I grew up watching Friends. I fell in love with Chandler Bing and cheered for Ross and Rachel. I cried when Phoebe lost her cat. I couldn't wait for the day I could have my own Central Perk where my close-knit group of friends would lounge on an over-stuffed orange couch for hours just chatting and teasing each other.
I waited. And I waited. And I waited.
Eventually I watched Sex and the City, New Girl, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory and still wondered -- where is my Schmidt? Why don't I have a local dive bar that serves unlimited drinks without having to pay and has witty bartenders? Where is my foursome group of rich women who have the coolest jobs, the coolest apartments in one of the coolest cities in the world?
I assumed that part of adulthood was automatically gaining the perfect friend group.
A very attractive, co-ed group of friends who lived on the same block, hung out every night and made extremely funny jokes off the cuff. Oh, and a few of them hook up every once in a while.
But guess what? This wasn't a promise. This was television.
- Sex and the City is not a promise, it is entertainment.
- Friends was not a glimpse into the future, it was an ideal.
- New Girl is not how adult friendships work, it is just a sitcom.
But this messes with our heads and our friendships. Recently, I was talking to a good friend of mine who was a bit depressed. Now let me set the stage, this is one of the most likeable, popular, extroverted individuals I know. He has a very active social life, is handsome and is well liked at work. This is how the conversation went:
- Him: I feel like I don't have any friends.
- Me: But you have tons of friends! You are constantly out and about.
- Him: Yeah but I don't have like a mixed group of friends. You know, like men and women who hang out together at local bars and are on group texts and date and have holiday parties.
- Me: You mean you don't have a group of friends like Friends the TV show?
- Him: I guess, yeah.
We expected the Friends group. We were excited for the Friends group. And if we don't have it we feel like we are both missing out and that something is wrong with us.
We get hundreds of emails to our human behavior research lab asking this question:
What is your biggest people struggle?
At least a third of these answers have to do with the myth of adult friendship -- not only how hard it is to make friends, but also how unnerving it is to not have what we think we are supposed to have. It's a version of this:
If I don't have that perfect Friends group, I am not good enough or my adulthood is not complete.
Here's the thing: If you are lucky enough to have a group of friends like Chandler, Joey, Ross, Rachel, Monica and Phoebe, you are in the rare minority and you should treasure them with your life. But if you don't, you are not abnormal. You are not lacking. You are not weird. And you don't have something missing.
I have a very close group of friends and we have to WORK to see each other once a week or once every two weeks. We group text and celebrate birthdays, but it takes months to schedule things on the calendar. And you know what? I think this is a huge win. I court my friends like boyfriends and there is a science to adult friendships we were never taught.
Here are my wishes:
- Don't devalue your friendships because you are comparing them to fake characters on TV.
- Don't have unrealistic expectations on your social life.
- Let's understand that friendship as adults takes work, and that's ok.
And finally, appreciate the friends that you do have. Treasure them. Hoard them. Work at them.
Friendships are gifts, not givens.