If you've ever tried to make friends as an adult, you know that it can be hard. Former surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy went so far as to call loneliness a growing health epidemic, and pointed out that even though we live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s with over 40% of American adults reporting feelings of loneliness.
As a child, making friends sometimes seemed as easy as sharing a ball with a stranger on the playground or being in the same class. As an adult, how do we replicate these interactions that made childhood friendships seem so simple?
Research has shown that low trust is the leading reason why adults find it hard to make friends, followed by lack of time and introversion. As we age and gain life experiences, it's just not that easy to trust people, or not as easy as it was when we were younger. Maybe we felt hurt or rejected by friends in the past so we find it hard to open up to new people or maybe we fear being judged by others. Whatever the reason, once that trust falters, it can be hard to build back.
We can also find ourselves growing apart from friends that we had before and not replacing those friends with new relationships. Life circumstances change, people move away to different cities, get new jobs, grow their families, and change their priorities. And cultivating new relationship takes time. Even if we do meet someone new and interesting, so often we’ll text back and forth, trying to figure out a time to meet until things get awkward and the relationship fizzles out.
So what can we do?
Americans only spend about forty-one minutes a day socializing, which is one-third of the amount of time they spend watching TV. If you feel like you don't have time to make friends, it might be helpful to look at where your time goes first. See if you can take one action a day that will help you cultivate a friendship. Maybe you text an acquaintance to start a conversation. Maybe you sign up for a new class where you might meet like-minded people. As with most things, creating a habit out of cultivating friendships will make it easier to make it part of your daily routine.
For most of our lives, we made friends in relatively contained, organized environments such as grade school or through hobbies like a sports team or an art club. While those things were organized for us when we are younger, we can continue to organize these things for ourselves as adults.
What do you enjoy or what have you enjoyed in the past? Use something like meetup.com to find events or activities near you with other people who are looking to make new friends. Find trivia night for a subject that you are interested in or join a class for something you'd like to learn or get better at.
Doing something familiar can reduce social anxiety because it gives you a shared language and a shared passion point and it can also be a way to really build friendships and relationships that are rooted in things that you share things you have in common.
Or try something new! Maybe there are certain hobbies or behaviors or activities that you haven't yet done that you would like—and maybe you can experience with someone new.
We often spend more waking hours with our co-workers than we do with our own families, but do they really know us— and do we know them?
If there are people who you work with but haven't had a chance to really chat with, maybe you want to reach out to them to have a 15-minute virtual coffee chat or grab lunch. If there's someone at work for you long-desired as a friend, take a chance and ask them to hang out, virtually or in person.
Are there new employees where you work? Chances are they're lonelier than you are. Take this opportunity to be both a welcoming new co-worker and a potential new friend.
Say to your existing friend group, “Hey, I'm really looking to double down on my friendships. Would any of you be interested in doing a bi-weekly or monthly lunch, whether it's in person or virtual?” or “Hey, does anyone have Thursday night available? I would love to watch a movie with you.” As we said already, most adults find it hard to make friends color so it would make sense that they are interested in finding new friendships and strengthening existing friendships. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no, and then you can move your attention onto someone else.
Maybe there are really good friends of your friends or your significant other or people you already know who you can ask for new connections. Say, “Hey, I have valued you and our friendship so much, [here are some things that I really appreciate about you], and I imagine that you probably have other people in your circle who gravitate toward similar things. Would you be open to introducing me to one or two of your friends that I don't yet know or would it be all right with you if I reached out to them for coffee or meal because I would love to expand my friendships. I trust you as a connector for me and I value our relationship and I think that as a group, we can make an even stronger friend group together.”
We can share all the different places and ways that you can make friends as an adult, but all the lists in the world won't help if you are not ready to be vulnerable. It takes openness and courage to make friends. If it feels hard for you, you are not alone. On the surface, it seems like it should be easy, but we know from the amount of people struggling with loneliness these days that it can't possibly be true.
What can you do to practice vulnerability? Are there places in your life that are safe to test this out? Maybe you can rekindle an old friendship with someone you know who is kind and most likely willing. Maybe you can attend an event where you know people are specifically looking to make friends, so it won't be weird if you strike up a conversation with a stranger. Maybe you can attend an event or a gathering with another friend, as long as you are both committed to talking to new people, and at least you'll still have one another to fall back on if things get weird.
Vulnerability is a muscle, one that we have to exercise. But like any muscle, it gets stronger the more we use it. Yes, making friends as an adult is hard, but when we open up to those around us and take a chance on a new relationship, the benefits can be amazing.