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6 Things You Have To Accept In Friendships In Your 20s

There are so many ways to define the word “friend.” Someone who’s there for you, someone who can always pick you up, someone you find and share  common ground with, etc. In 2021, friendships are being somewhat redefined by the pandemic — getting back to hanging out in-person and catching up with the friends you barely saw except through a screen for a year may have affected your ability to properly connect with them and to accept your friends as they are.

Dr. Marisa Franco, Ph.D., a psychologist and expert in friendships, says, “A friendship is a reciprocal relationship of trust and affection. Reciprocity means if only one person considers it a friendship, then it’s not technically a friendship.”

By college, you’re making friends while simultaneously removing the friends in your life that no longer support you and your goals. Dr. Franco claims it’s also an important phase in your life for friendships. “Our young-mid-20s is the time in our lives when we tend to have the most friends,” she says. By your late 20s, you have an established group of friends for the rest of your life. Dr. Franco calls this the socioemotional selectivity hypothesis. “As we age, we tend to select fewer friends who we have more meaningful connections with. This is better for our well-being over time.”

Unfortunately, not all friendships in your 20s are smooth-sailing. I give my friends support when they need it, comfort when they want it and see them when they want to see me. But sometimes, I won’t get the same in return. This is fine because I realize one thing that’s true: I can’t change my friends, and I have to accept them as they are. This fact certainly hurts, but it is the truth. Now I’m not saying you should accept huge betrayals from your friends, or allow toxic friendships to continue. But there are little things that you have to learn to accept with your friends if you want to build a lasting foundation with them and end up like those old ladies you see in videos and think, “That’s going to be us one day!” Here are six things you need to accept in your friendships.

Accept their quirks

If one of your friends  constantly says, “I cannot see you on Sundays because I see my family then,” accept that. If they don’t answer you about a Sunday and then text at the last minute to say they can’t and don’t say why, they’re probably not interested. Remember that your friends are different from you and probably grew up learning and embracing different values than you, so cut them a little slack on what bothers you about them. If something they do really gets on your nerves, bring it up with them and, if nothing is solved, you can either accept that quirk or just stop being their friend.

Accept their different energy levels

Sometimes you may feel that you’re putting more effort into your friendships than your friends are, or that giving your all is not the same as when they give their all. I have a friend who was often hesitant about going out, and I would check in on her and sometimes even drop everything to go with her and make her feel safe. One day, when I was hesitant about going out, she said she would go with me — then, at the last minute, she said she couldn’t come with me.

I was angry and I tried talking to her about how it made me feel. Rather than trying to understand where I was coming from, she kept apologizing. After that, I accepted that she can’t always drop everything to support me, and that I was wasting my energy doing more for her.

Dr. Franco says that before ending a friendship, you should try to “salvage” it. “I believe in ‘salvaging’ friendships before ending them — trying to figure out the amount of contact you can have with a friend and still enjoy their company,” she tells Her Campus. “It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing, per se.” If you’re not sure where your friend’s head is at in relation to your own, make a T-chart of things they do for you versus the things you do for them to visually see if you’re on the same level.

Accept their boundaries

Everyone has personal boundaries set in place that need to be respected. If your friend is afraid of heights, you can ask them if they want to go to a ropes course or anywhere they feel comfortable enough to try and conquer their fears, but you wouldn’t take them directly to a skydiving center and tell them to jump out of a plane.

Remember the socioemotional selectivity hypothesis Dr. Franco mentioned earlier? “People remove friends who they don’t like as much or feel a strong enough affinity towards, even if they would have held on to these friendships in their younger 20s, when their priorities were different,” she explains. “Your 20s tend to be a time of identity exploration, wherein people are interested in meeting all different types of people.” You should always accept the boundaries they’ve set for themselves because those boundaries are their priorities. Accept any boundary that aligns with your priorities and if it doesn’t, then end the friendship.

Dr. Franco calls this identity acceptance. “One factor that predicts whether friends become close to us is if they evince ‘identity acceptance’ — or if we feel like they accept us for who we are. For example, I might decide I want to quit school and move to France. A friend high on identity acceptance might never do something like that for themselves but wouldn’t judge me for my decision because they understand and affirm my unique needs and goals.” With the pandemic winding down, some people are setting boundaries of things they’re not okay with doing — for example, hanging out without masks — and you need to be okay with those boundaries, too.

Accept their relationships

Your friend could be dating a complete dumpster fire of a person, and though you should always look out for your friend’s best interests, you should also give them autonomy over their own relationships. Or, your friend could have made amends with an ex-friend and you’ll have to accept that, too.

Dr. Franco says ultimately, you need to stay out of their business unless it’s really hurting your friend. “If your friend wants to rekindle a relationship, let them, unless it’s toxic,” she says. “Then respectfully voice your concerns: Hey. I love you and I’m worried because I remember they treated you this way…”

One of my best friends was accepting someone back into her life that I didn’t have a good feeling about. So, I told my best friend she should be careful and try not to get close with this person. She kept on giving this person multiple chances, so I eventually just had to accept it. I’m glad to say it’s been several years and I was completely wrong about the person in question. You can be wrong about how a person is, and sometimes that person may  even change, surprise you, and/or evolve for the better.

Accept their goals and ambitions

You cannot change your friend’s goals and ambitions in life. If your friend has a dream that you think is unrealistic, you can’t pop in and say, “You can’t be a pop star because it’s  unachievable; you should be a music teacher instead.” You have to root for them along the way.

Dr. Franco says supporting that person’s goals is the best thing to do. “Support a friends’ goals by praising them when they make small steps to meet it, or offering to be their accountability buddy,” she suggests. I’ve had friends be my accountability buddy when I was looking for a job. They would ask me if I applied to anything recently and how I’ve been doing with my job search. Because of that accountability, I reached my goal and am now working at a job where I can use my creativity.

Accept their drama

When I say “drama,” I mean that you have to accept the things they choose to go through in life and what they choose to tell you. So, if they tell you that they stopped talking to another friend in your friend group because of something that this friend did to them, you can’t force them to be friends again. You have to accept their reasoning, and be there to support your friends through it. 

Also, don’t take their drama personally. If they tell you about something they went through a week after it happened, understand that maybe they didn’t tell you right away because they wanted to tell you when they were ready. Everyone has their own timelines, and it’s not about you. If the problems sound the same every time and it gives you a headache to hear about them, you can try to support your friend by simply sounding compassionate but not giving advice and involving yourself — unless you really feel like it’s something they need to hear.

Ultimately, friendships in college aren’t all rainbows and sunshine; just like romantic relationships, you have to put work into your friendships to see them succeed. As you start re-entering the world again with the promise of seeing your friends on campus this fall, you’ll learn to cherish your friendships with a new perspective you didn’t have pre-pandemic. Let go of the little things that annoy about your friends — in the grand scheme of things, they don’t matter as much as the happy memories your friends can give you.


Dr. Marisa Franco, Ph.D., Psychologist & Friendship Expert

Nicole Wojnicki is an alumni of LIU Post and has studied Broadcasting Journalism. In Nicole's freetime, she tells puns, drinks iced teas from Starbucks, showers her cats with love (as well as any other animal), listens to music or takes a jog for some fresh air.
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