Our teen babysitter once told me she went on a cruise with “20 of her closest friends.” It occurred to me how I have over 1,000 Facebook friends, but I could probably count the number of real-life close friends on a single hand.
For a couple in their 30s or 40s, my story may sound familiar: These days, my partner and I meet plenty of acquaintances through our daughter’s playdates, new jobs, or local events in our suburban town. But deep, BFF-level friendships — like the ones you created with your college roommates — are few and far between. Over the years, as my handful of close friends moved away, grew their families, and became busier with demanding jobs, I’ve been feeling an urge to add to my roster, yet lost as to how to go about making new, close friends as an adult.
Often friendships take a backseat to your career or family obligations, but some may argue that friends are even more important than family. “Friends are absolutely necessary. We are created to live in relationships. Healthy friendships offer us love, stability, connectedness, security, which all impact our mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical well-being,” says Dr. Melanie Ross Mills, a relationship and friendship expert. According to Greater Good by the University of California Berkeley, research suggests that friendships can help us find purpose and meaning, stay healthy, and live longer.
So how does the #nonewfriends generation go about cultivating these deep friendships that we crave (and apparently need)? We look at why it’s so challenging for adults to make friends and strategies on how to change the landscape of friendships.
Life has gotten more complicated
My husband often talks about how he and our neighbor have a lot in common and could be really good friends, but understandably life gets busy. And it’s no wonder adults don’t feel like they have the time: A study showed that it takes about 200 hours of spending time together to become close friends with someone. “This basically means that if you and your friend got together every Saturday for a two-hour lunch together, it would take you guys 25 months — about two years — before you became close friends,” says Mills.
While finding time is a struggle, other reasons making friends is more challenging in later years. “It can depend on your stage of life. For instance, you could’ve moved to a new city, you lack social ‘setups’ like the ones you used to have in school through extracurriculars, or you’re going through a divorce and find yourself needing to start over with new friendships,” she says. Workplace friendships can sometimes feel somewhat forced as you don’t get to choose who you work with. There is also the factor of people becoming settled in “friend” groups as they start having children. As comedian Louis C.K. put it: “You spend time with people you would never have chosen to spend time with — not in a million years. I spend whole days with people. I’m like, I would never have hung out with you, I didn’t choose you. Our children chose each other. Based on no criteria, by the way. They’re the same size.”
Additionally, the pandemic has played a large role in our inability to socialize and connect the way we used to. “All of this leaves adults over 30 with having to make extra effort not just to meet new friends, but also cultivate quality friendships,” says Mills.
Healthier friendships start by looking inward
As you get older, you tend to focus your time and energy on the things or people that are most important to you, whether that’s your kids, your partner, or your career. It’s a different outlook than you had when you were younger, where you had more time for social exploration — and more opportunities for spontaneous interactions. “I often share that if we want our friendships to grow, we must grow as individuals. As we become healthier, we draw healthier people to ourselves. As we are growing and learning, we share and mature together. This differentiates us from our youth because we are less self-focused. We are wiser and more experienced in what it takes to maintain and grow in friendships. We cherish those that are special to us because we know how hard they are to come by. We appreciate our times together, the unique strengths that we bring to the table, our special bonds that cannot be replaced by another person because there’s only one you and only one of them. We grow into appreciating our friends so much more the older we become,” says Mills.
So, how do we go about finding new, strong friendships — in light of a pandemic?
“It begins with being open-minded. Let go of any ‘checklist’ that you might have regarding age, race, demographic, etc. This will allow you to expand your vision and cast a much broader net into the ‘friendship sea.’ Then pay attention and be alert when you are going about your day. You might meet someone in line at the grocery store. You might run into your next new friend waiting in line to renew your driver’s license. Maybe your new yoga class has your new bestie. Use your own life as a catalyst for making new connections with the people around you — whether those are workplace groups, volunteer activities, playgroups, dog parks, etc.,” says Mills.
Social media is a double-edged sword
Social media could be tricking you into thinking your friendships are deeper than they are. “Social media definitely gives us a sense of connection as we know where people are vacationing via Snapchat, see who they are with on InstaStories, scroll through albums on Facebook. We feel that we know people more intimately because we catch glimpses into their personal lives,” says Mills.
But, social media still has its benefits. “I think it can be used in a healthy manner. We can ‘like’ and comment [on posts] to encourage our friends. We can share their new business adventures on our own pages for support. We can reach out when we see that they are vacationing somewhere we’d love to go as a point of connection. We can learn more about our friends by seeing what they like, where they love to have dinner, what types of quotes they post, who they share life with in their posts. We can use social media to learn more about the people that we love if we choose to take this perspective,” she says.
In addition to late-night scrolls through the ‘gram, you can also take advantage of the various apps and social networking groups that help you connect to others. There are apps like Peanut that’s been dubbed the “Tinder for moms” to help moms connect with others in a similar stage of life or Hey! VINA that takes you through a short personality quiz to find like-minded women.
You get to choose
If you’re apprehensive about making new adult friends, remind yourself that everyone’s been in this position. “I have learned that one of the most beautiful aspects of friendship is that it is a choice. Our friends choose us! To me, this is so very wonderful. They choose us, and we choose them. A true honor when you really think about it,” says Mills.