As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)
We’re sure that, when Proverbs was transcribed in the early first millennium BC, its creators meant women as well as men by the above. While their gender bias leaves a lot to be desired, these folks were certainly on to something. Friends are a source of inspiration in our lives. In fact, research shows that good platonic relationships are the most essential ingredient in a long and healthy life. But how to navigate the pitfalls of adult friendships, in a world where we spend more time on our phones than talking to actual human beings? Here are the new friendship rules — or, as we like to call them, the Ten Commandments For Adults.
1. Thou shalt have plenty of other friends but me.
We get it. Having a bezzie with whom you share everything can be a fantastic thing. But while the concept of a ‘best friend’ is fair enough at school or even university, in the real world this kind of relationship is rare. Why? Adult life is complex, unpredictable and busy. A friend is a multifaceted thing — and so are you. To support that flexibility, you need options. We’re not saying everyone needs a hundred mates to call on in a crisis. But you do need at least three or four. According to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford, your closest fifteen friends are the most important to your mental health. That’s fifteen — not one or two. Humans are sociable animals; having just one comrade on whom you constantly depend risks social suffocation and co-dependency. Spread your wings and cultivate a range of friendships with various kinds of people. You’ll feel better for it.
2. Thou shalt say, ‘Nay!’
You know that friend who always texts at the last minute, asking to hang out with two hours’ notice on a mid-week school night when you’ve already worked late and had a really stressful morning of meetings? Yeah, that one. Well, you don’t have to say yes. In fact, one of the biggest lessons of adult life is learning when to say ‘no’ to pals. In this day and age, everyone is busy. Time spent not in the office is precious. Your days are your own to use as you wish; if you’d rather go to your weekly yoga class than work drinks, nobody can force you to do otherwise. Just. Say. No.
3. Thou shalt not be needy.
Just as you don’t have to spend your precious evenings performing whatever activity your schoolmate fancies, they don’t have to do what you want either. If somebody says ‘no’ to you, don’t moan about how boring they are. Move on to one of your other acquaintances — that is, the ones you’ve obtained in accordance with commandment one. Friendships are conducted on a purely voluntary basis. Don’t guilt-trip your mates into sticking around, or you may find you have none left. Adults don’t have to hang out on a regular basis in order to stay close. Real friends maintain relationships over distances of both space and time. Talking and texting every day is for teenagers; unless you’re sure they return your enthusiasm for the relationship, be sure to give your bezzie space.
4. Remember the meeting day (and turn up).
At school and university, it’s easy to make and maintain friends; you attend the same institution, are members of the same societies and know the same people. In the working world, friends live in different places, operate on different timelines, and frequently find themselves at different stages of life. In order to see people, effort is required — and nothing is more irritating than when one person makes that effort and another does not. If you agreed three weeks ago to meet someone for drinks after work, you’d better be at that bar come the hour. The time for saying ‘no’ is before you’ve said ‘yes’. Make up your mind and stick to it. Also, don’t be that person who’s always late to everything. Though good friends will forgive you for it, it’s still not a grown-up thing to do.
5. Honour thy partner (and kids).
Tricky territory at the best of times, balancing friends with family can be difficult. Maintaining a serious relationship — or more, having kids — is a significant time-sink and those hours have to come from somewhere. Frequently, it’s your social life that’s gotta give. Though some of your needier buddies — especially in their 20s — may whine about feeling ‘abandoned’, the good ones will understand that, in a serious relationship, your partner has to come first. After all, you wouldn’t like to come second to your partner’s mates, would you? Similarly, if you have children, any half-decent human will understand that their needs come first in your agenda. Prioritise.
6. Thou shalt have a life.
Though putting your partner first is important — and we’re talking partners, not friends-with-benefits or that hottie down the gym you got with once — you should never give up your friends for the sake of a guy or gal. Why? Simple: because otherwise you’ll go mad. A healthy adult existence involves input from all areas: friends, family, lovers, colleagues. While it can be oh-so-easy to lose yourself in the excitement of a new relationship, bear in mind that, if things eventually go to pot, it’ll be your friends and not your significant other picking you up off the pavement.
7. Thou shalt not betray the confidence of thy friend.
Being a gossip or a bully is never cool, whatever your age. Stand up, grow up.
8. Thou shalt keep thy standards high.
Ever heard the radiation/drain theory? The notion goes that there are two types of friend out there: those who feed on your energy and those who shine with it, like a bright light. I probably don’t need to tell you which you should be hanging out with. Your time is precious; don’t waste it on people who don’t love, entertain or energise you. Save your efforts for friends who make you feel good about yourself, and hang the rest until they prove they can give as much as they take.
9. Thou shalt not judge thy friends’ life decisions.
People move at different speeds through life. If you’re still in university when your childhood buddy is popping out her second sprog, it can be easy to pass judgment. But remember that judgments are mutual: she’s probably thinking you’ll be £50,000 in debt by the time you’re 21, with nothing to show for it beyond a piece of paper and three years of hangovers. What your friends decide to do with their lives — the people they meet, the jobs they refuse, the husbands and wives they fall for — is not your concern. You’re a fallible human too; don’t presume to give them advice.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s life.
Last but not least, we exist in an age of Facebook, Instagram and FOMO. When we’re not getting what we want from life — whether it’s missing that promotion, going through a breakup or falling sick — it can be easy to think that everyone else is way ahead of you. But people accomplish different things at different rates; if we compared ourselves to others all the time, we’d go mad. Get off social media, get on with your life and ignore what everyone else is doing. Chances are, when you’re eighty, you’ll look back on these worries and think them petty. Then again, by then you’ll also know who your true friends really were, and all of our advice will be redundant. Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website. http://www.mscareergirl.com/2017/03/27/new-friendship-rules-ten-commandments-adults/