#Opinion Of The Day

The evolution of friendships

"Nobody likes you when you're 23," sang Mark Hoppus in the chorus to pop-punk band Blink-182's 1999 hit What's My Age Again.

I beg to differ.

I'd like to think that when I was 23, a long time ago, I had an active social life.

While studying for my exams as a young English literature undergraduate, my classmates and I were camped out at the McDonald's at Parkway Centre in Marine Parade for days on end, trying to make sense of Roland Barthes and Gayatri Spivak.

Saturday afternoons were spent with one of my closest friends from junior college, searching through the racks at music stores Gramophone and HMV, now both long gone. I remember trying to figure out whether it was worth plunking down the cash for the uncensored version of an Outkast album when I already had the censored one.

Saturday nights, on the other hand, were spent with my secondary school friends at the Dawood coffee shop at the junction of Frankel Avenue and Changi Road. We would talk, eat prata and drink endless cups of teh halia until the wee hours of the morning. That coffee shop closed years ago.

Looking back, I realise for the most part, those weren't exactly the most constructive uses of time.

However, they were invaluable in terms of creating memories and bonds with my friends and peers, and I look back on my early 20s fondly.

But becoming a working adult rapidly depleted me of leisure time, and that was compounded by my becoming a husband and father.

Regular deadlines make it difficult to decide at the last minute to catch that indie movie at a film festival, and paediatrician appointments stand in between you and impromptu Starbucks meet-ups.

I've struggled with the popular wisdom that one really needs to hold on to only a small circle of close friends. After all, I'm friends with different people based on different interests and the stage at which they came into my life, and those don't necessarily intersect.

The hours of conversation, shared experiences and time spent together that it takes to really build a friendship have dried up.

I've struggled with the popular wisdom that one really needs to hold on to only a small circle of close friends. After all, I'm friends with different people based on different interests and the stage at which they came into my life, and those don't necessarily intersect.

The people I attend religious classes at the mosque with aren't necessarily the ones I'll have debates with on the merits of 90s gangsta rap (although sometimes they are).

But after several years of raging against the inevitable consequences of "adulting" - as the kids call it now - I've come to accept that my social circles will never be what they were in the salad days of my youth.

And, in a lot of ways, I'm glad.

"Sometimes, we just outgrow the role that we play," raps Minnesota hip-hop artist Brother Ali in his song Walking Away. Ali was talking about his divorce, but I feel that it applies to friendships as well. I've come to accept two things: However close, not all friendships last forever, and just because you're connected on social media doesn't mean that you're necessarily friends. Facebook and Instagram have a way of keeping relationships alive way beyond their expiry dates.

Mostly though, I've come to realise the importance of having friends at work.

Numerous studies have shown how friendships at work improve productivity and increase employee engagement. I can personally attest to that.

I'm very thankful to have had friends who helped me through some pretty tough times at jobs I've held in the past, without whom going to work might have been a much more excruciating endeavour.

And I'm also grateful to be surrounded by people I consider my friends and peers now, who've helped me adjust to the hectic life of journalism.

I suppose it's not so much that friendships disappear, as it is that they change and evolve, just as we as people evolve and grow.

To expect my life to stay in stasis in 23 forever would not only be unrealistic, it would also be stifling.


  • #opinionoftheday is a column for younger writers in the newsroom to write about issues that matter to them and their peers.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'The evolution of friendships'. Print Edition | Subscribe