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“Blessed are those who have the gift of making friends, for it is one of God's best gifts. It involves many things, but above all, the power of going out of one's self, and appreciating whatever is noble and loving in another.” ~Thomas Hughes
Our old friends are like comfortable blue jeans. They are worn in, reliable, non-binding, cozy, patched in places, but still a perfect fit. We've had them so long, they are like a second skin.
But, our world has become more mobile. The average American will live in approximately 11 different homes in their lifetime, and they won't all be in the same town. People move across the country for job opportunities, they move back home to be near family, and they move across the state to take advantage of a better school district. With each move, we make new friends. Some will become “old friends” over time, while others will remain acquaintances.
These deep, “old” friendships are worth tending, nurturing and growing in this mobile society; these are the people who love us and see the best in us despite our flaws. It doesn't matter if we live near or far, the friendship remains intact. Over the course of a lifetime, you may have a handful of deep, intimate friendships.
Sometimes these few friendships are enough. They are so comfortable that the idea of making new friends seems unnecessary — and even a little intimidating. After all, we have social media for keeping up with old friends. But, as nice as long-distance friendships are, they can't replace our basic human need for real-life interaction. That's where new friends come in.
Why is hard to make friends as an adult?
While there’s no one single reason as to why it may feel harder to form friendships as an adult (we all have our unique situations that contribute to this), generally speaking, there are, I think, three primary reasons why it might feel harder:
- Reduction of built-in cohorts.
- Reduction of intensity of shared experiences.
- Schedule overwhelm.
- Reconnect with old friends. Before you rush to seek out and form new friendships, be curious if there are any old friends in your past you may want to reconnect with. Remember that old Girl Scout song? “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Who knows if this will feel true for you but it’s worth a try!
- Put yourself in real life situations with new people. Whether this is a mastermind group, recreational ultimate leagues, weekly Zumba classes at Y, a night class at a local community college, a REI training class, a MeetUp, put yourself in situations where you’ll meet multiple new people face to face. (And, better yet, consider hosting a class, party, or Meetup if you feel up to it!)
- Similarly, say yes to invites where you’ll be exposed to new people. A birthday dinner party for a girlfriend where you may not know everyone else, a networking gig, an alumni gathering, say yes to moments where you’ll be exposed to new people. I know this can feel hard if you struggle with social anxiety, so take your time, and start off by saying yes to invites that push your boundaries a little bit each time.
- Find and follow your kindred spirits on social media. I think one of the best parts about social media is how we can more easily seek out our like-minded kindred spirits — our Wolf Pack! — that we may not otherwise have had any other way of meeting. Connecting and following someone online may not bloom into a real friendship right away, but this may happen over time if you two decide to take it offline (and this has definitely been the case for me!).
- Deliberately plan time in your calendar monthly for friendship. I know this sounds silly but life gets super busy and before you know it, months have flown. And so, as my one of my mentors, Marie Forleo, says, “if it’s not scheduled, it’s not real.” Put a friendship date — whether with an old friend or a new one — down in your calendar and stick to it. Don’t let schedule overwhelm keep you from prioritizing this if making friends is, in fact, a priority for you.
- Join a therapy group! Whether this is a Women’s Circle, a grief processing group, a recently broken hearted or preparing yourself for relationship group, find a circle of people journeying through something you’re going through. That kind of connection can be vulnerable and powerful.
- Use social media in a different way. If you want to cultivate a deeper kind of friendship, be more vulnerable on your social platforms, don’t just make it be a highlight reel. You may deepen connections you already have or draw new people to you. And if it feels too risky to do this with your established profiles, consider setting up a Finstagram, a separate, alternate account you only use with your besties (or soon-to-be-besties).
- Volunteer. Or join a Board. Or host a fundraiser. Again, it’s all about putting yourself in environments where you’ll be exposed to new folks and the bonus here is feeling good for giving back!
- Host something for your neighbors. Or, at least, say “Hi” in the hallway or on the street taking out the recycling bin.
- Be proactive and pursue things that you’re interested in/passionate about. Whether it’s a jewelry making class, open water kayaking, or investing, join groups and classes online or in-person and go from there.
- Host a monthly potluck. Or gather at a restaurant and ask your friends to bring someone new into your group each month.
Where we can get therapeutically curious:
As you can see, none of the above suggestions are rocket science and they’re really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative ideas about how to meet and make new friends.
So where we also want to be curious is if there’s something bigger showing up for you when you think about going off and pursuing some of these practical suggestions. If there is some kind of psychological resistance that shows up for you.
For instance, here are some inquiries I invite you to reflect on if making friends as an adult feels like a challenge for you beyond the practical, logistical side of things:
- Do you have resistance to initiating new friendships? Are you actually open to new relationships right now?
- Are there issues in current or older friendships you’re avoiding looking at in your pursuit of new friendships?
- Do you trust that there are people out there that you’ll resonate with? Or do you have a fairly pessimistic view about meeting new people?
- What comes up for you when you think about exposing yourself to new people and new situations?
- What’s your history of friendship been like? Is it painful in any way and is any of that showing up for you when you think about actively trying to make new friends?
- What do you know about how you “tend to” and nourish the friendships you do have in your life?
- Are you using your schedule or lack of energy as an excuse or avoidance of doing the vulnerable work of making connections?
- Does any part of you feel frustrated or angry that making friends as an adult is this hard? Do you have an expectation it “should” be easier?
Expanding Your Circle of Friends
Sometimes we balk at the idea of making new friends. It takes work to develop friendships! So, why is it worth your time to expand your circle of friends and reach out to new people? There are several reasons:
- Although no one can replace old and dear friends, new people in your life open new possibilities for you intellectually, professionally, physically and spiritually. New people in your life expose you to new ideas, hobbies, interests, perspectives, and opportunities.
- New friends allow you to tap into areas of yourself that are dormant or yet to be discovered. I recently became a member of a blogging club, and I have learned so much about myself, my untapped abilities, and new career possibilities. Plus, I now have new friends all over the world who have invited me to visit them!
- New friends broaden your sphere of influence. Do you have something valuable to offer the world? It doesn't have to be a great idea or service or product. Even the smallest act of kindness, love, and generosity shared with others has a ripple effect on the world. There is no better place to start this ripple than with a friend.
- One new friend can provide you with a network of potential additional new friends. You will be introduced to the friends of your new friend, and to their friends, and to their friends — your circle of friends will continue to grow exponentially if you let it.
- Reaching out to others forces you to step out of your comfort zone and to stretch yourself. It might be uncomfortable at first, but the payoff is tremendous. Put yourself out there! Don't let shyness or inertia prevent you from enjoying the shared value and benefits of interesting new friends.
I think we can agree that making new friends is a valuable part of personal growth. So, let's take the next step: Let's take action toward making friends. This is not a passive activity. There are things to be done!
The Fabric of Friendship
Once you have developed new friendships, be sure to share your new friends with your old ones. Use the above ten steps to bring new threads of people into your life, and then build a beautiful fabric of friendship by interweaving people from all the areas of your life. Enjoy the wide variety of interesting, fun and wonderful people you have gathered into your life and share them with each other. The fabric will continue to expand as you and your network develop even more new friendships.