One of the most surprising things about my 20s — and there have been many surprising things — has been the way my friendships have shifted over time. But I was never able to quite articulate what these shifts mean, or even how things were shifting. That is, until I read an essay from Mindy Kaling's memoir Why Not Me? titled "Some Thoughts On Weddings."
I lived in the same house my entire childhood, and many of the friends I made as a kid stuck around until my teenage years and early 20s. We did everything together. We told each other everything. We spent hours and hours together every day. When you're young, you think you know everything, and I felt sure these would be my friends until we all grew old.
But, of course, things changed. We all moved to different places. We got into serious relationships. We began to settle down. We lived far away from each other, and we were loaded with new, adult responsibilities. Group texts, Skype, and email couldn't bridge the gap completely. We were different people, and we were moving away from each other — literally and figuratively.
I didn’t take this change well. I was hurt. I was betrayed. I felt as though the people who knew me best in the world no longer cared about me.
But then I read Why Not Me? and I found solidarity in a celebrity. Kaling writes:
"With my friends, the sad truth is that our best “best friend” days are behind us. [...] I realized: this long expanse of free time to rekindle friendships is not real. We will never come home to each other again and we will never again have each other’s undivided attention. That version of our friendship is over forever."
I, too, have frequently felt like the past few years have just been one long summer camp, and come September, we'll all return to high school, tell each other what we did over the summer, and get back to real life. But that's not how the world works.
I’ve always looked up to Kaling. And reading this, I realized that I wasn’t the reason that these changes were happening in my friendship. If someone as cool, confident, and talented as Mindy Kaling could be facing this same dilemma, I could hardly blame myself (or my friends) for this happening in my own life. Also, I can follow her example of how to gracefully acknowledge that the change is happening, and adjust my expectations for what my friendships will be like.
Kaling also helped me realize it’s OK to be upset about these changes. It is a hard thing for the nature of a relationship — any relationship – to change. I can accept that change and still feel wistful for the way things were. Those are both valid emotions that can exist at the same time.
"And when I remember this, and it usually happens in those awful, quiet evening hours on Sunday nights, after dinner but before bed, I just lie on my sofa and cry for half an hour. I slip into a melancholy that I know is somehow tied to a deep-seated fear about not being married and having kids myself. Because, at its heart, my annoyance or impatience with my friends’ weddings stems from my own panic and abandonment issues. Why are you leaving me behind like this, friend? What am I supposed to do all by myself now that you are gone?
It’s traumatizing to think that a best friend could become just a friend. That’s because there is virtually no difference between an acquaintance and a friend. But the gulf between a friend and a best friend is enormous and profound."
Both of Mindy Kaling’s books — Why Not Me? and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? — beautifully capture the growing pains of your 20s. There's no handbook that explains how to react when your friendship transforms into something entirely different. But in stories — real and fictional — one can find solidarity. And feel a little bit less alone — and less sad — about the inevitable changes of life.