One of the things I often hear as a therapist who works with predominantly Millennial and Gen-X clients is this:
“It’s really hard to make friends as an adult!
Is it just me?
How do people do it?”
The reality is that many of us do find it harder to make new friends in our later twenties and thirties, but, since this isn’t really discussed all that often, we can sometimes be left wondering if it’s just us who’s having a hard time with it.
I don’t think that’s the case at all. In fact, I think for a lot of us, making friends as an adult can feel hard.
So in today’s post, I want to share with you why I think this is, maybe help you feel a bit less lonely with this particular struggle, and offer up some practical, actionable guidance and therapeutic inquiries if making friends as an adult is something you’re personally struggling with.
Obviously, having friends is a good thing.
I doubt that I need to tell you that having friends is a good thing.
It’s what half the sitcoms and movies of the world center on and, as Cicero anciently opined, “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”
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But did you also know that friendship may make us live longer?
Or that, according to a study published in the Journal for Developmental Psychology, best friends buffer the physiological stress effects in our bodies and the psychological impact on our “global self-worth.”
And, as the mother of all longitudinal happiness studies – Harvard’s Grant Study – as analyzed by The Atlantic pointed out, “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’”
And, in my professional opinion, for those of us who identify as un- or under-parented, or who live far away from families of origin and aren’t super connected to a local community, friends become your veritable family. Your urban family. Your family of choice. Sometimes the person or people you need or want to list as your emergency contact. Your go-to. Your person.
For these and so many thousands of other reasons, friendship is obviously critical to overall life fulfillment.
But what’s also true is that, for many of us as we age up through our late twenties and thirties, it can often feel harder to maintain old friendships and more challenging still to form new friendships at quite the same intensity and depth as our prior ones.
So why is this?
Why is hard to make friends as an adult?
While there’s no one single reason as to why it may feel harder to form friendships as an adult (we all have our unique situations that contribute to this), generally speaking, there are, I think, three primary reasons why it might feel harder:
- Reduction of built-in cohorts.
- Reduction of intensity of shared experiences.
- Schedule overwhelm.
Reduction of built-in cohorts.
What do I mean by reduction of built in cohorts?
Think about it: From roughly ages 5-22 we journey with a built-in cohort of companions from kindergarten to college that basically bakes in daily socializing to our lives.
We’re thrown together with people based on proximity and interests during some of the most intensely formative times of our lives.
But when you hit your twenties — unless perhaps you head off to grad school or enroll in the Peace Corps — your built-in cohorts likely reduce to those you work with or live near.
And while this definitely still exposes you to new people all of the time (think about all the job changes and moves you will or have made in your twenties and thirties!) the intensity of the connection may shift and change from days past.
Reduction of intensity of connection.
Please don’t mistake me: I don’t think life gets less intense in your late twenties and thirties. (Arguably it gets more so!)
In your teens and twenties, your intense life experiences happen side by side on your varsity soccer team, in your dorm, in your sorority, etc., etc., Later on, though, post-college and grad school, you’re still having intense moments but perhaps only sharing them with housemates or a favorite coworker or friends you may see less often.
As we age, most of us become a bit more isolated in who and how we experience intense life moments with unless we proactively work to shift that.
And given how overwhelming schedules can become in your late twenties and thirties, this takes work.
In our late twenties and early thirties, there’s usually a tightening and compacting of schedules that life demands of us.
So all of this to say: maintaining old friendships and forming new ones may feel much more logistically challenging.
And whether or not it’s reduction of built-in cohorts, reduction of intensity of shared experiences, and schedule overwhelm, or some combination of these elements or none of them at all, if you’re struggling with making new friends as an adult, please realize you’re not alone in this.
I think it feels hard for many people for these and many other real, practical reasons.
Okay, so how can I make friends as an adult?
If you’re reading this nodding your head, resonating with what I’m writing, and still wondering how you can actually make friends as an adult, I now want to offer both a list of practical suggestions and also a list of therapeutic inquiries that may plant a seed and help you on your path to make new friends as an adult.
Because the reality is, there’s actually a lot of very wonderful things about now consciously attempting to make more friends as an adult. For starters, you likely know yourself better and can now seek out more like-minded, similarly oriented folks in a way that you just don’t get to do when you’re all lumped together thanks to zipcodes in high school.
So, these suggestions and inquiries are by no means prescriptive — use them as a catalyst for your own creative ideas about how you might want to approach this — and definitely leave a message in the comments at the end of this post if you have some additional, helpful ideas to share with our community of blog readers.
- Reconnect with old friends. Before you rush to seek out and form new friendships, be curious if there are any old friends in your past you may want to reconnect with. Remember that old Girl Scout song? “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Who knows if this will feel true for you but it’s worth a try!
- Put yourself in real life situations with new people. Whether this is a mastermind group, recreational ultimate leagues, weekly Zumba classes at Y, a night class at a local community college, a REI training class, a MeetUp, put yourself in situations where you’ll meet multiple new people face to face. (And, better yet, consider hosting a class, party, or Meetup if you feel up to it!)
- Similarly, say yes to invites where you’ll be exposed to new people. A birthday dinner party for a girlfriend where you may not know everyone else, a networking gig, an alumni gathering, say yes to moments where you’ll be exposed to new people. I know this can feel hard if you struggle with social anxiety, so take your time, and start off by saying yes to invites that push your boundaries a little bit each time.
- Find and follow your kindred spirits on social media. I think one of the best parts about social media is how we can more easily seek out our like-minded kindred spirits — our Wolf Pack! — that we may not otherwise have had any other way of meeting. Connecting and following someone online may not bloom into a real friendship right away, but this may happen over time if you two decide to take it offline (and this has definitely been the case for me!).
- Deliberately plan time in your calendar monthly for friendship. I know this sounds silly but life gets super busy and before you know it, months have flown. And so, as my one of my mentors, Marie Forleo, says, “if it’s not scheduled, it’s not real.” Put a friendship date — whether with an old friend or a new one — down in your calendar and stick to it. Don’t let schedule overwhelm keep you from prioritizing this if making friends is, in fact, a priority for you.
- Join a therapy group! Whether this is a Women’s Circle, a grief processing group, a recently broken hearted or preparing yourself for relationship group, find a circle of people journeying through something you’re going through. That kind of connection can be vulnerable and powerful. (and PS: I’m thinking of starting both in-person and online Women’s Circle groups so email me at annie@anniewrightpsychotherapy if this is something that may personally interest you so I can put you on the announcement list when I roll these out!)
- Use social media in a different way. If you want to cultivate a deeper kind of friendship, be more vulnerable on your social platforms, don’t just make it be a highlight reel. You may deepen connections you already have or draw new people to you. And if it feels too risky to do this with your established profiles, consider setting up a Finstagram, a separate, alternate account you only use with your besties (or soon-to-be-besties).
- Volunteer. Or join a Board. Or host a fundraiser. Again, it’s all about putting yourself in environments where you’ll be exposed to new folks and the bonus here is feeling good for giving back!
- Host something for your neighbors. Or, at least, say “Hi” in the hallway or on the street taking out the recycling bin.
- Be proactive and pursue things that you’re interested in/passionate about. Whether it’s a jewelry making class, open water kayaking, or investing, join groups and classes online or in-person and go from there.
- Host a monthly potluck. Or gather at a restaurant and ask your friends to bring someone new into your group each month.
Where we can get therapeutically curious:
As you can see, none of the above suggestions are rocket science and they’re really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative ideas about how to meet and make new friends.
So where we also want to be curious is if there’s something bigger showing up for you when you think about going off and pursuing some of these practical suggestions. If there is some kind of psychological resistance that shows up for you.
For instance, here are some inquiries I invite you to reflect on if making friends as an adult feels like a challenge for you beyond the practical, logistical side of things:
- Do you have resistance to initiating new friendships? Are you actually open to new relationships right now?
- Are there issues in current or older friendships you’re avoiding looking at in your pursuit of new friendships?
- Do you trust that there are people out there that you’ll resonate with? Or do you have a fairly pessimistic view about meeting new people?
- What comes up for you when you think about exposing yourself to new people and new situations?
- What’s your history of friendship been like? Is it painful in any way and is any of that showing up for you when you think about actively trying to make new friends?
- What do you know about how you “tend to” and nourish the friendships you do have in your life?
- Are you using your schedule or lack of energy as an excuse or avoidance of doing the vulnerable work of making connections?
- Does any part of you feel frustrated or angry that making friends as an adult is this hard? Do you have an expectation it “should” be easier?
Wrapping this up and moving forward.
I hope you enjoyed today’s article and, more than anything, I hope that if you’ve personally been struggling with feeling isolated in the struggle to maintain and make new, close friendships as an adult you feel less alone after reading this.
The reality is, I think that many of us struggle with maintaining old and forming new close friendships as we get older. You’re not alone in this at all.
And while your situation and reasons for this struggle are, of course, unique, there are, I believe some fairly common logistical and practical barriers as to why this is hard for many of us.
So I hope the list of practical suggestions and therapeutic inquiries felt helpful to you as you begin to think about what this may look like for you.
And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:
And until next time, take very good care of yourself.
- Book: “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore.”
- Article: Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?
- Website: Meetup.com