make new friends but keep the old...why it's hard to make friends as an adult and what we can do about it.
Let’s face it — making friends as an adult is hard. Maybe you moved to a new city and started fresh, or maybe some of your high-school friendships have just run their course. Whatever the reason being, there’s no shame in admitting you’re having trouble making friends in adulthood — most of us can relate.
No matter how picture-perfect some people’s lives look, we all have one thing in common: things have changed since childhood. What started as something as easy as going up to another kid and becoming friends has morphed into awkward coffee dates and strings of fruitless “we should grab a drink soon”-s. But why is this?
The obvious answer here is time. When we were seven we didn’t have work, deadlines, fitness classes, significant others, or three meals a day to cook. With the chaos of adult life, it’s hard enough to find time for ourselves, let alone to cultivate friendships. On average, it takes 50 hours of shared contact to become friends, and 200 hours to become close friends — hard to imagine when you struggle to squeeze in an hour. However, as much as we might say we like being alone, humans are inherently social beings and social time fosters the sense of community and wellbeing we so desire.
Time is the simple excuse, but there’s more to it than just a busy schedule. As we get older, we become more self-aware and accrue lived experiences. Not to say we’re all jaded scrooges, but the inevitable rejection and ‘betrayal’ of varying degrees we will experience throughout our lives will naturally lead us to be a little more wary of trusting people than when we were bright-eyed youngsters. Similarly, we learn social cues and develop more guards as adults, which can limit us from being our complete authentic selves.
There are two main ingredients to organic friendships that are hard to come by in adulthood: continuous unplanned action and shared vulnerability. When we were little, a playdate was just wherever our whims and fancies took us. Now, as adults, these scheduled, structured coffee dates and hour-long meetups lack spontaneity and put too much pressure on the hangout.
So what's the answer? While we can’t change the above facts of life, we can shift our view of what it means to make and keep friends. Research has found that people who view friendships as a continuous effort rather than a stroke of right-place-right-time luck tend to be less lonely later in life. Friendship requires a combination of effort and vulnerability — let go of the awkwardness and lean into the cringe. Don’t be afraid to ask someone new to hang out because it could lead to something beautiful.
While a mindset shift is important, a concrete, practically foolproof way of making new friends is to do something together that is scheduled and part of your routine. Whether it’s a running club, a pottery class, or an intramural team, meeting with the same group of people reinforces a sense of community and ensures you regularly spend time together. Plus, you avoid the awkward small-talk and instead have a shared goal or a primary interest to talk about.
While it may not be quite as effortless as in our youth, friendships are just as important as ever and are worth putting in the work for. Just remember: it’s not because you’re a loser! We’re all capable of having a less shiddy platonic love life if we put the work in.