If there’s one theme I’ve noticed in my 10 years as a therapist working primarily with young adults, it’s that almost everyone wants to make new friends – and almost everyone finds it overwhelming & difficult to do. I’ve always been perplexed by the fact that there is such a common, universal desire to connect paired with simultaneous resistance to it. So I couldn’t help but explore the question: Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?
Here’s what I’ve come up with.
We’re less vulnerable
- As adults, we’ve likely been hurt or rejected at least once by now. Perhaps we have learned that not everyone can be trusted or can give us what we need in our relationships. Starting new relationships is unpredictable and exposes us to the risks of experiencing pain again. As a result, we put up walls and have difficulty being vulnerable enough to let new people in. Since we cannot have connection without vulnerability, we keep ourselves stuck in a feedback loop that is really hard to break.
We have fewer automatic communities
- Many of us grew up in friendships with the people we were most frequently exposed to – neighbors, our parents’ friends’ children, our classmates, people on our sports teams, etc. Without as many of these ‘automatic’ communities we are forced to find/create our own, which can be overwhelming. It was much easier when these communities were just hand-picked for us and when we got to know people simply through constant exposure to them. As adults, we get to (for the most part) decide how frequently we do or do not see people – and we have to put in the effort to learn new skills and step out of our comfort zones, which leads to the next point.
We’re less willing to get out of our comfort zones
- As we age, many of us become creatures of habit. Even if we are dissatisfied with our social lives, they are familiar to us – and there is comfort in the familiarity. Making new friends requires time, energy and effort that can be uncomfortable at times. And many of us aren’t willing to sacrifice our comfort for an unknown friendship. When we’re unsure of the return on our investment, we are less likely to take action or a risk.
We’re more selective
As we get older, many of us become more selective and, in some cases, more judgmental. This can be a good thing in that we feel more clear about what we want and need out of our relationships. But this can also cause us to write off potential friendships that may have otherwise worked before even giving them a second thought. We think we know what’s right and best for ourselves based on what we’ve learned from past relationships, but in reality this prevents us from truly getting to know people on a deeper level and instead causes us to make snap judgments about them. Furthermore, we might be unfairly projecting past relationships gone poorly onto new, unique & different people.
Many of us feel that we have less time and energy to offer. And when time is limited, we have to make the time and really, really prioritize forming new connections. A lot of us are unwilling to do that and, instead, convince ourselves that the social life we have is ‘good enough’.
Most would agree that making friends as an adult is harder and comes with more challenges. However, if you’re still feeling dissatisfied in your social connections or are wanting to expand your circle, it’s worth investing in. The key is aligning your action with your intention and taking back control over your social life. Instead, we often wait for new friends to magically find us.
Join a community
Community is a great way to have frequent exposure to other, like-minded people and feel out who you might connect with without fully committing. While we might not have automatic communities, like school, we can find ways to cultivate our own. Whether it’s our neighborhood, our job or a venue you enjoy going to, there are opportunities all around us to cultivate community and form deeper connections.
Partake in an activity that you enjoy
- Make a list of activities you’d like to try doing… regardless of whether or not you have anyone to do them with. Afterward, look for opportunities in your area to join others in that activity. Maybe it’s a cooking or art class or a sport; doing something that you already enjoy with the opportunity to also (maybe) make some new friends is a low-stakes, low-pressure situation. Because even if you don’t end up hitting it off with anyone there, you still got to do something you enjoy!
Use apps or internet groups
- Because the desire to connect is human nature and because socialization is a need we all share, there are a number of apps and websites dedicated to bringing people together. Bumble BFF, Meetup.com, Reddit or Facebook groups (search by interest/neighborhood/etc) are a few places you can go to meet like-minded people with similar interests who are also looking for new friends. It eliminates an entire layer of pressure to know off the bat that you both have the same goal in mind – making new friends!
- Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, which has been known to improve mood & well-being, while also increasing automatic exposure to new people. Maybe you won’t connect with anyone you meet, but maybe you will – and even if you don’t, you’ll still feel good about giving back. If you’re in NYC, New York Cares is a great organization with many volunteer opportunities. You may also consider volunteering at an animal shelter, a homeless shelter or for a political organization.
Cultivate deeper connections with people you already know
- It’s possible that the opportunity to make deeper connections is closer than you realize! Make a list of all acquaintances, mutual friends, friends you’ve lost touch with, work colleagues, classmates, etc. Are there any you see potential for further connection with? If so, reach out and ask if they’d like to grab coffee or a drink sometime. Because you already have a formed connection, it’s another low-stakes/low-risk option.
If you’re not quite ready to branch out on your own to take some of these steps, that’s okay! Think about whether or not you have a friend or acquaintance who might want to join you and invite them along. And if you’re really struggling with getting out of your comfort zone, being vulnerable and/or making new friendships, it can be beneficial to dig deeper with a therapist to really understand the root of what you’re finding most challenging.