The Defining Decade: How Your 20s Will Reveal Your Truest Friends

by Sarah Dean Solak

Everyone told us that when we graduated college, everything would change.

What they didn’t tell us is our friendships — even the ones we have had for 10 years — will change dramatically, too.

Our 20s, especially the post-college years, are a transformative period in which we try to figure out who we are and where we’re going.

In high school and college, life was pretty simple.

We partied, we studied and we had little time to think about anything else. Once we graduated though, everyone started to go in his or her own directions.

Some people have very serious jobs and work 60 hours a week. Some people travel around the world and make the rest of us jealous.

Some people get married and buy houses.

Others continue to party, making their 20s one big extension of their college years.

None of these paths are wrong; they’re all just different. And, therein lies the greatest obstacle our friendships have ever encountered: It’s easy to be friends when we all do the same things every day, when our lives are so similar.

It’s easy to be friends when we see each other every day and can relate to all the same things.

But, when our lives start to look dramatically different from those of our friends, we start to realize which bonds are unbreakable and which were based on little besides convenience.

I am 23 and am married to the love of my life. I live in the suburbs. I spend a lot of quality time with my cat.

People have difficulty understanding why I chose to get married so young, and many expect me to explain myself and defend my choices.

But, here’s the thing about great friends: They never ask you to do that. They accept that your life is yours to live and recognize it’s neither their obligation nor their duty to understand every choice you make.

They understand that, though your lives may be different, your friendship doesn’t need to be. And, this isn’t just a mark of true friendship, either; it’s also a mark of maturity and confidence.

It’s tempting to demean others' choices because we lack confidence or because we’re not sure our choices are right. We’ve heard it time and time again: “Your 20s will be the best years of your life!”

What we don’t hear is they’ll also be some of the hardest. We have a certain blissful freedom at this time in our lives that we might never have again. But, with this freedom comes the burden of making the right choice.

We’re figuring out what we want to do with the rest of our lives, what kind of people we want to be and what we need to do to get there. But it’s not the working toward our goals that’s the hard part; it is the constant pressure to decide and the fear that every decision we make must be permanent that’s so difficult.

We all stumble down our own paths, hoping the choices we make are right, but never knowing for sure.

Perhaps it makes us feel better to assume anyone who seems happy and confident in his or her choices is woefully mistaken and headed for certain and impending doom.

It’s easier to feel sure you’re living right when you can point to others and say they're doing it wrong.

It’s easier to unite with those whose lives are similar to ours against those whose lives are different and declare ourselves victorious.

There's ample evidence of this. We’ve all seen the articles: “50 Reasons Why You Should Jump Off A Bridge Before You Get Married at 23!” or, “10 Reasons Why If You Have A Job And Are Not Traveling All Over the World, Your Life Is Doomed!”

We’ve also heard ignorant declarations like, “If you’re single by the time you’re 30, you’re doing something wrong!”

We make these sweeping generalizations, and cast ourselves as an “us” in opposition to a “them.”

We pretend it somehow makes our decisions right. It’s comforting to do this, and it’s easier than accepting someone else might be perfectly happy in a life that looks nothing like our own.

This is where we find the ultimate test of friendship. It’s difficult to blame a stranger for feeling the need to diminish our choices because they know little about who we are and have no reason to care.

But, when it comes to friendship, we expect respect and support. Not only that, but we need it.

Friendships should not be based on similarity of circumstance or location. They shouldn’t be based on the fear of going anywhere alone.

The truest, dearest friendships I have are grounded in mutual respect, admiration and a bond that cannot be broken, no matter how far apart our lives become.

In this defining decade, we may lose a few half-assed friendships, but the great part is we can spend more time working on the ones that really matter.

It is in this great period of uncertainty and anxiety that we need our friends more than ever.

Not to tell us we are living right because someone else is living wrong, but to tell us we are all right in our own ways, and that’s okay, too.

Life in our 20s can be very isolating, as we attempt to forge our own paths, all the while wondering if we are going in the right direction.

But, attempting to align ourselves with a group of like-minded people and against a group of people who have made different choices, is not only immature, it is futile.

At the end of the day, we probably won’t feel any more certain about our own choices, but we could end up making someone else feel bad about living a life that makes him or her happy.

The all-encompassing life advice we all need to hear in our 20s is, “It’s okay not to be sure where you’re going. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s okay to still be figuring it out. And, it’s okay to create your own path.”

The overwhelming fear of, “What am I going to do with my life?” is made worse when we feel like everyone else has it figured out. The truth is none of us do, not really.

We’re all just doing the best we can and attempting to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.

Our friendships in our 20s are more valuable because we are all at different points in our lives, not in spite of it.

It is this distance, this lack of sameness for the first time in our lives, that allows us to absorb wisdom from friends with perspectives different than our own.

At this time in our lives, when it feels like the ground is constantly shifting, having friends who support us can be our saving graces.

Criticizing our friends’ choices when they’re different than ours does not validate our own choices, but does devalue our friendships.

Choosing, instead, to support and love our friends, even when our lives are on completely different pages, is a mark of maturity and grace.

And, it speaks volumes about the kind of friend we choose to be.