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Relationships change as our life goals move forward in our 20s (well, for most of us). Fox TV stills
Change generation

BFFs? Probably not - why we shed friends in our late 20s

Psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick explains why some friendships have a best-by date.

This article is part of our Change Generation project, supported by KBC. To read more click here.

ONCE WE REACH OUR mid-20s, the number of friendships we tend to have falls off.

Psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick spoke to about why that is.

You have gangs of friends in school and at college, but that tends to change in your late 20s – why?

“One reason is that our environment changes. In school and college we are with the same people day in day out, we spend more of our time with those people in some ways than we do with anyone else in our lives.

“Also, when we are in our teens and early 20s our natural tendency is to move away from the family as we try to find our own identities and our places in the world. That means we gravitate towards people who are like us and like doing the same things as us.

“Then as you move past the college and we have chosen our own careers and paths in life, what happens then is we don’t have that daily proximity with those friends that we had in college or school. We start to almost dilute because we have to. People diversify in terms of work too, but also in what they like to do outside of work. Our lives actually change, so our friendships need to change.”

Is it the same for men and women?

“For men at this age they will still want that game of football or will still want to go to the match. They will still need that shared experience.

“They don’t seem to need the constancy and regularity of contact that a woman needs from her friendships.”

shutterstock_437727346 What part does gender play in what one needs in a friendship? Shutterstock / Pressmaster Shutterstock / Pressmaster / Pressmaster

How do you determine which friendships are worth fostering and which ones have passed their sell-by date?

“I think you have to look at the friendships that fit in with your value set in life. For me, friendship is a verb. It’s not a noun. It’s an action. It’s about what you actually do as a friend.

“So, to decide and get clarity around who are the friends that are worth keeping, it’s about thinking: who are the ones who walk the walk with you along the way? When you’re in trouble, who is the one who picks up the phone? Who sends a text? Who comes round to your door? So, it’s who is doing the act of friendship with you.”

How do you make sure you keep the friendships that you need?

“Tune in and listen to your friends and they will tell you what matters to them once you listen for it. Everyone is different and some friends want straight talking and deep and meaningful and others just want someone to have a night out with. All are valid.

“Don’t ask of your friendships things that are beyond the scope of that relationship. Friends are not psychologists and while it is great and important to talk and share with them it’s also not their job to resolve big issues that may be going on in your life.

“So sometimes you may need a psychologist to help you deal with anxiety, depression or a relationship break up, leaving your friends to add support and be your pals.”

62nd Primetime Emmy Awards - Governors Ball Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have kept it together over 20 years of friendship. Jae Hong Jae Hong

Are new friendships formed in our late 20s different to those BFF types of relationships we have when we are younger?

“When we are in our late teens and early 20s it’s a time of low responsibility, so it’s a time of exploration, of fun and freedom. When we get to the late 20s and early 30s phase, we like different things, we like our comfort more – we are different people.

“The relationships we form then are less about that almost childish nature of those earlier ones. We are now able to stand up on our own two feet and say: I don’t really agree with that or I don’t need to agree with that. There’s more moderation in those relationships and they aren’t so intense.”

How big a factor are romantic relationships in the maintenance of friendships?

“If your friends do not like your partner or if your partner does not like your friends, then there will be trouble down the road. Ideally what you want is for your partner to allow for the fact that you’ve known these people for a long time and they have a place in your life and to not be threatened by that.

“Equally you want your friends to be happy for you having met this partner and allow space for that. You want to have balance – you don’t want to drop your friends for your partner or the other way around.

“The bringing in of that external person into this friendship mix can be a big decider and tells a lot about both parties.”

samantha Remember when Samantha got between Millhouse and Bart? Fox TV stills Fox TV stills

Do we become too busy for friendships the older we get?

“Yes, we do. It’s again about proximity. When we get to this age we are going to be trying to hold down a job, paying rent or a mortgage. Then we move into the phase of marriage and children. Of course when that happens there is another human who needs your attention.

“What that does is with each introduction – your boss, your partner, the bank, your baby – that squeezes your space, emotionally as well as physically, in which we would have had friends.

“The important thing here is – those few good friends, find small practical ways to keep a connection with them. When you know that you’re all time poor do things like form a  WhatsApp group and know what’s going on each others lives by asking.

“There are little things like remembering birthdays that will help keep those friendships going. My experience is, is that if you have one or two good friends that can be an amazing support system during those busy times, because the sense of isolation can be huge.”

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