‘It Was A Clean Slate’: The Unexpected Freedom Of Making New Friends As An Adult

“It was kind of like when you've just started dating someone,” Laura, 33, says. “I sometimes freaked out that I was bombarding her with texts and plans but we could really talk for hours on end.” 
It was during a work presentation she didn't really need to be at that Laura met Georgie, 31. The two were sat next to each other and during an intermission, got to talking about what lie they could come up with to get out of sitting through the rest. “We couldn’t stop laughing the whole time and followed each other on Instagram on the spot.”
It wasn’t the first time that Laura had made a friend quickly, but what ensued was comparable to a friendship honeymoon period. Morning coffees turned to work lunches which turned to after-work drinks which stumbled into hungover mornings eating McMuffins in bed and watching reruns of The Real Housewives. “‘You guys are like obsessed with each other’ — that’s what my boyfriend would say. I think it was weird for him since I wasn’t like that with even some of my closest friends.” 
Three years later, and Laura laughs as she recalls a drunken dinner where she and Georgie sat on the floor eating takeaway, planning their latest imaginary side hustle, that they realized they were best friends. “It kind of slipped out,” she says about the label. “It was weird because I felt like I had just said 'I love you' to a partner or something, but hey, we've been best friends ever since.”
When asked if she thought they would've been friends in high school though, her answer was a firm no. “We grew up so differently and when I was going through my extended 'scene' phase, she was very much a Horse Girl,” she jokes. “That said, I think we met at the right time. It's the same with romantic relationships, you really find your people when you know yourself better.”

I knew that the glass had kind of shattered and that these people, who I really did love, were no longer the kind of people I was happy to be around

Particularly when we’re younger, friendships play an immeasurable part in our wellbeing. While we’re going through change, grappling with our sense of the world and our place in it, having an open ear and shoulder to cry on is crucial. Friends help us to navigate the turbulence of adolescence and young adulthood, in many ways, help shape our identity. And it's the years of shared experiences and all the context they establish, that can bind us to these people. 
But what if these binds are just that: binds? Something restrictive and stagnant?
The thing with Georgie was that she didn’t know about the time Laura spread a rumour about her friend in high school, nor about those times she’d sing along to the ‘n’ word as an ignorant teen. She also didn’t have to endure the endless frustration some of her other friends experienced during a particularly volatile young romance. 
“It was like a clean slate,” says Laura. “We just got to know each other purely based on who we are now, in the present, unencumbered by any deep-rooted issues or stigmas, and there was a freedom to that I didn't have elsewhere.”
“There was one time when I caught up with [Georgie] after a night out with old friends, and seeing her was weirdly like a breath of fresh air. Not because I had had a bad time or anything the night before, but it felt so good to just relax and be who I want to be, who I am instead of the person I fall back into when around my other friends.”
And Laura’s definitely not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. Some friendships demand that we unintentionally retreat to old versions of ourselves, the versions that others know us by — even if they aren't reflective of the people we are now. Yasmin, 26, agrees.
“I don’t know what it is that comes over me but when I get together with a specific group of friends from my high school days, I turn into this gossiping bitch that I’m just not,” she laughs. “Where it really hit me, how much I didn’t need to be around them, was when I tried talking to them about the 2020 election… They didn’t have anything to say and instead just joked about how it was ‘cute’ that I was talking about politics. Cute! Here, I was, over a decade later and still being spoken to like I was that girl who failed general maths in year eight.” 
“I knew that the glass had kind of shattered and that these people, who I really did love, were no longer the kind of people I was happy to be around,” she explains. “It’s sad, and I didn't cut them out of my life, rather just saw their place in my life differently. I had grown apart from the group. I think we all had, actually.” 
In many ways, the pressure to remain the same versions of ourselves for other people can be awfully stifling. Even friendships that have seen us through life-altering changes are so soaked in the past that they don’t give us the breathing room we need. For Erin, 23, the past is actually a pillar of her greatest relationship.
“Every time I see my best friend, it just feels like home,” she says. “I know it sounds dramatic but she’s closer to me than my own family and has been the one constant in my life. I honestly wouldn’t have survived my teens if it weren’t for her.” 
There is, of course, a world of understanding that can come with old friendships. Erin, who also has friends she's met in more recent years, believes that these connections go beyond words. “We don't have to be speaking every minute of the day, in fact, I probably speak to coworkers and such more, but it's not the same. I don't think I could get to know someone the way I know her.”

I had grown apart from these people. I think we all had, actually.

When friendships are anchored by rich histories, they can begin to form roots, helping us feel unconditionally supported. But the reality is, these roots can form at any age, during any life stage.
As Laura brings up, “People always get surprised when they find out we aren’t childhood friends… I get the sense that it kind of devalues our friendship in their eyes.” But the thing is, forging these relationships at an age when we know ourselves better has its advantages.
“The friendships I have now, I’ve established through common ground,” Yasmin tells us. “Getting to know people without the pressure of say, being in school and needing to bend yourself to maintain the convenience of a group of friends, means you’re able to get to know each other from a better starting point.” She adds that new relationships can always become old ones. “Sure we might not be able to laugh about our old teachers or reminisce over funny childhood stories, but we just get each other, as we are now. And I enjoy my time, and who I am, way more around my current friends — who I’ve only known for about two years — than I do with friendships I have from my younger days.”
Beyond just having things in common, there are a plethora of reasons we become friends with people. And it's easy to get so comfortable with the presence of people that we don't always stop to really think about what they actually bring to our lives and whether or not we actually want to be friends with them. For Laura, she worries that had she rigidly stuck to the friends she grew up with, she never would've given much to Georgie, and she might be stuck in “the rut of talking about the same old things that I didn't realize I stopped caring about.”
Her pondering raises the question: Do we need to meet new people to expand our worlds? Well, it’s definitely not a bad idea. Are the friendships we make later in life any less deep than those we’ve held for years? Certainly not. The reality is that sometimes friendships really can run their course, and it’s important to take stock of what is actually serving you and be open to new people.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 Australia.

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