Why It's Hard to Make Friends as an Adult...and How To Do It Anyway
I was at the store with my youngest daughter, and she said hello to a little girl I didn’t recognize. I asked who the little girl was, and my daughter said, “That’s Peyton. She’s my best friend.”
I had never heard of Peyton, and the last I heard, my daughter’s best friend was Bella. So, I asked, “What happened with Bella?” My daughter said, “Nothing, she’s my best friend too.”
This was the weekend after the first week of a new school year. Peyton was brand new to my daughter’s school, but they were already best friends. I remember making friends that way as a child. It usually went something like this, “Hi. My name is Brittney, what’s yours?” They would answer, and we would play. I might never see them again, or they might become lifelong friends. Most children aren’t stingy about who they consider their friends, and they don’t make a big thing of playing with a new child. While this certainly isn’t true for all children (some do have anxiety or limitations that make starting new friendships difficult), generally, kids don’t get hung up on worry or fear when they decide who to be friends with. They find someone they like to play with or share an interest with, and bingo – friends.
For adults, this isn’t quite so simple. But why?
- We aren’t in age-graded environments anymore.
- We are busy; especially new professionals and those with young families.
- We feel overwhelmed or out of touch.
- We fear rejection.
These are all real concerns and barriers for adult friendships, but we’re going to move past them and make some friends anyway!
Why #1: Age Difference
Until adulthood, we are usually put together in situations with people close to our own age. We’re tend to be similar because we live in the same community and there is a limited number of options for what activities or interests we can have. For adults, that changes dramatically. We might work or otherwise interact with people of varying ages, different life circumstances, and different backgrounds. Our only common factor may be our workplace or the fact that our children are the same age.
This can be jarring to someone new to the workforce or who has moved somewhere new, but it can be a wonderful opportunity to broaden your friendship base.
How to do it anyway:
Be open to friendships with people who aren’t your age. You might be surprised by what you find. Having friends of your own age is wonderful, but older friends can help you learn to navigate the workplace, family dynamics, relationships, and life transitions. Younger friends can help you stay savvy on pop culture, changing workplace dynamics, up-and-coming technology, and engage you in their lives as they grow in their careers and relationships.
All friendships don’t have to be the same, and having work-friends, and book club friends, and volunteer group friends, and gaming friends, and friends in other environments where you spend time can offer great benefits. Draw your circle wide and see what great people you can surround yourself with.
Why #2: Busy, Busy, Busy
Connecting with new people can take a lot of time and energy, and we are busy. Even staying in touch with existing friend groups can feel overwhelming, especially when someone moves or family/relationship structure changes.
How to do it anyway:
Pay attention to how you spend your time. If you would like to spend more time with friends in person but you spend a lot of time online, consider making a conscious effort to swap out that time. Reach out to existing friends to set a date to hang out or spend some of your busy time doing something that puts you in a new environment. Sometimes, all we need is a shift in mindset to be open to new people.
Why #3: Out of Touch
Have you been through a life transition like marriage, divorce, moving, launching children into the world of adulthood, or starting a new job? Sometimes those big transitions can be so overwhelming that we are unsure how to deal with them. That sort of feeling can lead to withdrawal from relationships or questioning where we fit in the world.
How to do it anyway:
Look for opportunities to try something new or restart something you used to enjoy. Maybe you like to dance but your former spouse didn’t. Look for a dance class to try! Before kids took over your life, did you like to build things? Look for opportunities to dust off your tools or take on a new DIY project! Be open to trying something or somewhere new and make an effort to engage.
Why #4: Fear of Rejection
Kids are usually pretty resilient when someone says, “I don’t want to play with you.” They might be upset for a minute, but then they go find someone else to hang out with. Adults tend to take rejection a little harder.
Putting ourselves out there is tough. It’s tough in romantic relationships, and it’s tough in friendships too. What if you shoot your shot with someone you think could be a friend and they say, “No, thanks?” That might make you rethink trying again anytime soon.
How to do it anyway:
Rejection is never easy. Go into any new environment knowing that you are worthy of people who want to be around you. If you approach someone and they tell you they don’t have time for you, they ghost your texts or phone calls, or they directly tell you they aren’t interested in your company, believe them…but don’t dwell on it.
If you have found someone you want to hang out with it is probably because you sense that they like being around you, too. Rejection is not as likely an outcome as our anxieties might tell us it is. Also keep in mind, just because someone doesn’t answer a text or phone call immediately doesn’t mean they don’t want to hang out with you. Maybe they’re just as busy as you are.
The road to friendship is paved with intention!
Sometimes making friends isn’t the hardest part, it’s connecting with the friends after the initial excitement has worn off or your circumstances change. Especially in this era of constant communication, at first glance, staying in touch seems like it would be easier than ever. The missing piece is intention.
What are you doing to initiate conversations or meet-ups? Are you following through with plans when they are made?
Especially if you are new to adulthood, new to your area, or new to your relationship status, be patient and be willing to make the first move. Remember, when you were a kid, all it took was, “Hi, what’s your name?”
The bottom line:
Strong friendships are worth all the work, the time, and the potential rejection. Sharing life with other people has physical and mental health benefits that cannot be overemphasized.
Social connection is linked to:
- Decreased health risks like diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
- Decreased loneliness, which is linked to longer, healthier life.
- Improved health behaviors.
- Greater emotional support.
- Higher levels of confidence.
- Lower levels of stress.
So, get out there and make some new friends, rekindle old friendships, or call your bestie. You’ll feel better, and so will they.
Cuncic, A. (2023). “6 Friendship Benefits: Why It’s Important to Stay Close to Your Friends.” Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-importance-of-friendship-3024371#citation-13
Gordon, S. (2021). “How to Make Friends as an Adult.” Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-make-friends-as-an-adult-4769076
Harvard Medical School. (2010). “The Health Benefits of Strong Relationships.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships
NPR Life Kit. (2023). “5 Easy tips for making friends as an adult.” https://www.npr.org/2023/05/17/1176641928/how-to-make-friends-anywhere-you-move