Making new friends as an adult can be really tough.
You have more of a sense of what your values are, the things you like doing, and what deeply matters to you. You’re busy, you don’t suffer fools lightly, and you want something more than ‘I like green, you like green. Let’s be best friends!!!’
We come across new people all the time: at work, travelling, yoga classes, via friends of friends, at public events, in online groups, studying, sharehousing, weddings, social media, etc. etc. etc.
Yet many of us still find it really tricky to make new friends.
Curious, I put a shout-out on Facebook asking people how they made new friends as an adult.
Full disclosure: I’m a bit of a nomad, was about to move to the Bellingen and Coffs Harbour region, so thought I’d write a blog post on making new friends as an adult AND grab some handy tips for myself. As is the parallel way of these things, I also began to notice the topic coming up a lot in the counselling room.
Seeing as I also offer specialist services to people going through separation, digital nomads, expats and others for whom new friendships are vital I think you’d agree it’s a pretty timely subject.
Here a few hot tips from the responses:
- Develop your interests and take up new hobbies. I recommend cheesemaking.
- Jump into social/sporting activities.
- Don’t be afraid to ask a new friend to do something with you.
- Be open to anything and everything.
- Give because you want to give, not to expect anything in return.
- Find people you have lost touch with and reconnect.
- Going to church in your new town can help connect with community, even if you only a have a loose affiliation with the ideals.
- Go for walks or join a fitness group: having another focus helps overcome awkwardness.
- Know how to have a good laugh.
- Make time for friends. Life gets so busy as you get older, and two people finding the same hour in their schedule to meet up is near impossible. You have to prioritize it over work and family once in a while.
Great ideas huh?
But then I began wondering, having done most of these things myself over the years, what made the actual ‘friend’ bit happen? Who was ‘sticky’ and who floated away?
When I reflected a little deeper on my own friendships, I struggled to come up with something they all had in common.
And I realised:
That’s because I was thinking about the individuals themselves, or how I met them, and not our relationship.
What got the relationship really blossoming beyond just having some stuff in common?
What happened AFTER?
Another word started to jump out at me in the Facebook post:
People expanded on this word:
- Being willing to share yourself with someone new.
- I’ve found making friends as an adult slow, but more nourishing in a way as it’s more about shared values and interests, and also taking a risk to even initiate connecting with someone.
- Not expecting every nice new connection to be your new best friend [getting ok with rejection is also a hot tip for successful online dating!]
- Tell a personal story without being sure of how the other will respond.
- Don’t feel weird about telling a person what you think is awesome about them. It’s nice to hear nice words. Playing it cool, being closed, or holding back is boring.
- Keep the friends that make you feel good. Separate yourself from the ones that are hard work or try to draw you into a negative headspace. It makes room for the good ones.
- Second-guessing myself and overanalysing can be a challenge…. plus, in an opposite sex friendship everyone thinks it must be a relationship or there’s something wrong… The best thing for me has been worrying less about what other people think and just believing in my integrity.
- It’s like a romantic partnership – some people are all dazzle but disappoint or don’t live up to new and shiny potential. It takes time for trust to develop. Be open but also discriminating about who and how far you invest.
On being discriminating, here’s a very specific tip on making new friends as an adult:
- If I’m in conversation with a new person I like, I ask them 3 questions. If they don’t ask me any questions back in the time we’re chatting, I basically write them off as not having ‘good friend’ potential because they aren’t going to be capable of giving two-ways.
And one brave soul shared a numbered list of tips, including this one:
- Be honest with new friends about any social anxiety you feel so that they know the score and will understand if you’re being weird sometimes. It doesn’t have to dominate every conversation- just a quick heads up and move on.
What? TELL new people about mental health struggles?!
And then someone agreed.
And another someone.
It warms my heart, because it means that the stigma around mental health is hopefully changing as we keep talking. Especially around these things that really get in the way of the intimate relationships many of us want to have and the ‘us’ we want to be.
If you let people know that sometimes you just need to hide away, then they won’t be confused or angry when you politely disappear. And if they are, then you either know they aren’t interested in really being your friend, or you need to have a tough but legit conversation with yourself (and them) about their needs alongside your needs.
You’re also doing a super-brave thing by taking the chance that someone will, in fact, treat you differently (stigma IS real ya’ll). You’re taking that risk, and the subsequent one that you may need to bring it up with them if they do. BRAVENESS!
Sharing something a bit scary but real opens up an honest space for a deeper conversation.
I thought about my own friendships again, and realised that this works both ways: I very much appreciate knowing what someone’s needs are pretty early on in the game, just as much as it’s important to share mine.
Ask for help, offer help. It changes things.
But what cements things to become new friends as adults rather than friendly acquaintances?
And there I find that word again.
Vulnerability feels different to different people. I’m continually blown away by the radical empathy (and warm humour) of my best friend and extraordinarily talented writer Miranda and the ways she shares parts of herself on her blog as well as in real life. But she says, now, that it’s not so hard. Well, I can tell you that she’s been courageously practicing for a long time!
I’m sure some of you are wondering: How DO you lean into that?
How do you go from being self-protective to being vulnerable?
For a start, it takes a certain ‘ok with not being ok’.
It takes a lot of practice: to realise that bad things didn’t happen because you didn’t have ‘boundaries’ but they happened because you were actually unable to do anything about it, or other people pushed you and you weren’t ok enough with doing YOU to say no.
The ways we see ourselves are impacted by social norms, so finding ways to stick up for YOU can be tough without a friendly mirror. We often need allies who make us feel braver and less alone. Yet finding allies requires some of that vulnerability we’re talking about.
A hot tip is to do some lurking in chats, forums and groups online, getting a feel for those you admire, and then practice connecting on ‘points of difference’ by throwing a personal comment out there. You might find a whole lot of people really GET IT and wow, it feels pretty good to have dived into that genuine heartfelt place.
Not being scared of all the ways we are different.
Nourishing our uniqueness at any given point in time.
Finding self-acceptance in the stuff we get wrong.
In fact, vulnerability is about feeling a little bit scared and being curious about it.
Wondering ‘why’ you’re scared, and then saying to yourself: this ‘why’ tells me something about what is important to me.
That doesn’t mean lean into being a selfish jerk. It means, simply, doing you. (FYI: love does NOT mean never having to say you’re sorry. Part of vulnerability is being able to admit when we got it wrong).
And so the new friendship that didn’t deepen and grow even though I gave it my heart and energy?
And it’s ok that I was sad about it.
It means friendship is important to me.
And I really want it to be important.
Because friendship is not a side hustle.
It’s not meaningless. It’s not a thing we do while we’re waiting for families or partners to come along.
In fact, friends are often the people who remain through ALL of that. A close long-term friend is less likely to disappear than a partner.
And if it’s that valuable, then it’s good to be picky when finding a new one.
Making new friends as an adult can be a wild ride. Similar to dating, you might find yourself keen on someone who isn’t as keen as you (or doesn’t show it in the same ways) or you may find yourself sidling away from someone who isn’t taking the hint that you’re not in the market for new friends right now.
It’s a difficult balance.
But the special ones: the ones we share ourselves with, who we spark with, who we may meet at ‘just the right time’, who we offer our help to and ask for help from, who we invite to dinner risking rejection, or whom we just love for the hell of it and always want to be around: they make it all so very worthwhile.
Feel free to add your own tips or thoughts on making friends as an adult in the comments! If you enjoyed this post, come join us in the Unveiled Stories community and jump on the e-list to receive blog posts directly in your inbox. And if you’re looking for a counsellor, you know where to find me. Love Nicole