If you had to guess what one issue comes up almost universally with clients across all demographics, what would it be? Relationship issues? Family? Work? While those come up with some frequency, the question that seems to transfix us all is, “How in the world do we make friends as an adult?”
Follow up question, “Why is it so hard?”
Up until we enter the working world, school often offered what seemed like endless options for developing new relationships. It also offered a proximity to our peers day in and day out that likely made the initiating and maintaining of said relationships almost a passive endeavor. You didn’t really have to think too hard about if you wanted to be friends with Margot, she was in all your classes and you both were obsessed with Friends. Friendship sealed! Work would seemingly offer a similar structure, however its options are far from endless and sometimes the blending of our occupational and personal selves can feel fraught. More simply said, sometimes it can feel far harder to make friends as adult than it ever had before—and for some of us, it never felt easy.
So, how do we go about doing it? How do we seek, initiate, and maintain meaningful friendships?
Remember It’s Universal
Firstly, I hope it’s clear by now that we’re all in the same boat. People who live by the credo, “No new friends.” are few and far between (and probably lying). Sometimes it can be useful for us just to remember the following: (1) Most people are open to developing new relationships and (2) Friendships are a part of my wellbeing (any everyone else’s) and I am responsible for bringing that into my life. I can hear the protests already, “But Kaitlyn, sometimes people aren’t in the mood to make friends.” That is true and we have to respect that. All of us are negotiating how to respond to our individual need for varying degrees of distance and closeness.
Work on You
This piece may be the most difficult and the most useful part of friendship development as an adult. It would behoove all of us to better understand our “stuff” when engaging in any type of relationship. What are our patterns? Which parts of myself do I try to conceal? What do I worry will happen?
We all have our own reasons for feeling reluctant to put ourselves out there in social situations. Fear of rejection. Fear of ridicule. Fear of betrayal. Fear of abandonment. The list goes on. It can be useful to reflect on what your particular brand of fear is here. Like any fearful situation, while we may want to AVOID AVOID AVOID, we often need to approach, approach, approach! Keeping in mind that approach doesn’t mean cannonballing into the pool of fear. All it means is that we dip our toe in the pool and notice how it becomes more and more manageable—dare I say, even enjoyable—the longer we allow it to be there and with time we will be able to immerse ourselves entirely.
I often explore with clients how we can become curious about fears and develop hypotheses about what fear is trying to communicate to us. For instance, “Fear says I can’t go to Molly’s party because I don’t really know anyone. I will feel embarrassed and awkward. I won’t be able to handle those feelings.” If we were to look at this as a hypothesis instead of fact, we have more capacity to engage with it and start collecting data to either support or reject it. Do I alwaysfeel awkward when I meet new people? It gives us the opportunity to explore what fear means when it says, “I can’t handle these feelings.” While it can feel daunting to dive into the complexity of our fears, once we understand better what kind of fears drive our avoidance of initiating social interaction, we have something to work with.
If you build it….
Do what you’d like to do with friends, on your own. You like certain types of concerts, movies, restaurants, sports, etc. Go do them. You will naturally be around people who have similar interests. If that feels too daunting there is a website for that: meetup.com. It has a plethora of different preplanned activities meant for this exact reason.
There is an app for this…because of course there is.
- Bumble BFF: If it can help you find your partner, why can’t it assist you in building friendships?
- Peanut: An app that resembles tinder and bumble, but for mommas!
- Atleto: You’re an athlete looking to meet other athletes, train together, have a pick up game, etc.
These are plenty more apps like this, just search “Friendship apps” and you’ll be off to the races. These and meetup.com are just further evidence of how common it is for us humans to be looking for new connections.
It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable
As you’ll likely notice, none of these steps are easy or without their fair share of discomfort. Anything meaningful has discomfort involved. Practice associating that feeling with moving closer to things that matter to you. Try to be kind and gentle with yourself and use this a chance to learn more about yourself and do more of what you love.