making adult friends

Growing up, my friendships were formed out of circumstance. I was a perpetually shy girl; I had a difficult time looking anyone in the eye and my mind would often startle into blankness anytime anyone older or more popular talked to me. My friendships came out of same place-same time moments: classmates I sat next to in assigned seats, the boys who lived across the street, the girls who invited me to play games at break. My parents nudged me into friendships as well, scheduling play dates with their friends’ children and inviting over classmates they knew I liked. Even though I switched schools every few years, I maintained old friendships and carried these friendship-forming tactics everywhere I went: talking to the people next to me in class, finding friends of friends around school grounds, and from high school onward talking to people on social media.

When I reached university I thought it would be much harder to form new friendships, but I found the opposite to be true. I was starting off with a blank slate, but so was everyone else. I befriended the girls on my dormitory hallway and the boys on the hall below us, and many of my nights throughout college involved curling up on a pile of pillows in someone’s room watching movies eating homemade cookies or heading out to an underground bar and talking until the early hours of the morning. Even as a less-than-outgoing person it was easy to make connections because that’s what everyone wanted to do. University is a socially receptive environment.

As an International Studies/Economics student, I was used to the concept of holding onto friendships formed across the globe. My university is a hub for international students and I spent six months on exchange in Germany, so I was no stranger to long distance friendships. But I hadn’t yet made the connection that finishing studies entailed my fellow American classmates moving away. When graduation came and everyone almost immediately vanished to the outer corners of the United States and beyond, I wasn’t prepared. I graduated early and worked an internship in the same city I studied in. At the end of the working day I didn’t fill my evenings with dinner dates, drinks and movies with friends, I drove home and spent my evenings alone. I hadn’t made the jump to proactively forming friendships with people who weren’t in the same situations or places as me: loneliness quickly enveloped me. I was still holding onto ideas of how to make friends from childhood, where being quieter wasn’t prohibitive because there was always a more outgoing person around somewhere, ready to pull me into social situations.

Six months after graduating, I accepted a job offer in a different city, eager for a new start. I held onto the naive idea that moving to a new place was the same as starting at university, where everyone is on a level field of having few connections and everyone wants more. But in “the real world,” everyone isn’t starting from ground zero. Though I was a recent college graduate who was new to the city and knew no one, that didn’t mean others were in the same boat too; and if they were that didn’t mean we’d meet. Everyone I met already had a life full of their own responsibilities and commitments. A recent article in The Atlantic mentioned this same fact: friendships are “denser” when you’re an adolescent/young adult because you have more time to develop them and mature together, but as you grow older your responsibilities change and become more central. You have less time to devote to developing friendships and investing in new ones. It’s become a cliché of young adults when people say they don’t need any more friends because they have enough. Romantic and familial relationships take a greater precedence on your time.

What does this mean for making and maintaining adult friendships? Intentionality, patience, and effort are key. Whereas the field of potential friendships seems limitless in school, there are fewer chances to go out and meet people on a random basis when you’re working full time. It’s easy to skip class or rearrange your course schedule so that you can go for lunch or the cinema, but moving into the working world means being more tied down. It takes a little more proactivity to meet up with people on the fly.

Be intentional. Don’t give up on a new friend after one or two missed opportunities. People are busy and fitting someone new into their schedule can take some work. After meeting up the first time, keep communicating. If there’s really a connection it won’t be one-sided, but keeping up with people doesn’t happen accidentally. If you’re new to a job or a city, talk to coworkers and ask them what their favorite things to do in the area are. Say yes to after work drinks and get to know the people you spend 8+ hours a day with.

adult friendshipsBe patient. If you’re really committed to your friends, life’s changing seasons won’t pull you apart. Ride out the transitions as you figure out how to relate to each other now, and be patient with others when they take a little longer to figure their life out. Don’t feel like your friendship is falling apart just because you don’t see each other every day anymore.

Make an effort. Friendships aren’t going to fall at your door anymore. You have to take the initiative and be proactive. If you meet someone you like and feel you could get on with, ask them to go for a coffee at lunch. Yes there will be small talk at first. My least favorite part of forming new friendships is getting past the stilted, formal topics that start every conversation and the subsequent lull once these topics are exhausted. But the reason you took a shine to said person in the first place will probably the same reason that conversation begins to flow. If you’re shy (like me) it can be good to have a few questions ready for when the talking dies down. Classic icebreakers are often cheesy, but something as simple as “have you got any plans for the weekend?” can spark things off. A lot of people enjoy talking about themselves so ask questions and the rest should take care of itself. Also, don’t dismay if after that coffee it’s not a friendship you want to pursue. You don’t have to settle just because you’re lonely but it is important to give everyone a chance. Take an art/coding/whatever class, learning is the environment we’re used to making friends in and it’s a good one. Take advantage of your common interests and turn it into something that lasts longer than the hour you spend together every week. Volunteer for a local cause you care about and meet other people who share your passions. You’ll feel more fulfilled.

Finding new people to connect with takes more effort when you’re moving back and forth between work and home and not automatically in a place where you can easily find people who align with your passions and interests. It’s a difficult transition, it’s a new way of finding people (one I haven’t yet mastered yet) and it’s about being proactive.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateKlassa

Illustrations: Hollie Startup

  • I loved reading through this – I know exactly how you feel! Unfortunately, university wasn’t the same friendly environment for me as it seems to have been for you, but it did spark my writing (so I wouldn’t change a minute of it!) Now, I have to take the time to reach out to my friends, both those in the same city and others elsewhere and plan well in advance to meet. It’s sad it can’t be more frequent but it’s well worth it.

    Besma | Curiously Conscious

  • Loved this, so honest & I can certainly relate to it. It can be really hard but is 100% worth the effort of keeping in touch for my friends – who are all off at uni! It can be lonely being left behind & I love your ideas for meeting new people, especially volunteering & can’t wait to give your tips a go. Great post.

    Holly from The Art of Being Holly xo