I think the summer of 2009 was simultaneously the best and worst of my adult life. I was 24, working for a magazine, and I’d just been promoted from ‘intern’ to ‘staff writer’, which meant I was finally being paid in money as well as lipstick. I’d just broken up with my boyfriend, moved to a brand new flat, and spending every spare second with my new best friend, Zoe. Zoe had worked on the magazine for slightly longer than me, and sat on the next desk.
We bickered like brothers, bonded over hangovers and constructed our lives around a variety of 20-something rituals - we’d go out on a Thursday, wake up on each other’s sofas on Friday and buy each other restorative frappucinos. We’d get ready for nights out in the boardroom after everyone else had gone home. We’d text each other straight away if there was a particularly scintillating bit of Justin Bieber gossip or Jonas Brothers drama. We wrote each other’s My Single Friend profiles (this was pre Tinder), and because we were both broke and up for anything, we had an insatiable appetite for freebies. Together, we went for some fairly dubious teeth whitening sessions in a Baker Street basement. We’d go to a launch or a party as a tag team - one of us at the bar, trying to see how many glasses of champagne we could grab without spilling them - the other next to the kitchen, collecting canapes like they were delicious, edible Pokemon. It was that summer when we discovered that we could go to festivals for free. And we went to all of them. We slept in tents together every weekend from June until Bestival, when we both simultaneously burst into tears the day before and decided that our kidneys hurt too much to get on the ferry.
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For years, Zoe and I saw each other nearly every day, and our lives were intertwined. Then she got a better job. Missing her was more painful than a post festival comedown, but we still saw each other almost every weekend. Then I fell in love, and went freelance, and Zoe got a job in LA. I’ve not seen her since the Spring of 2016. I still adore her, and miss her very much. I feel an odd pang of pride and envy when she posts a picture of herself looking beautiful and cool on Instagram. She couldn’t make it to my wedding, and I understood. Our twenties were identical, but since we’ve turned 30 our lives are completely different.
Last year, an Oxford University study found that our social circle starts to shrink from our mid twenties, with women losing friends at a faster rate than men. It makes sense. When we’re younger, it’s easy to have more friends, because we have more time for them. We fit our lives around our friends. But it’s often in our thirties when a shift comes into effect. That’s when our careers start to take off, our romantic relationships begin to get serious, and we’re starting families, or at least thinking about it. If I met 24 year old me, I wouldn’t have the space in my life at the moment to be the friend she needed. She probably wouldn’t have understood me, or wanted to spend time with the new friends I’ve made, since I’ve turned 30. These friendships are much less intense, but I still cherish them, from the woman who teaches the pilates class I occasionally attend, to the editors I work with.
Hannah* is 35, and last year she left London when a job opportunity came up in Glasgow. ‘Leaving the city, and my friends, was really hard, but to be honest, I was lonely. I’d spent my twenties hanging out with the old uni gang, and a few good work friends, but people were starting families, moving out to the suburbs, and some of them had left the country. As a single person I struggled, and I was starting to feel really lonely. When we were together, we’d constantly reminisce about our twenties, but we weren’t making new memories.”
Hannah explains that moving to a new city hasn’t come without its moments of loneliness. ‘Even now, I think “What have I done?” - it’s really made me realise how long I spent building a network of friends, and how hard it is to start over. But I’ve started to really appreciate new people, and acts of kindness. My new manager is much older than me, and she’s the sort of person I would have dismissed ten years ago, because we didn’t have anything in common. But I love her company. At first, I was grateful to have someone to get a coffee with, and now I genuinely feel lucky to experience her friendship, wisdom and perspective.”
Pop culture presents us with an idealised version of female friendship that makes most of us feel as though we’re falling short. I’m one of many 30 somethings who grew up watching Friends and Sex And The City. Although I love the relationships on those programmes, I think they’re less realistic than the fact that Carrie Bradshaw is supposed to be able to afford her lifestyle on one column a week. Girls got it right - as the characters got closer to the thirties, and their lives became more complicated, the central four characters appeared together less and less.
I miss the friendships I had when I was a twentysomething, but I really don’t miss being in my twenties. Yet, I hate feeling as though I’ve failed because I haven’t kept applying all of my energy to those friendships, when I should be celebrating the fact that the relationships have evolved because we have too. I will always treasure the time I spent hungover with Zoe, but it’s right that we’ve moved on. I’d much rather know that she’s making amazing new friends and having a great time in LA, than live in a world where we’re both drunk, sharing a desk and worrying that our lives are going nowhere. Mourning my twentysomething friendships does a disservice to my 30-something ones. Change can be painful, but it’s usually positive. In our twenties, we are drawn to people who are on the same path as us. As those paths diverge, we’re going to meet new people. We don’t need to worry that we’re leaving each other behind - we’re simply going on different journeys.