Making friends as an adult can be a daunting task even though we have more to offer in friendship.
Our days get busier as we take on greater responsibilities to family, work, trying to stay healthy, and many other things. Things that we didn’t have to worry much about when we were younger.
It doesn’t seem like finding the time to build new friendships throughout all of those responsibilities should be a priority.
But science disagrees.
People who have a healthy social circle tend to be happier, have better mental health, and experience less stress (source).
Less stress means fewer physical symptoms and illnesses. Stress negatively affects the immune system and can manifest as ulcers, hypertension, headaches, and more.
In other words, loneliness can contribute to many negative physical ailments.
You may be wondering: Why not just keep the old friendships that you’ve already established?
That is part of it.
The problem is that life happens, people out grow each other and move in different directions, or you may later figure out that your friends weren’t exactly the most positive influence in your life.
A relationship you created in your mid-20’s with a drinking buddy may not have the kind of substance required for a healthy friendship as you get older.
It’s not unusual for someone who decides to stop partying to realize that the only thing they had in common with their friend circle was the partying.
And then those friendships crumble because they were only very casual or superficial to begin with.
Defining a successful social life.
Not everyone needs or wants a lot of friends in their life.
Everyone has different requirements for what they feel is an appropriate amount of socialization and friendship.
One must take the time to really consider how big they want their social circle to be and whether or not they can put the appropriate energy into developing close friendships with a lot of people.
The reality is that most people will not and that’s okay. In developing a friendship, quality is usually better than quantity.
We are ever pressed for time in this busy world and don’t necessarily have enough of it to devote to a lot of close relationships.
That doesn’t mean your friend circle needs to be small though. There is such a thing as casual friendship, where you’re not overly involved in someone’s life, but you still make time for one another to have some fun.
Close friendships are wonderful to have, but do keep in mind that every friendship need not be a deeply intimate thing.
Take some time to envision what a successful social life looks like to you before you set out to create it.
Is it regular meet ups?
A large celebration with people?
People to hike with?
Someone to have a life conversation with over a cup of coffee?
A combination of those things?
How does a friendship develop?
Though there are many ways to meet people, actually developing a friendship is a different process.
There are different layers to meeting someone, establishing rapport, and growing that connection over time. Indeed, it takes increasing amounts of time spent together to move from acquaintance to casual friend to regular friend to close friend.
Consistency is at the root of the process.
Let’s break the process down into a few steps that will be easier to understand.
1. You have to get out and meet people.
To make new friends, you have to be in a position to meet new people.
A person won’t make many new friends binge watching the next series on Netflix or isolated in a book.
One needs to go out into the world and interact with people.
2. You have to bond.
Meeting people is well and good, but the goal is to forge a friendship.
Creating a meaningful bond with other people requires a degree of honesty, authenticity, vulnerability, and effort.
These qualities allow other people to see who you are and develop an interest in you.
By practicing these virtues, you can easily demonstrate to other people what you stand for, which helps them decide whether or not they want someone like you in their life.
3. You have to show vulnerability and provide support.
As a quality friendship develops, the two people will likely be sharing more of the trials and difficulties that life is throwing their way.
The ability to communicate and elevate one another through challenging situations and shared interests will strengthen the mutual bond.
4. You have to maintain friendships.
Every relationship and friendship needs some type of maintenance with it.
Something as small as catching up once a year to learn what’s been going on in life can be helpful, though it is not necessarily optimal.
It’s not about the quantity of interactions you have with a person, but the quality of those interactions.
But if you want to aim for a quantity, at least one meaningful interaction or conversation every two weeks is good.
Let’s really take a deep dive into each of these steps to better understand them.
1. Meeting new people.
Meeting new people can seem difficult if you don’t really know where to look for them.
Thankfully, there are many good ways to get around other people; people that could develop into friends.
– Utilize the internet. Websites like MeetUp provide an easy way to find like-minded people to connect with in the real world.
Online communities and groups may also have offline activities where they get together to pursue whatever their mutual interest is.
– Do volunteer work. Volunteer work is a great way to meet new people who are passionate about something that you’re passionate about.
That single point of a shared trait and passion is something that you can start to build a potential friendship on.
– Join groups, clubs, or organizations. There are organized gatherings for many different kinds of people and interests that you could join.
Groups for women, sports clubs, political organizations, spiritual communities – these all provide places to meet new people. Your local library might be able to help you find groups to suit you.
– Take a class. Like volunteer work, classes of different types help you connect with other people who have mutual interests in the thing.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a career-oriented thing either. A local art center may have classes where you can expand your horizons and develop a new passion.
– Work within your career. We spend a significant amount of time at our job with other people. That can be a great place to make new friends if you have coworkers you click well with.
But, you can take it a step further by throwing yourself into your professional development and seeking to expand your reach within your career.
That will have the added benefit of expanding your network and exposing you to more potential friends.
– Networking events and friends. Networking events can be great for expanding one’s contact circle and finding new people.
Perhaps you have existing friends that are essentially a network of their own. Some people just have a magnetic ability to attract people to them and build flourishing friendships with ease.
Hanging out with these people or asking if they know anyone who might be interested in networking or a friendship can be a good way to get introduced to additional people.
Meeting new people may require that you step outside of your comfort zone to get into a different space. That’s not at all a bad thing, as discomfort is often the path of growth.
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2. Mutual interest and bonding.
The initial act of bonding with another person often starts with some form of mutual interest.
That mutual interest can be something concrete, like volunteering in a field you’re passionate about, or it can be something more intangible.
Even the desire to meet and make a new friend can be enough of a mutual interest to forge a friendship.
Material mutual interests aren’t necessarily that important. What is important is a person’s character and what work they are willing to put in.
You can have a good time with anyone if you try hard enough by letting yourself out of your comfort zone.
You may also find that stepping out of your comfort zone and making friends with people that you didn’t consider to be your type of person will expand your horizons.
Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box.
Bonding with another person requires some willingness to be vulnerable. Vulnerability gives the other person an opportunity to see who you genuinely are beneath the social mask that we wear all too often.
It can be scary, but the act of putting yourself out there a bit more will empower other people who are nervous or scared about being too vulnerable themselves.
Be willing to step into that discomfort and you’ll find that it not only attracts people, but also helps dispel your own discomfort.
Vulnerability and authenticity are something that need to be measured in their execution. You don’t want to over share about the negatives or difficulties you’ve had in life, unless it’s appropriate for the situation.
Instead, focus on demonstrating the things you believe, value, hobbies, or any other positive things that have helped make you who you are. Share your interests.
And, most importantly, be a good listener. A good listener makes other people feel valued, seen, and heard.
These are attractive qualities in a friend so long as you maintain a balanced perspective. There are some people that will see this as a reason to dump their emotional load onto you, which you want to avoid.
A healthy friendship is a mutual exchange between the people involved.
3. Increased vulnerability and growth.
The birth of a friendship is planting an acorn. Vulnerability, shared experiences, and navigating the challenges of life that are appropriate for your friendship will provide the fertilizer, water, and sun that causes the seed to grow into a sturdy, mighty oak tree.
Nurturing that growth requires dedicated effort from both sides of the friendship.
You can’t have one person constantly putting in all of the effort while the other doesn’t answer calls, try to hang out, or give any quality time to their friend.
That just doesn’t work.
A one-sided friendship like that isn’t likely to go the distance. If it happens, you can try having a conversation about the importance of both parties working on the friendship and interacting.
Sometimes life gets busy and a person gets swamped in their other responsibilities.
But if it turns into a chronic problem where the other person is entirely unreliable, then it may be better to reassess whether or not the friendship is worth trying to hang on to and build.
Sometimes it won’t be and that’s okay. Not all friendships are meant to last forever. Some come and go.
And sometimes it feels like a certain person comes in and out of our life just to teach us something important that we need to know.
Hopefully, it won’t come to that and you’ll be able to grow together in that new friendship.
4. Regular maintenance.
As the friendship is built, it will require maintenance to keep it healthy and growing.
That can take different forms. There are some people who can go six months without talking to a friend and then pick right back up where they left off as though no time has passed at all.
This is more common for people who have been friends for a long time.
But newer friendships often require more frequent attention and maintenance to nurture a smaller shoot into a much bigger tree that can stand by itself.
Both people will need to make an effort to see one another until those bonds are appropriately forged.
Once you’ve both hit a solid comfort level with one another, it may not require as much maintenance or attention to keep healthy.
Be the type of friend that you want to have.
People will generally not tolerate a disparity in energy for long.
Furthermore, they also don’t want to have their limited free time disrupted or dragged down if they can avoid it.
Therefore, one should strive to be the type of friend that you want to have, and be willing to cut off people that do not appropriately reciprocate that time and energy.
Negativity and pessimism get old real quick and people don’t have much tolerance for it in their personal lives.
You don’t need to be fake positive, but striving to not be negative can do wonders for one’s ability to develop friendships and have a healthier interaction with the world.
The ability to be kind and supportive to your friends while they’re down is a valuable skill, so long as you don’t burden yourself with people who do not return that kindness and consideration.
Be the type of friend that you want to have, but do ensure you are setting and enforcing boundaries.
People will generally treat you how you allow them to treat you.
And that’s not even a statement on the negative side of humanity. Rather, you demonstrate to other people what is acceptable based on what you accept.
Life is sometimes hard and people are often messy. They don’t always mean to be unkind or inconsiderate. The decisions they make are often based on what the people around them will accept.
And sometimes stuff just happens.
Showing up to your friendships.
The social contract has changed a lot over the past twenty years or so.
People are so much busier than they ever were and it reflects in how we deal with things like meeting up.
Flakiness is seen as an acceptable quality for a lot of people. They simply don’t show up when they are supposed to, blaming their own inability to manage time on other people for not changing their schedules to accommodate.
The act of showing up, whether it’s to a career or a friendship, is powerful because it clearly demonstrates that you are there and invested in what you’re doing.
And even if you can’t show up, a simple message or phone call to let the other person know what’s going on can go a long way to preserving that relationship.
No one wants to feel like they are being overlooked, particularly when someone has committed to spending their time with them.
Showing up is more than just physical. It’s also being there for your friends when they are riding out the lows of life or trying to spice up the monotonous middles.
And, of course, one needs to ensure that the people they call friends are reciprocating and showing up as well.
If you don’t feel they are, don’t jump straight to ghosting or dropping the friendship. Have a conversation about it.
The other person may not realize that they aren’t living up to your expectations for the friendship and it will give you both an opportunity to mend the rift instead of just sinking the whole thing.
Honesty is the bedrock of healthy friendships.
Honesty as a quality isn’t as valued as it used to be.
Nowadays, people are far more concerned with not hurting others or having their own feelings hurt with some uncomfortable honesty.
That’s unfortunate, because it stifles real connection and growth.
Why would anyone want to be friends with someone who will let them make terrible mistakes and not at least suggest that perhaps they aren’t making a good decision?
That’s not someone you want as a friend, nor is it someone you should want to be around.
But so many people feel that honesty negatively impacts a superficial happiness that they are desperately clinging to so as to prevent that happiness from going away, as though genuine happiness is something so fragile and delicate.
That burst of honesty may be just what the person needs to see through some difficult things they are going through and find an actual solution to their problem.
Honesty, as a regular value, is a great attraction for people who are tired of superficial connections and friendships.
Honest people tend to be more blunt and forthright, which cuts down on a lot of the Machiavellian machinations that people spend their time on.
The more you embrace honesty in your own life, the better your relationships will be, and the less garbage you’ll have to deal with from timewasters and schemers who want to use you.
Overcoming the challenge of adult friendships.
The reality is that it is difficult to make and keep adult friendships. We no longer have the ease of intermingling with other people through activities like school.
Social networking can be more difficult. People are busier than ever and feel like they don’t have the time needed to invest in making those connections.
It’s easy to close off to protect oneself from the tough nature of existence by not showing vulnerability.
The thing is, these are problems we all share in some form.
Understanding them is the key to overcoming them, because once you understand it in yourself, you can then use it as a means to reach across the void to another person.
We can commit to values like honesty and vulnerability which appeal to other people who either respect it or want it in their own life.
These strong choices provide a foundation upon which we can build new friendships and relationships with other people.
But, these choices are the result of a lot of personal work and effort.
It’s said in many self-help circles that to change the world one must first change themselves.
And if we have lost sight of who we are, our values, and what’s important to us in this world, then we will have a much harder time forging friendships because we aren’t attracting people who value similar things.
It might be time to reconnect with oneself before working on the things around you.