Why Is It So Hard to Make Friends as an Adult?

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?  That is a question I repeatedly get from clients, and something I have asked myself personally many times. 

Several years ago, I was on a quest to find my new “best friend.”  We had recently moved to the suburbs from the city, and with that move included a loss of close friends – proximity wise.  I was melancholy for “girls’ nights out” and get togethers that included deep conversations and strong connections with those who knew me wholly, without judgement. 

I would search out opportunities to meet like-minded women who could recreate those deep friendships I missed.   I likened those opportunities and interactions to a blind date – feeling anxiety over whether they would “like” me or if we had similar interests.   I was really struggling with why it was so hard to make new friends – and it appears I’m wasn’t alone.

Our Friendships Peak In Our 20's

According to a study published in Psychological Bulletin, researchers found that the number of friends we have peaks in our 20’s and steadily declines as we age, primarily due to different milestones – marriage, parenthood, job changes and moves. 

Strong friendships are built on consistent, unplanned interactions and priority – you build strong connections when you see your friends frequently – in classrooms, on teams, in college organizations or jobs – and you maintain them by making those friends a priority – which doesn’t always happen when we shift from putting our time and energy into maintaining strong friendships to our partners, marriages, children and other family commitments.

Also in a world of email and social media in which we have 5,000 friends but limited human connections, we miss out on those “real” interactions in which we learn about others in a more organic way.  We may also already dismiss someone as a friend based on their Facebook posts or Instagram pictures bringing in preconceived judgments and biases. 

Shasta Nelson, the author of Friendships Don't Just Happen! and the founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women's friendship matching site, found that it takes 6-8 meaningful interactions with someone before you would call them a friend and it make take 1-2 years before you would confide in that person. 

While we may long for that “one” person to call our best friend, one friend doesn’t have to offer everything.  Consider opening yourself up to different people who may provide the social and emotional support you need in different ways – for example, someone you work out with, someone who enjoys discussing books, and someone who is fun to grab a drink with. 

Ways to Build Your Social Circle

Consider some suggestions for building your social network:

  1. Connect through your children or pets.  Maybe you see the same person at the dog park every night after work or at drop off at school or daycare for your children -- strike up a conversation and start building a connection.
  2. Identify activities you enjoy and put yourself in situations in which you may meet like-minded people – maybe it’s at tennis lessons (schedule a time to play tennis with them after), or at a local MeetUp event -- invite them for drinks or to go out for dinner after.
  3. Set up a lunch date with a coworker – Because consistency is key for friendships, scheduling frequent interactions with coworkers is a great way to build a friendship.
  4. Identify volunteer opportunities – whether it’s at your children’s school or the local Humane Society, volunteering offers a great chance to connect with those who share the same interests and may lead to deeper bonds. 

While making new friends can be challenging as we age, others are most likely feeling the same way and are wanting similar connections.  So, put yourself out there and make the first move….it may lead to a rewarding and life-long friendship.

Erin Swinson, LPC, NCC

Therapist 

Clarity Clinic

Streit, K. (n.d.)  Why It’s So Hard to Make Friends as An Adult.   Retrieved on April 13, 2017 from https://www.simplemost.com/heres-hard-make-friends-adult/

Wikiel, Y. (n.d.) How to Make Friends as a Grown-Up.  https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/family/relationships/making-friends-as-a-grown-up

Williams, A. (July 13, 2012).  Friends of a Certain Age.   Why it’s So Hard to Make Friends Over 30? Retrieved on April 13, 2017 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/fashion/the-challenge-of-making-friends-as-an-adult.html.

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