No One Told Me That Making Friends as an Adult Is This Difficult

Published on 12/3/2021

When you’re younger, a lot of information you receive about adulthood is from TV shows and movies. At least, you think it’s ‘information’ at the time. Because no one really talks specifically about what it’s like to be an adult, and there’s that big empty gap before you become your parents' age and mirror their lifestyles. So you grow up watching Friends and believing that people can afford such spacious apartments in New York with those jobs, and that it’s common to have such a tight-knit group of six friends who hang out almost daily.

You watch films where they throw birthday parties and end up with over fifty people crammed into those spacious apartments, all of whom seem to know everyone else there. You see someone move to a new city and immediately strike up a conversation in a supermarket or pilates class, and before you know it, they’re chatting daily.

You’re led to believe this myth that making friends as an adult is just as easy as when you were younger. So when you become an adult and discover that you don’t have many friends around, you lack the skills to solve it. You’re left feeling like you’re the problem and that no one else feels this way.

Where did everyone go?

It was far easier to make friends whilst studying. Attending the same university provides you with an instant entrance into a friendship, as conversation starters are lined up and waiting. You can ask what they’re studying, where they lived before and whether they’re enjoying their classes, and you also tend to have mutual friends. Additionally, most people are at the same point in their lives, so they’re very open to making new friends.

But once you’ve graduated, people begin to disperse. Some move a little further away, and others move a lot further away. Some go into another study, some decide to travel, and others start to work. Everyone inches away so slowly you don’t even realise. One moment, you’re forcing yourself to plan in alone time to rest, and the next moment you’re looking at an empty schedule.

I feel embarrassed to admit it; even as I write this, I worry that people will simply think there is something wrong with me. But I spent my university years surrounded by friends, and now three years since graduating, I feel lonely. Many of my friends moved away after graduating or during COVID, and whilst we keep in touch and talk frequently, that doesn’t equate to plans on a Friday night. I have friends that I see, yet they all seem to have other friends as well, whilst I don’t, I only have them.

Growing up is realising that people move apart. Even if your relationship stays solid, physical boundaries can come into play.

The double-edged sword

Even if you don’t drift at all, and you stay close to the friends you had growing up or whilst studying, this can act as a double-edged sword. There can be a weird judgement about your friends being from this time, from not having made new friends in the time since. You’re expected to have made friends in the latest phase of your life as if friends from an earlier time are not acceptable. But isn’t it impressive to still have friends from years prior, to have grown together and developed your friendship into a new phase? It should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness.

Friends who work together

After studying, the next logical place to make friends is through your job. Not only can it be a natural way to meet people, but it can make the workday far more enjoyable. A workplace can be the ideal place to meet people, but it’s important to remember that this isn’t the case for everyone. Some workplaces will have quite a range of ages and personalities, and so it might be that you just don’t have that particular click with someone. Also, some people prefer to keep their workplace professional and not extend into friendship with colleagues, and that’s fair as well. Everyone has their preferences, and some choose to present a specific version of themselves to colleagues. Your colleagues don’t have to be out-of-work friends. It’s great when they are, but let that happen naturally, don’t force it and don’t feel like you’ve failed if it doesn’t work out that way.

Steph, a friend of mine, had moved to London after graduating and found it difficult to make friends in the big city. She did what many others did, and worked hard to build friendships with colleagues. She began spending most of her time with colleagues, either in the office or outside of it, and the downsides quickly became apparent. She felt pigeonholed as she was spending all of her time with the same people, and Steph began realising that they quickly slipped into work rants whenever they were out. When the main thing you have in common is your job, it’s too easily to blur the lines between personal time and work, and can also make disagreements and confrontation more challenging.

Dating apps for friends

It’s becoming increasingly common to use dating apps to find a potential partner, with almost everyone knowing at least one person who found their long-term partner through one. There are endless dating apps available now, including Tinder, Happn, Bumble and Hinge, but what about dating apps for friends?

These have started popping up on the market, including Bumble BFF, which aims to help people meet others looking for new friends. I spoke to several friends and Twitter users about these apps and their thoughts on them, and there was a general consensus that whilst these apps sound useful and tempting, they would hesitate to try them. You worry about the people using an app to find friends and what they’re like, despite potentially being a user yourself. It holds the same judgement that dating apps may have held several years ago, before they became more normalised. Are we just several years too early for friendship apps?

Ashley tried Bumble BFF, and wasn’t a fan:

“I felt all the same insecurities as I did when I tried to find a partner over dating apps, aka not sending a response too soon, when do we meet in person, etc. It works for some people, and that's great, but it's not my first choice personally!”

But if we all aimed to use these apps and normalise using them, wouldn’t we all have a better shot of finding good friends through them? Particularly when moving to a new place, could friendship apps be the way to go? It boils down to the same issue of the forced embarassment surrounding looking for new friends, as it is regarded as a personal weakness rather than an event of circumstance.

So how do you make friends as an adult?

Firstly, it’s vital to consider whether you really want more friends, or if you feel like you should have more friends. It’s okay to have fewer friends or to spend a Friday night alone at home if you feel happy that way. Maybe you prefer staying in with a book sometimes; maybe you prefer having two close friends that you can truly be yourself with rather than an entire crowd of acquaintances. Make sure that you’re doing this for what you want, rather than to feel ‘normal’. There is no normal when it comes to friendship.

But if you do want to make more friends, here are some tips for making friends as an adult:

1. Suppose you’re getting on well with a colleague and looking to bring that friendship outside of the workplace, first aim to couple the meeting to a workday. This feels less awkward and forced. Suggest getting drinks after work or grabbing food somewhere. Alternatively, it helps to relate the suggested plans to something you’ve discussed, e.g. you both like drag shows or they mentioned Vietnamese food.

2. Try a friendship app like Bumble BFF. Fight the existing judgements you hold for them and give it a go. Challenge yourself to meet up with at least three people from it, and if those meetings don’t go well, then at least you tried.

3. Join a sport’s team. Whilst it can be challenging to make friends in an exercise class, sports teams are a far more conversational atmosphere. Many others will have joined to get to know people, and hanging out with a team can bridge the awkward beginning to a friendship with someone specific.

4. Join a group based on a shared interest, e.g. running groups, book clubs, language classes or hobby meet-ups. This gives you a shared passion to build your foundation upon, and if nothing else, is a social outlet.

5. Don’t go into situations trying to actively make friends. This will lead you to become nervous, force interactions and not choose people who are right for you in the long-term. Instead let natural situations flourish, so that you make friends who enrich your life rather than fill it.

6. Let go of the outdated idea that friends need to see each other every week or every other week, and instead find what works for the both of you. You can be good friends with someone you see once a month or even less, if that’s what works for the both of you at this point in time.

7. If you meet people at a social situation, find a way to ask for their social media handle. This feels less forced than asking for their number but allows you to continue the friendship. You could mention something and show a photo from your Instagram related to it, and then naturally ask for theirs. Then you can send them something related to what you discussed or react to one of their posts.

8. Learn to talk to strangers! Easier said than done, trust me I know. This is a skill to build, so start out small and grow from there. Always remember: what is the worst that could happen?

Making friends as an adult is difficult, but the most challenging aspect is the stigma surrounding friendships, something we should have left back in high school where it belongs. It’s okay to be lonely, and it’s healthy to admit that openly. It’s okay to have room in your life for more friends, and to search for people to fill that space. It’s okay to still be friends primarily with the same people over the years. There is no perfect blueprint to friendships and they are not a reflection of who you are as a person.

If we could all be open about these subjects, it would all become so much easier. If we could treat friendships like we do dating, we would get the chance to have new inputs into our life and develop far better. Let’s admit when we have friendship struggles, and let’s empathise rather than judge.

Find out more about Millennials and social anxiety.

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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