The youngest generation always has a unique set of advantages and problems compared to the generations that came before.
I will argue that the young Millennial generation struggles with developing and maintaining relationships. We have graduated from college and have entered the “real world,” and it comes with several hard truths.
First of all, we are likely unprepared for our first jobs regardless of our top rate educations. Furthermore, now that we are out of school, new rules apply in ways they have never applied before. Friendships take a whole lot more work.
Adulthood means a host of exciting new opportunities, privileges, and responsibilities including marriage, moving, children, careers, priority changes, and a constant, growing list of obligations. It also means that friendships that were once so effortless and easy to maintain become work.
Common interests, shared living quarters, close proximity, and an abundance of free time all made friendships so much more natural and easy in our teen and college years.
Secondly, it is difficult to maintain friendships with Facebook profiles. What I mean by this is that everyone’s life looks good on Facebook. The social media site allows anyone to portray a perfect, idealized version to the world.
On Facebook you can avoid talking about anything that is real. That is scary. That is hurtful. That is hard. All of the things that make life difficult from deaths in the family, to loss of a pet, to the ending of a relationship, to struggles with financial security can all be erased on your profile.
No one has to know your life isn’t perfect. And by the same token, you don’t know just by looking at a profile that your friends' lives aren’t perfect either.
We develop unrealistic expectations of what life is like. We see a profile with smiling faces, happy relationships, plentiful friendships, successful jobs, financial security and abundance, and we assume that we are failures because we know our reality does not match the perfect image on the screen.
So how are we expected to develop and maintain friendships in the “real world”?
Be authentic. While in college or high school, we may have strived to fit into some sort of social box of popular, athlete, nerd, jock, theater kid, band geek, etc., but now our most successful relationships will develop when we are truly ourselves. We never needed to fit into a box of preconceived stereotypes, but we need it even less now.
It is impossible to have a real relationship if one or both people pretend to be something they are not.
Be vulnerable. You are not a profile. You have highs and lows. You have good days and bad days. You don’t need to constantly pretend to have everything in control. Although vulnerability creates the possibility of disappointment and discomfort, it also breeds intimacy and opens our hearts to allow us to welcome in new people.
Be friends with your family. You only get one. They are always going to be related to you so you might as well find ways to enjoy the time you’ll spend together. Chances are you are far more similar to your family than you wish to admit. Similarities and similar interests breed friendships.
Learn to give more than you take. Don’t think of your friendships as something that benefits you. What do you bring to the table? If you bring nothing, eventually you will find yourself with nothing.
Know when to let go. It is very hard to know when a friendship has run its course and is no longer worth the personal investment it requires. But when you find yourself more hurt by maintaining a friendship than you find yourself fulfilled, it might be time to walk away and focus your energy on friendships that are worth it.
It doesn’t mean you have to “break up” or stop talking. Just know, that though you might have been as close as sisters or brothers in the past, be aware that people drift and circumstances change. Fighting for them to remain the same might hurt far more in the long run than simply letting go.
Put in the time. Relationships and friendships take time and energy. If you can’t afford five minutes of your day to catch up, then perhaps you don’t take your friendships seriously. If you always flake on plans or cancel at the last minute, you aren’t treating your friendships with the respect they deserve. Put in the time if you expect to get quality out of your investment.
And, finally, don’t let online friendships replace real-life ones. Certainly it is easier and more convenient to email or text, but there is no replacement for in-person, face-to-face communication. Technology may make it easier to stay in touch on a regular basis and might even be the most appropriate communication tool most of the time, but it cannot replace personal contact. Pick up the phone. Meet for coffee. Write a letter. Learn how to be there for another person — not in a virtual way, but in a real-life way.
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