at the wine bar! But trying to ask someone you’ve met a few times to do something together, just the two of you, feels like asking for a date. What if she says no? What if she thinks I’m weird for asking?
It’s not always the people you think would stick around from your life that do, either. I don’t know that I would have picked my dear, flaky Patrick as the person from law school I’d still be the closest to 4 years later. I would have sworn Julie would forever be one of my besties. Friends are an investment: of time, energy, even money if travel is involved to see them. It’s easy to think that you’ll always have chances to make new friends, to let opportunities to invest in maintaining those relationships pass you by, to decide that you’re sick of always being the one who calls and wait for them to call you for once. But even if you have the magic secret of finding new friends to replace the old, it’s never the same. The experiences you’ve had with people can’t be recreated. You might be able to blow off the heartbreak you went through a few years ago to a new friend, but your old friends remember the way you cried at anything that reminded you of him for months. You might be able to gloss over the worst aspects of your high school experience with people who didn’t meet you until long after, but your high school friends know that you used to get teased for the way you dressed and how that reflects in your bursting-to-full closet now that you’re all grown up. Friendships are worth the continued effort, because nothing can replace your history together.