In a book, ‘Text Me When You Get Home’, the author Kayleen Schaefer, defines friendship. The phrase is common among women who show depths to which friends can go to be there for each other; be it when someone is heartbroken or bored.
Another book, ‘Girl Talk’ by Jacqueline Mroz, investigates how friendships have evolved and the possibility of experiencing multiple love stories where friends are the protagonists.
In ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara, it explores post-college friendships, their challenges, and triumphs.
The authors are not far from reality especially now, as more busy Kenyans struggle to make and maintain friendships in adulthood.
Margaret Mbuthi, a counselling psychologist says, nowadays, the greatest challenge in adult friendships is the lack of time, too many competing priorities and reduced interactions outside of the home.
She, for instance, has reduced the number of people she visits or who visits her, and this lowers the chances of growing and establishing bonds.
“Reduced financial income also affects social gatherings, thereby reducing opportunities and chances of making and maintaining friends,” she says.
For genuine adult friendships, you need to be prepared to commit time. And in this era where work, marriage, parenting, care-giving, gig-jobs, among other interests compete, not many have time to meet friends.
Lydia Galavu, an artist and curator with an 8 am to 5 pm job in her 50s says that her friendships over the years have followed a wavy pattern. As one grows older, the numbers dip further but value somewhat grows.
“Before teenagehood, the process of making friends was easy—spending time with the neighbourhood children and somehow always being in crowds, meant I always had friends,” she says.
Susan Ngula, a seasoned banker and career coach in her 40s seconds Lydia’s observation that her friendships when she was younger were usually dictated by proximity and common interests. “While proximity and common interests may still impact my friendships today, I am more interested in the shared values as opposed to physical proximity,” Susan says.
Gladys Gachanja, a media personality in her 30s, views her friendship trajectory slightly differently.
“I am introverted so making friends did not come to me naturally. As a child, I had not mastered my personality so I tended to be timid around people, observing rather than actively engaging. The friends I made chose me,” Gladys explains.
For these three, college came with a sense of maturity and the realisation that not everyone around them was a friend.
“By this time, I had settled into my identity and had understood my personality. I also have two close friends from high school–our values remained entwined over the years,” Gladys says.
However, responsibilities such as family, children and demanding careers naturally call for new approaches to make and maintain friendships.
For Gladys and her close friends, a day is usually set aside for a face-to-face meeting.
“With demanding work schedules and parenting engagements, my friends and I realised that we had to deliberately schedule days for face-to-face conversations. Social media has made it easy for people to wear facades and create the impression that everything is perfect. Having these conversations ensures we share stuff and be each other’s accountability partners,” she says.
Lydia adds that when she got married, had children and her career peaked, she found that I made friends through social groups such as chamas.
“This solved the challenge of time because I could kill two birds with one stone. We met regularly to discuss investments and in the process, got close and would discuss social issues,” she explains. Susan says she makes a point of keeping abreast with her friends through WhatsApp and monthly meetings. They also used to plan a weekend away every year which they hope to revive.
While most adults feel more settled in their current friendships, some miss the spontaneity of younger friendships when they could plan a weekend getaway at the drop of a heart.
“We had the time, all the money was ours because we did not have responsibilities,” Gladys says.
As she settles in her 50s, Lydia says her friendship-making pattern is back to the way it was when she was a child.
“I am now able to make many friends because now I have the time to spare, all my children are adults and I have more time to myself. There is also no struggle to make friends because people in this age group are more honest and real so the problem of superficiality does not arise,” she says.
Even if some friendships are for a reason, others for a season and a few for a lifetime, Margaret says that to live and to love are inseparable because no man is an island and friends provide an important support system.
“Physical interaction is more meaningful than social media interaction. Physical meetings allow friends to love, be loved, learn and experience. Friendships are also important because they act as avenues for encouragement. This is why, no matter the schedule one has to deal with, creating room for friends is important,” she says.
She adds that the social media landscape has introduced a somewhat twisted concept of what a friendship is.
“It induces people on social media to begin to compare each other. This can be very negative leading to mental health challenges,” the counselling psychologist says.