Avoiding One-Dimensional Friendships as an Adult
Seventeen was a great age for finding others with shared interests. Because of the structural limitations of high school, everyone you knew was getting most of the same information as you. They also knew all the same people. Additionally, at least when I was seventeen, most people shared the same cultural references because we got all of our information from TV. It still wasn’t easy to “fit in” for a lot of us, but at least you had a pretty good sense of who might be interested in the same things as you.
As soon as you leave high school, all of that goes out the window. As identities develop, experience diversifies. People shed anxieties over group acceptance. People start to explore different subjects in university, and then they start working in an even more varied range of jobs after that. Eventually other kinds of shared experiences start to come into the picture — especially having kids — but even with these it can be difficult to “find your people” in the same way you could in the microcosm of high school. Often adult friendships form around a single shared interest or activity, which can be oppressively one-dimensional at times.
So what’s a poor human to do?
Social media now gives us some options for sharing who we are, but it’s a fairly censored domain — we’re always putting our best foot forward, anxiously refining our words and images to maximize the intended effect on others. Chatting up strangers is a possibility but it’s a pretty risky proposition — it opens the door to a whole cluster of issues from wasting a lot of precious time to involving crazy people in your life. People often befriend colleagues, but again that can lead to the kind of one-dimensional friendships that don’t end up surviving as soon as that common ground is removed.
Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, the idea of “finding your people.” Maybe adults are just too complex and its better just to throw in the towel and settle for a bunch of mediocre and temporary allegiances to stave off loneliness.
If that doesn’t sit well, I think a good remaining option is to take calculated risks. Chat up those people who seem like they might be kindred spirits. Participate in activities that speak to who you are on the deepest levels. Reach out to people you find impressive and let them know it. Bring your A-game when you know you’re going to be encountering people you might find interesting. Above all, learn to be open and leave your guard down, even — and perhaps especially — if that leads to a certain amount of embarrassment or awkwardness.