From How to Be an Adult: On Friendships Post-College

posted June 14, 2013

There’s a great Bob Dylan song called “Bob Dylan’s Dream.” It’s on his second LP, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and it’s about that early group of friends so many of us had, in our late teens or early 20s.

. . . With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon,
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’till the early hours of the morn.

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were satisfied
Talking and a-jokin’ about the world outside . . .

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain,
That we could sit simply in that room again,
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that.

When I first heard this song, I was too young to have experienced this kind of deep, communal friendship, though eager to. In college I had just such a group of friends, and listened to this song as an ominous warning. We sang together in a folk band called Tangled Up in Blue (twenty singers and two acoustic guitar players: we were a sort of super-sized Peter, Paul & Mary who were unusually gifted at cracking codes). We met up at coffee shops and the campus vegetarian joint, plotted revolution, vowed to recycle and fight the bourgeois oppressors. We also vowed to keep in touch, and though we see each other at the occasional wedding, we have mostly scattered all over the world: as Bob said, “ . . . the thought never hit/ That the one road we traveled would ever shatter or split.” After I left college, this song reduced me to tears so regularly that I had to skip over it when I played the LP.

Dylan is tapping into what many of us experience when we move from our late teens to our early twenties. The adults over 25 whom I interviewed say they have stayed in touch with at most two or three friends from the first 20 years of life. What’s different about relationships in adulthood is that we are expected to maintain them for longer than a year or two. As children, it’s normal to have a different best friend every year. I maintain that as adults, it’s normal to have a rotating stable of friends too; friendships are often based on your environment, your workplace, your social activities, your common interests. As you grow and evolve and mature, these interests change. So do your friends. That doesn’t mean you don’t work to maintain those friendships that matter to you; but I have also seen many young people suffer from frustration because their college friends aren’t corresponding as consistently as they’d like. They feel let down. They feel they’re the ones who seem to be doing all the communicating. On the other hand, they might find their friend awfully clingy and needy and thus feel guilty if they spend too little time with her; resentful if they spend too much. Sometimes it takes years to figure out a good balance between good friends; to trust that the ebb and flow will just be a part of friendship, and to not freak out if months or even years go by with no communication. Look around and notice all the other friends you have made.

One of the most important things to me, especially in my post-college life, has been maintaining, strengthening, and just enjoying my friendships with the people I love, both near and far. I’m not always very good at it, but when I do make the effort, it almost invariably cheers me up. My friends know who I am (and, as the saying goes, like me anyway); in many cases, they’ve made me who I am. We’ve got history, a shared language of references, jokes, and memories. They are brilliant, funny, kind, and loving, and my time on this earth would be much poorer without them. So I try not to let them go easily. This means that I write to them, call them, send them emails with links to funny websites, but it also means that I don’t get upset when they don’t write back right away, or even for years. I don’t dismiss them or declare the friendship over. I know high tide is going to come again. ––Kate, age 26

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