My twenty-second birthday was recently. In the weeks anticipating it, I contacted many of my friends, several of whom I had not spoken to or interacted with weeks. I put effort into inviting them to a birthday celebration, hopeful that they would arrive. Primarily because I wanted to be surrounded by the people I care about on my birthday, but also because it was a convenient way to see my friends. Occasions like birthdays and anniversaries and other celebratory events come with a weight different than most invitations. They’re special, and therefore more important to attend. This has been my mentality, and is growing to be more prevalent the older I become. I’ve realized I can feel lonely at times, and have no one to blame but myself.
Most adults in their twenties are balancing academics, a career, serious relationships, or all the above; some even have children added in the mix. By the time they are done for the day, crawling into bed and zoning out to an episode of whatever Netflix’s greatest hit is seems heavenly. I can eat for one, order as cheaply as I want without feeling judged, and don’t have to worry about what I’m wearing. Nor do I have to go out of my way to meet someone and put time, effort and energy into a conversation. I tell myself I have plenty of time and I can see them when I’m less tired, less busy, less overwhelmed. However, none of that seems to go away. Responsibilities in your twenties are so much more than what you have voluntarily taken on. Whether you’re providing for yourself or multiple people, mental exhaustion stems from understanding your life is no longer structured by anyone but yourself. I’ve began to understand this is what most people my age mean when they say, “I’m always tired.” I’m one of them.
It’s simple to make plans a week ahead of time. You even feel excited at the prospect of breaking your typical routine; of having the company of another person. As the week goes on, you feel worn out, and suddenly you are anxious thinking of being in the presence of another person for an entire evening. You question your friendship, what you really have to talk about, whether it’s worth it, and if you don’t even feel up to analyzing it, you cancel without thinking twice. Whether you say you were not feeling well, or that you had to work late or there was a problem with your car- it doesn’t matter. Whatever you think will not affect your friendship, will. Over time, it will.
It is the domino effect. Your new routine has become making plans and canceling last minute instead of not agreeing at all. The individuals who cared for you are frustrated at constantly making the sole effort and begin to drift away. For someone who has difficulty maintaining friendships, making new ones are equally as difficult. Self-isolation is something so many people in their twenties are going through and instead of correcting these dynamics, the void is filled by social media. Seeing what other people are doing can make you feel involved, despite the fact you are not. This habit is why you often see people getting together but focusing on their smartphones. Being at an event and taking photos for so long, the event itself is consumed by the documentation. I have started asking myself, who are you taking this photo for? Because if it’s for me, if it’s for my memories to look back at- a few photos tend to be enough. The more I aspire to please the unspecified, “They,” (random social media followers) the more I begin to criticize myself.
Therefore, I attempted to dissect what makes maintaining friendships in your twenties so complicated and have come up with a few theories. Self-depiction is one of them. It is easy to manipulate the thoughts of others on social media. You can be at home and post pictures appearing to be on vacation, or a party or anywhere but your couch. You can be outgoing and have plenty to say because you have the time to think and edit yourself. None of these factors work in person. You are who you are. The conversation you hold in real-time needs to be consistent with what you represent online, or so you feel. This adds up to being a lot to keep up with. This is the basis for the default to Netflix binge-watching. That, and pure laziness.
Secondly, we truly think we have more time than we do. What we push by a week can turn into two or more weeks. Society has pushed people to be as busy as possible. There are a lot of changing aspects of people’s lifestyles which make it increasingly difficult to sync schedules. Should you push your plans a week, someone else may initially agree but then have to push it for their own reasons. That basically means you are waiting half a month before resuming what you had planned. Sometimes, it works out and some people prefer it that way. Others, however, have a hard time coming back to the initial commitment and the plan then becomes buried in the sea of other missed or postponed invitations. After all, at some point one of the parties gets tired of saying, “We have to hang out!” You stop responding to the other until they run into you in person and the entire conversation starts over again.
While knowing your personal limits and having time for yourself is equally important; honoring your commitments is as well. Do not maintain a friendship that does not feel genuine to you and be honest with the ones that do. If you are truly exhausted or have had a bad day- tell them! Apologize and explain your situation rather than creating additional problems through excuses. When a friend really cares about you, they will listen to you and respect where you are coming from. They can modify themselves and the plans to help you, too. You do not have to be a people-pleaser and worry about the happiness of others before yourself. Make realistic plans. When your schedule is becoming over-bearing, explain to your friends I have a lot going on this week and probably won’t make it. Can we do another date instead? Plan things in advance, balance them out for yourself and commit in moderation so you can keep up with what you want to do. Not only will this help you organize your time, it prevents you from spending out of your budget.