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Are Friendships Harder to Make as an Adult?

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. I listened to a story on NPR the other day about how hard it is to make friends as an adult and wondered how true this is for most people. I’m a naturally outgoing person who makes friends easily, and I didn’t fully appreciate the struggle. So now I’m curious about this surprising superpower I didn’t realize I had.

I’ve never lived anywhere other than my hometown, so maybe I don’t truly understand what it would be like to have to make new friends. I’m still friends with people I met in elementary school! It would be hard to start over without having people close that know your history.

grade school
Arrows point to the two cutie-pies that I'm still friends with today.

Our longtime friends remember the heroic and stupid things we’ve done, have the best dirt on us, and keep us humble by reminding us of where we came from. Besides, it’s fun to relive some of the crazy stories of “Silly Things we did and Lived to Tell About.”

Deep bonds happen from shared experiences between longtime friends that aren’t the same as people you’ve just met. This closeness takes time, a precious commodity none of us have enough of.

Friends help us develop our worldview. The notion that our friends profoundly impact who we are has never struck me as hard as it did at the memorial of my brother’s life. When Michael was a boy, he had a gang of close friends that hung around our house so much that they nearly felt like family. While they had grown apart and had falling outs at times, they all rallied when my brother sent up a flare to let them know his time was limited.

Listening to the stories about what Michael meant in these marvelous men’s lives gave me insight into my brother I hadn’t seen. They described him as a goofy extrovert who brought together a bunch of extremely geeky, debilitatingly introverted boys and opened up a world to show them what was possible.

Michael’s boyhood friends all gave him credit for the ways he influenced how they view life. As children, he convinced them to take risks and question the status quo. As adults, Michael introduced them to music, literature, and shows they would never have known about if it weren’t for him. My brother always had thoughtful reasons around what he shared with people, passing along the philosophies and feelings that touched him, affecting how we view life ever after.

My brother and one of his geeky friends

But life – and death change our friendships. We lose friends for all kinds of reasons, including outgrowing them at times. It’s hard to know when to let go of friends that have become a habit rather than a joy. But remember, when something is draining all the joy out of your life, it’s time to put the “Joy Suck Rule” into effect: “If something, or someone, is sucking the joy out of your life, it has to GO!”

Because, as we continue to grow and change, not everyone will board the same train as us. Some people take a different route or get stuck along the tracks, and that’s okay. We can go back and visit these friends, but the different directions life has taken us make it impossible to go back to the person we once were. Huzzah for that!

Part of reinvention is making new friends. A fun aspect of these new connections is you get to be around people who don’t know all your past drama. Since they’re just getting to know you, they don’t have any expectations of who you are based on who you have been. With these new friends, you get to develop who you want to be.

Making new friends is also an opportunity to get to know people who are different than you, which is so much fun! Meeting people with different interests and ways of looking at the world is fascinating and helps us continue to grow.

I love having friends of different ages, absorbing the wisdom of my elders, and keeping current with my younger friends. Getting to know people from different races and cultures helps us see reality from varied perspectives and increases empathy. Making friends with people from different viewpoints, even political, helps us examine and solidify our own moral compass and accept that we all must live by our own principles and ethical standards.

As usual, I took my curiosity to social media. I asked my friends if they think it’s harder to make friends as adults. The results surprised me a bit. Out of the 95 comments on the post, 45% said it is harder to make friends now. That was higher than I thought it would be.

People found it more challenging to make friends because of time constraints, fewer situations to meet new people, and how much COVID cramped their style. We’ve missed seeing acquaintances out and about, and some friendships have slipped through the cracks during the past three years. Some said it has been a lifelong struggle to make true friends.

A smaller 34% said they’d disagreed that it’s harder to make friends as an adult. Most of the respondents in this category were like me. Making new friends have always come easily to them. Some said that being more comfortable in their skin as an adult was a big reason they found it easier to connect.

That leaves the 21% that said it’s different to make friends now compared to when they were children. They said they’re more particular about who they let into their lives now and that a lack of free time to spend with their existing friends makes them less likely to make new ones.

They also said it’s harder to make genuine, quality friends as an adult since relationships take a long time to grow. The new relationships they make now are different than the ones they made earlier in life, and their requirements for intimacy within friendships have changed.

I may define friendships differently than most people. If I feel connected to you and like being around you, I consider you a friend. In a sociology class I took not long after high school, the professor described a true friend as someone who would answer your call and bail you out of jail in the middle of the night. He also said we’re lucky if we have two or three of these kinds of friends during our entire lifetime.

Curiosity drove me to ask my friends on social media what they would do if I called at 3 AM and asked them to bail me out of jail. I have more than a few friends that, no matter the distance, would not only come get me if I called, but they’d also fight for me if needed.

I’ve been thinking about how I go about making friends and what recommendations I have for people who struggle with forming friendships. Here are my thoughts.

Friends I've made through community action

Meet new people with purpose.

One of my favorite ways to get to know people is through volunteering and community actions get involved in. Working with someone on a project is a great way to get to know them and to tell if you want to do anything with that person again! Coming together around a common cause helps find like-minded people with at least one passion in common. It creates shared experiences, especially when the work is stressful. The relationships we make in these situations can last a lifetime.

Meet new people without leaving the house.

It’s hard to make friends without leaving the house, though it isn’t impossible. Many online forums and chat groups around specific interests bring people together in a way that works for even the most introverted. My geeky brother made connections that turned into friendships through these outlets. I’ve made many friends through social media that have turned into relationships offline.

Meet new people in a low-risk situation.

I started the Finishing School for Modern Women and love hosting the weekly Badass Women of Wichita Alliance events because it brings women together. Every time we meet, I see people making new connections and friendships forming outside our events. We’re meeting women who have just moved to Wichita or had other life changes and are looking for community. So if you’re badass or want to be, you belong with us!

Friendships take time.

It’s amazing when you meet someone you connect with that feels like magnets coming together, but that rarely happens. It takes shared experiences, facing adversity, and celebrating life to bring people closer. When you find someone you want to get to know, ask them to meet. It may feel a bit awkward, but if you mesh with that person, it can develop into the kind of long-term friends we treasure.

Not all relationships are the same.

Not every friendship has to turn into a love connection. Some people will never be “close” friends. That doesn’t mean you don’t have fun with them when you see them or that you can’t find something to talk about.

In our Embracing Change workshop, we talk about the types of friends we need to be happy. We need Touch Stones that will bring us comfort and make us feel safe. Sounding Boards that you can consult about the things you’re mulling over and get good advice. Frolickers that you can be spontaneous with that force you to have fun and don’t let you take yourself too seriously. And the Truth Tellers that help you face the truth whether you ask them to or not. One person can rarely be all these things. Spread the love!

You’re not going to be everyone’s brand of disco.

If you don’t end up clicking with everyone you meet, that‘s okay. Quality is more fulfilling than quantity in most situations. Rather than putting energy into why something didn’t work, put the energy into trying again. It can be challenging to find people that can accept you for the freak that you are, but eventually, we find our people if we keep looking. Friends are people who make us feel like we belong, just as we are, and don’t have to change to fit in.

Just relax and be yourself.

From working in sales for many years, I can tell you that the easiest way to build rapport and trust is to simply be yourself, quirks and all. People will either love and accept you for who you are or let you know they aren’t worth your precious time and attention. If you can’t let your freak flag fly with your friends, who can you show your uncensored realness to?

I value my relationships more than any possession I own and gladly accumulate friends before wealth. My friends have helped me through times when I couldn’t make it on my own. They have forgiven me when I was thoughtless and supported and celebrated my successes. Maybe the significance I put on friendship is the real reason why it’s easy for me to make friends. The treasures my friends bring to my life are worth the pain of the few with difficult endings. These experiences are all part of discovering how to choose friends worthy of our attention and learn to be better friends with those who are.

My besties have serious dirt on me, but they'll never tell.

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