How do we make friends in adulthood?
Updated: Mar 16
As a child, making friends is an exciting and natural process. Children are quickly able to forge connections with classmates over arbitrary mutual interests such as playing with sand in the sand box or running around together in the playground. At an early age, these connections are heavily influenced by proximity and frequency which is why children often make friends with kids in their class, neighbours, and family friends. These friendships are convenient, consistent, and easy to maintain due to the regularity in seeing one another. As children, it doesn’t matter so much if our values or professional lives do not align. The act of spending time together, laughing, having fun, and feeling close is what binds us together.
Growing up, we find that the kids we were close to at age 5 have either remained a consistent feature of our lives, or disappeared entirely. Friends are transient; they come and go throughout our lifetime. Maintaining deep and meaningful connections with others can be a hard task, particularly in adulthood. While systems are in place which allow for organic connection throughout our lives, within academic settings, this often changes once we leave University. Up until this point, we are placed in groups within which we find our friends from the pool of individuals in our classes. There is some difference within a University setting, as the pool is much larger and making friends in a lecture hall of 300 students can be nearly impossible. However, even at University, there are systems in place designed specifically for friend-making, in the clubs and societies available for students.
Once you are out of academia, you are pretty much left to your own devices. As you enter the work setting, you may face challenges in making friends as you no longer have a cohort of people who are all the same age and with similar academic interests. You also have no larger, unified goal or reason to be friends. In adulthood, the freedom and ability to either neglect or maintain friendships is enormous. There is no longer a specified time and place where you will see someone every day, because you study Medieval History and have a 9am lecture every Wednesday, for instance. Adult friendships, along with other adult responsibilities like paying rent on time, are characterised by complete freedom, independence and self-discipline.
Venturing into adulthood presents us with a few main challenges as we take on new responsibilities and enter a different phase of life. Firstly, most people are looking to fall in love, settle into more serious long-term relationships and start a family. Secondly, we start to pay more attention to our professional lives and invest in building connections which will allow us to excel in our careers. As adult demands increase, we have less time for friends than we did in our teenage years, which may have felt more carefree, exciting, and social as friendship feels like one of the most important things growing up, and the desire to belong and be accepted is even more significant at this stage. So it is understandable why making friends in adulthood is harder – priorities change, people are more family-oriented, or career-focused and friendship can become less of a concern. However, this is actually a time in life, when forging meaningful connections is of paramount importance. Statistics reveal that loneliness is a major issue across the world, but particularly within the demographic of 20 – 30 year olds for just this reason.
In my own life, I have found that when reaching 26 this year, a lot of my close friends have moved abroad for work or studies. This is relatively common as people seek new opportunities further afield early in their careers, but can mean that in-person connection becomes scarce if our closest friends live abroad. Technology allows us to remain connected and while time-zones pose another challenge, this can be understood and worked around. However, nothing can replace the sense of belonging, comfort, and happiness that comes with real-life connection. Research suggests that investment in close relationships has been connected to improved health, happiness and wellbeing in adulthood.
The current state of social interaction is dire – meaningful, valuable relationships have been reduced to low-maintenance, minimal encounters as the rise in social media has meant we, as sentient beings, utilise only a fraction of our faculties, predominantly using our thumbs to swipe, like, comment and post emojis. The face of friendship itself has morphed into replying back-and-forth to somebody’s stories as they document their filtered lives through a smart phone. The rise in social media has left us feeling lonelier than ever. So instead of sending a text or digitally liking a friend’s post, be proactive and organise an in-person meet-up. We encourage less swiping, more action. But first, let’s address the big question.
How do we make friends in adulthood?
The most important advice in making friends is to be proactive, consistent, and open. Making friends takes time and effort. Like anything in life, if you want to see results, you have to put in the time. Friendships must be nurtured and developed through active engagement, building trust and closeness and ultimately showing up, time and time again.
BE POSITIVE AND OPEN
Making friends requires a positive and open attitude. You never know who you will meet and click with, so do not restrict yourself based on ethnic, religious or demographic ties. Clear your mind of any preconceived notions you may have about people – and be open to exploring new activities, hobbies, and interests.
TRY SOMETHING NEW
Social psychology supports the view that friend-making is most successful in group settings therefore getting involved in sports, book or film clubs, or classes to learn a new skill can be an ideal way to make new friends. Get out of your comfort zone! You never know what you will enjoy, and who you could meet.
REMIND YOURSELF IT IS UNCOMFORTABLE
Making new friends is a messy, uncomfortable, and often anxiety-inducing process. This is what you’ve signed up for. Remember that when you’re at a work social, group outing or cookery class. It is not easy, and it will not all be fun and smooth-sailing. You may have had too many drinks at the work Christmas party and say some politically incorrect things. That is okay. It is not going to be an instant, stress-free journey. There will be some bumps in the road on your path to finding your tribe. Be prepared for that.
PUT IN THE TIME
If you want to deepen your connection with others, you have to put in the time. You can also look at your existing circles and think about who you have always wanted to get to know better. Be brave and reach out to them! Send them a text or give them a ring. Schedule a time to hang out. You could go for a walk, or a coffee, or try a new restaurant you’ve had your eyes on. But the main thing is time. Be consistent and reliable. If you cannot make the original time as planned, reschedule. But make sure you do see them at the newly agreed time as this helps build trust in the friendship.
DESTIGMATISE THE STRUGGLE
Many adults struggle with making friends and it is becoming a global phenomenon. So keep the conversation going. Break the stigma. There is no shame in being lonely – we all are! (Or at least, 1 in 5 adults do not have close friends). It is very common for adults to have a hard time making friends so be open, talk about it, and you will be surprised how many resonate with this shared experience.
REMEMBER THAT FRIENDSHIPS CHANGE
Friendships change over time and that is also okay. You will not be best friends with everyone all of the time, not everyone will understand you, and that is okay. Some friendships are long-term and consistent, others aren’t. But the important thing to remember is that you are doing what you can. If a friendship fizzles out and ends naturally, that is also okay. Letting go is a part of life. Some friendships are meant to be short, wild bursts of love and light, which burn and fade into the background. All you can do is try.
PlanOut: AN ANSWER TO LONELINESS
In this climate of loneliness, the battle to make friends as adults, and our increasingly hectic lives filled with the crushing monotony and grief of the COVID-19 pandemic, PlanOut was born.
PlanOut is a friend-making mobile app which responds to the epidemic of loneliness by providing an effective and easy tool to allow people to make friends in their local area. While other apps in this sphere approach friend-making with a ‘dating’ mind-set, effectively enabling users to go on awkward and contrived friend-dates, PlanOut applies a new and unique method. Using cutting-edge technology, PlanOut’s AI places users in group chats based on their personality and interests. This allows you to send instant messages, video content, and memes to individuals in the group chat and removes the tedious task of having to swipe through profiles to make friends. This means, at the touch of a button, you can have access to a whole new group of friends. Download the app for iPhone.
To sum up, making new friends in adulthood is hard. But to do so, you have to take initiative, be consistent, venture out of your comfort zone, and show up. And in this digital age, try PlanOut. Apps are the future. Good luck!
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