A friend of mine recently asked me if I had any advice for keeping medium friends. Their tone was sincere, so I resisted the urge to make a joke about talking to ghosts. But they were just talking about normal, human friends, and they went on to clarify specifically what they meant—medium friends are the friends who you enjoy spending time with but aren’t especially close to. You’re less likely to hang out with these types of friends outside of a group setting.
There’s a sort of a spectrum, we decided. There are close friends, who you can go to for support and who you can talk about more serious stuff with, and there are acquaintances, who are people you’re friendly with but don’t know very well. Somewhere in between are medium friends. You might play a board game together, but you probably won’t confide in them about your mental health.
In the moment, thinking about my friends in this frame was sobering, because it seemed like virtually all my friends were medium ones—the exact opposite situation from my friend who wanted advice. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Is it normal? What would be the “right” amount of medium friends? Am I overthinking friendship?
I’ve been trying hard to understand how to make and keep friends for as long as I can remember, and it never felt like I really figured it out. But it’s different now. Without the structure and context of school, friendship seems more mysterious and intimidating than ever. Personally, I’ve had trouble simply remembering the fact that I have friends at all. That might sound like an exaggeration but, anecdotally, it’s pretty common for people with ADHD to struggle to keep in mind the people who care about them, unless they’re seeing them constantly. 1 2 3 4
Fortunately, living with my partner, Heidi, means that it’s difficult to forget about her—my best and closest friend. But she has ADHD too, and on bleaker days it can feel a little like it’s just the two of us together against the rest of the world. Alone in our apartment, caught up in our own small troubles, it can feel like our families and friends have fallen away somehow, leaving us unsupported as we face the unfamiliar obstacles of adult living. How does health insurance work? How am I coming across to my coworkers? How do I find my own passions? Is everything actually going to be okay?
In reality, though, we do have people who support us, including friends who I would be inclined to call close—the problem is that I’m not entirely sure what that means.
For one thing, the burden of consistency is on us, nowadays. In college, friendships blossom naturally out of recurring classes or clubs or just from living within less than a square mile. In high school, you can barely escape seeing the same people every single day for years. Sure, my friendships now are better because everyone is a lot more mature than we were as teens—but when I was in high school I had a squad, and we did basically everything together. In comparison, it feels trivial to call today’s friends close when every time we hang out has to be planned two to five business days in advance.
I would never trade away what I have now—especially not Heidi. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss those high school friendships, in their own way. At the time, those were the closest friends I’d ever had, even if cultural pressures didn’t give us much room to share our emotional lives.
So maybe that’s why it feels like all my friends today are “medium” ones. Compared to high school, it’s much harder to see them; compared to Heidi, I don’t lean on them much emotionally. But friendships are bound to change in nature over time, and it would be unfair for me to assume that friendships that are a little less interdependent or a little more intermittent are somehow automatically less meaningful. Of course they aren’t.
So having medium friends is probably okay. And for my friend who feels like they don’t have any, that’s okay too. People have vastly different needs for—and experiences of—friendship, and as far as I can tell, none of us feel much like experts in post-college friendship-keeping. But I’m hoping that my medium friends can at least tell that I do care about them, more than just a medium amount.
Still from “ghost choir” used with the permission of creator Louie Zong
Philip Rienstra (‘21) majored in writing and music and has plans to pursue a career in publishing. He is a recovering music snob, a fruit juice enthusiast, and a big fan of the enneagram. He’s currently living in Grand Rapids with his partner, Heidi.