How To Rebuild Your Life As A Single, Friend-less Adult
Adulthood is fucking hard. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you get to breeze through it without quite having to think about who you are or what you’ve done with your life.
If you’re one of the not-so-lucky ones, you can find yourself, without warning, in a place where everything you’ve put together in anticipation of a ‘good life’ no longer makes sense.
For instance, thanks to the confluence of any number of unfortunate circumstances, you might have just broken up with a long-time partner, left a job you sold your soul to, and determined that you can connect (enthusiastically, authentically, and intimately) with a grand total of 0 of the people you call friends.
Approximately 3 or 4 years ago, this is exactly where I was. And just in case you have no idea what this is like, allow me to very self-indulgently describe it for you.
To be clear, it wasn’t exactly depressing. I did, however, spend many a Friday night scrolling through my contact list, looking for someone to ask out for dinner, drinks, etc. Upon realising there wasn’t anyone I actually wanted to be around, I would resort to the same routine: holing up in my room with a healthy supply of beer and soju, before proceeding to listen toHammock on repeat as I sat in the dark.
One Friday night, I found myself drunk-watching The Great Beauty—a film about a writer, at his 65th birthday, contemplating a life filled with ultimately meaningless superficiality—and it occurred to me that I was not in a good place. In total, this period had spanned about 2 years.
So what follows is a somewhat detailed account of how I rebuilt my life as a single, friendless adult.
The truth is that we all need human connection, no matter how introverted or misanthropic we think we are. Some of us don’t discriminate when it comes to companionship, while some of us can survive only on the ‘right’ sort.
And so one of the first and hardest things I did was to reconnect with a friend I used to be extremely close to. We had fallen out a few years before while travelling, and the chasm that had grown between us had been steadfastly respected by all our mutual friends. If reconciliation of any sort was going to happen, we would have to do it on our own.
Here’s what I learnt: if you don’t have a compelling reason to make up with someone, it’s better to forget about it, and let that bridge burn.
In my case, literally feeling as though I had no friends brought with it a rare clarity. It put that incident from so many years ago in perspective, and I understood that I had behaved like a childish prick. I also realised that I had thrown away what was essentially the only purposeful connection in my life.
So I did that. And then I got back on Tinder.
And so I soon discovered that something amazing happens when you decide to meet someone of the opposite sex with no intention of getting in their pants.
All of a sudden, each date became a person and not as a combination of emotions, intellectual inclinations, and physical impulses. Instead of constantly anticipating what I’d need to say or do so they’d like me, I learnt that in fact a lot of women make better friends than men do. Period.
They listen, they pay attention, they ask questions, and once any romantic element has been firmly booted out of the picture, they don’t expect any chivalry or for you to put up this facade of masculine nonchalance. A lot less ego gets thrown around, and generally speaking, they smell better.
All you need to do is be interested, and then the entire premise of the first half of When Harry Met Sally becomes your life. (I realise all this only applies if you’re a man, looking for female platonic friendships. If you’re a woman, I recommend sticking with your own gender!)
To me at least, this is strange yet incredible. For one, it’s so rare for adults to ask one another, “Hey, do you wanna be friends?”
When we do, it’s usually code for, “I just don’t like you that much and now I’m going to ghost you,” so it’s incredibly refreshing when you say this, mean it, and actually follow-up.
Then there’s the fact most of us have really just allowed our lives to be filled with aimless friendships. We wander from “drinks” to “dinner” and blah blah blah, really only doing it because we need that alcohol to numb the overwhelming tedium of superficial human connection, and not because the company is legitimately enriching.
But if we spend so much time and effort finding “the right one” when it comes to love, why do we settle so easily when it comes to friendship?
Having figured out that it really only comes down to one thing—making a consistent effort—I decided it would be perfectly acceptable to plumb my working life for sustainable human connection.
Granted, I’m lucky enough to have worked, for many years, in an industry where I’m always meeting awkward or peculiar people. When a story is done, or whatever content I’m meant to create has been created, it can feel like my short-lived relationship with the involved interviewee, freelancer, etc, has concluded. But this doesn’t always have to be the case.
If you work in the same broad, vaguely related field, chances are that you share a somewhat similar worldview, give or take a few differences of habit or opinion. In other words, there are always opportunities for new friendships, and I don’t mean this in a Silicon Valley-esque ‘keep networking for you never know which contact will yield rewards in 10 years’ kind of way.
I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do this, but in trying to turn making of my professional relationships into friendly, platonic ones, I ditched the corporate, mechanical “catch up” for the words “hang out”. And I found that it made all the difference.
After all, “catch up” implies the existence of camaraderie that is often a figment of your imagination; it implies an equal willingness on both sides to sacrifice that time and energy to be present.
Most of the time, this isn’t the case. Many of us “catch up” only because we feel obliged to.
“Hang out”, on the other hand, implies a complete absence of obligation or expectations. It sounds more inviting and less of an afterthought, and it feels like you’re really meeting just to chill, lounge around, and basically do nothing. When was the last time you did something like that?
Oh, and pro tip: if you’re hanging out with someone outside of a work context for the first time, don’t miss that first appointment. Miss it, and chances are, you will never meet again.
All of this sounds completely selfish, and I’m well aware of that. But I’ve also reached a point in my brief existence where the words of Francis Mallmann, from the third episode of Netflix’s Chef Table, have irrevocably cemented themselves in my personal philosophy.
He describes a moment where a friend says to him, “You don’t like me anymore.”
In response, he explains that they’ve simply gone in different directions in life, and he no longer enjoys the other person’s company. It’s not sad; it’s just how life is.
At this present moment, I do feel like we would all do ourselves a monumental favour by embracing this reality.
What we might not also realise is that chances are, our friends are as sick of us as we are of them. If you don’t believe me, try not texting one of them. If you end up never getting a text from them, then you have your answer.
However, as this article’s title suggest, this isn’t really about purging your life of insignificant yet mysteriously cumbersome individuals. It’s about re-building, except that sometimes, you need to tear something down before you can build it back up.
If there’s anything that I’ve really had to digest, it’s the fact that adult friendships are less about connecting right away and more about stumbling around in the dark until you realise that you like this other person enough. It’s a process, and there’s going to be a lot of winning and losing on all sides.
But even then, pain, frustration, and disappointment are all things that make life what it is. It’d be a waste not to pause and savour them every once in a while.