Friendship really can be the dealbreaker in a young person’s life. Much like your family, your job, and your health, friendships can be the difference between wasted youth and fond memories. You really can’t underestimate the power of the people with whom you surround yourself. It’s a cliché but your friends can become just as important (if not more important) than any other aspect of life as a teenager and young adult. What makes friendship stand out is the unusual amount of control we have over our friendships without even realising it.
You can see exactly how someone might find themselves stuck in a career they don’t enjoy or having a family that doesn’t understand them. Your health is not always in your hands and trying force romantic connection for the sake of it is as degrading as it is futile. But I found that at our age, friendships have that extra bit of wiggle room that can be the starting point to turning everything around. The right friends can motivate you in every other facet of life; they can make you want to be better; they may want to be better because of you in return. However, that same transformative quality can work against if surrounded by the wrong people.
I was a bit of a recluse as a child and didn’t have many friends. I was well into secondary school when I finally started to get a taste of the connection and understanding that I had always seen but never felt. My head was always in a book and I much preferred talking to other adults than other children. But the time was coming for me to reach out to people my own age, by which point I was socially out of my depth. I was about 12 when my first proper friends came about and from year 8 to year 11, I had my own little group. My inner 9-year-old couldn’t believe that I could hold down a single friendship, let alone several! But on a monthly basis, I felt like this dream that had come true was on the brink of crumbling before my eyes.
Friendships are naturally tumultuous when you’re young. As you find out more about who you are, you’ll suddenly find yourself clashing with people that you’ve known for years. Shifting priorities and general lack of impulse control often causes a rift in age-old friendships. I started to feel that rift almost as soon as my GCSEs were over. Not only because most of our friendships are based on proximity and convenience but because I realised that the love we had was conditional. Those conditions mostly revolved around how threatened we felt around boys and taking the ‘next step’ in our education. That promise of connection and confidence amongst each other was broken too often and I realised upon meeting new people at sixth form that something needed to change.
From ages 16 to 20, I lost at least one friend every year for one reason or another. And we’re not talking about casual drifting apart, but a definitive conflict that led to an explicit break in the relationship. I started to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Am I unfair to my friends? Do I have unrealistic expectations for the people around me? Do I expect too much from people and cut them off the second they don’t serve me? Maybe I was too harsh with my boundaries and or too precious over how I wanted to be treated and couldn’t hold down friendships in the long term.
I would see people posting about their decades-long friendships, those people who had been best friends since they were in primary school. I saw those people who literally didn’t know a life without each other and I desperately wanted to feel that stability in a friend. I felt like I was the only one who didn’t have those perfect relationships that seem to be forged by destiny itself. Only recently have I realised that that magical feeling of old friendship is already approaching. While I worried over the longevity of the relationships with the people I lost, I forgot about the people I was still so close with throughout all those conflicts. As self-explanatory as it may seem, it takes a long time to build long-term friendships.
Upon looking at my friendships now which have settled into deep understandings between one another, I am still blown away by how fortunate I am. Sometimes I am still astounded by the level of candour I can express within my circle without judgement, something I couldn’t do before. I am still blown away by the lack of ego in my friendships that push me to be the best I can be without worrying about how it might make someone else feel threatened. I can only hope that I have made others feel that way in return. I spent so long worrying about all the people who made me feel inadequate, unappreciated, and used that I needed reminding of the people who are still in my life that made me feel valued, loved, and recognised.
As young as I was when I started meeting my true friends, I still sometimes feel like I’m late to the game. But it really is quality over quantity when it comes to the people you surround yourself with. Rather than catastrophising over the relationships that have gone wrong over the years, I’ve found it best to remember the people that made all the good times so great and the all the bad times worth it.