Make friends a cornerstone of your life! And we’re not talking about the TV show...
When I graduated from polytechnic in 2015, my dad told me, “Treasure the time you have with your friends, Sam, because as you grow older you won’t be as close anymore.” I scoffed at the idea – there was no way you could tear apart a bond this strong, or so I thought. But now, as a 26-year-old adult in the middle of a restricting pandemic, juggling work and other responsibilities, I realise he’s right. It’s tough to maintain friendships, not to mention make new friends in Singapore. And I think many of us have been affected enough by the pains of growing up and the pandemic to recognise the importance of close friendships and connections.
Singaporeans are kind of lonely
The new normal has introduced us to remote and hybrid working – a respite from long commutes to and from the office, giving us more time for family and personal matters. Not gonna lie, I love it. But it doesn’t come without some cons.
Slowly but surely, we’re being robbed of opportunities to cultivate the important support systems we need to thrive. In fact, Lululemon’s 2022 Global Wellbeing Report found that while Singaporeans’ overall well-being is higher, 84% of us struggle with loneliness.
“The Covid-19 social restrictions have not only reduced a lot of opportunities for people to gather and organise activities in groups; networking and social events have also been put to a halt,” says Belinda Lau, principal therapist at The Lighthouse Counselling.
Take Zoom uni for example – where kids are resigned to attend lectures and tutorials on screen without meeting their schoolmates in real life. Or completely remote working situations where we never speak to our colleagues except over curt chat messages and tedious meetings day in and day out.
“This makes it extremely difficult for anyone to make friends in Singapore, and more people have to experience being excluded due to social restrictions, which can exacerbate feelings of sadness, shame and isolation,” Belinda says.
We have to go the extra mile to establish connections and make new friends to overcome the challenges that arise with this new way of life in Singapore.
No man is an island
I can’t imagine getting through life without my friends by my side. Some of my closest mates have seen me through the best and worst times of the last decade and more. But why is making friends so essential to adulthood in the first place? Is it really just about having people around to hang out with and vent to?
It turns out friends aren’t just good for killing a few hours together on a Friday night. “Friendship is one of the key components in our support system,” Belinda says. She explains that the presence and connection we feel with friends triggers endorphins in our body, creating feelings of calmness, relaxation and pleasure. “Friendships reduce stress and provide emotional support, fostering feelings of belonging which lead to a more meaningful and purposeful life.” In my view, that’s all the more important in the midst of an incredibly isolating pandemic.
Well, you might think, “That’s fair, but I already have a strong group of friends and I don’t need anyone else.” And yes, it’s true that at times it’s about quality over quantity. If you’re a bit of an introvert like me, you’d think you don’t need many friends to be happy. But it’s actually imperative to have more than one support system to lead a happy life. In fact, people who establish more quality friendships are more likely to recover from adversities and are better armed to deal with life’s challenges.
“Research has shown that people with balanced support systems report less depressive and anxiety symptoms and are equipped with better coping skills,” Belinda says. “We have better mental and physical health, and having good friends serves as a great ‘neutraliser’ which leads us to make better judgments as well.”
Yikes. I just thought of all the horrible decisions I could’ve made without the wise counsel and guidance from some of my friends.
The work we have to put in
I’m guilty of letting some friendships fade, and sometimes choosing the comfort of home and bed over the chance to make new friends in Singapore. But after all this deliberation, it’s clear that I – or we – need to try a little harder. Not for anyone else’s sake, but our own. Adulthood can be so tumultuous and full of changes. Sure, we can do it on our own, but at what cost?
I think of Justin Bieber and his hit song ‘Lonely’, in which he sings, “What if you had it all, but nobody to call?” And frighteningly, for many of us, that may be the truth. We chase and prioritise other things in life like romance and riches, but no matter how much we try to escape it or how lowly we think of it, we need friends.
Right now, it requires a lot more creativity given social events are still on the down low. But even if we can’t meet new people, we can always rediscover, replenish and revive meaningful old friendships by making the effort to hold more quality conversations.
It’s not just about reaching out to say hello; making regular contact doesn’t necessarily nurture a relationship. Instead, make an effort to understand, empathise and reciprocate conversations. “Be open-minded and create space for people to show you who they really are. You might find they could be the best ‘new’ friendships or relationships you can comfortably relate to,” Belinda says.
Look, I get it. In the midst of everything that’s going on, it can be difficult to spare the time. But I bet my bottom dollar it’ll be the thing you least regret spending effort on.
So, here’s to making friends in adulthood, both old and new!