Developing New Friendships in Adulthood
True friendship is a beautiful and affirming gift. But how to initiate and build friendships, especially as an adult, remains a somewhat enigmatic challenge to many. Children receive clear and repeated guidance about how to make friends and often find themselves with a plethora of built in opportunities for doing so. But aging is often accompanied by increased isolation, and a tapering off of explicit guidance about making new friends. This combination can make the process of finding new friends as an adult intimidating and/or awkward. However, making friends does not become less beneficial with age and therefore it is important to try to overcome these hurdles and continue to orient toward finding and building friendships regardless of one’s age.
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Where to Start
Before going out to meet people who will hopefully turn into your friends, you should do yourself the favor of getting reacquainted with yourself first. Journaling and increased alone time can be a helpful exercise. Additionally, consider revisiting some of your favorite music, movies, books, etc. Re-engaging with these things can refresh your memory of your personal themes or qualities.
The benefit here is two-fold: first, you will gain confidence that comes with knowing oneself and an ability to easily answer questions that a potential new friend might ask when getting to know you. Second, you can come to better understand what you value in a friendship, which can help you in discerning who to seek friendship from. The addition of confidence and clarity can help relieve anxiety about the process of meeting and getting to know new people.
Every relationship starts with a meeting. And while it can be daunting to meet new people, because of the pressure to make a good first impression and the unknown factor of your relational chemistry, it is a necessary part of making new friends. Try to remember that the other person is in the same position you are, and no one makes a great first impression every time. Let yourself off the hook of perfection and try your best to view meeting people in a casual light. Endeavor to be open, friendly, and receptive by smiling at people, listening when they talk, and initiating conversations at least some of the time.
You can seek out structure for meeting people, like joining a club or taking a class in something you are interested in. If you go this route, make a commitment to yourself to initiate conversation with other attendees and don’t forget the importance of exchanging contact info with anyone you do hit it off with.
Alternatively, you could consider if there are any family members who share common interests with you or that you would like to get to know better but with whom you haven’t yet formed a close bond. You already have your familial connection in common, so it may not be quite as challenging as starting a completely new relationship. You might be surprised how well you get along with someone as an adult that you used to have familial rivalry with when you were younger.
Another route to take would be to get to know your neighbors. You spend a lot of time in close proximity anyway. Developing relationships with your neighbors can be very convenient because spending time together doesn’t take much travel or preparation. And you already have something in common just by living on the same street or in the same neighborhood. If you haven’t met them yet, it could be as simple as catching their eye while you’re both taking out your trash or using the opportunity to deliver a piece of mis-delivered mail.
Making plans, especially with new friends, can sometimes feel stiff or contrived. But it is a necessary part of building and maintaining friendships. And the more you do it, the easier it will become. If you’re feeling nervous or uncertain about making plans, try centering them around something you both enjoy, like watching a sports game together, completing the New York times crossword puzzle, or enjoying a meal from a favorite restaurant. This can provide a built-in topic of conversation and alternate point of focus then just each other.
Try to adopt a policy of saying “yes,” more often. It can be easy to fall into a pattern of turning down most invitations because they don’t instantly appeal to you or you’d have to do some logistical work to make them happen. But saying “yes” to invitations is opening the door to making and/or strengthening connections.
Remember that other people’s lives are busy and hectic at times, like yours is. So, don’t feel bad about being the first person to reach out and/or being turned down. Odds are high that the other person didn’t reach out first or is turning down your invitation because of something going on with them, not you.
That being said, don’t underestimate the importance of following up. If plans fell through last time or if there was a vague plan set forth that hasn’t been firmed up, reach out and follow up. Flesh out that vague plan or give the original plan another shot.
Forming Strong Bonds
Variation in the time you spend together is a simple way to contribute to a strong and lasting bond. If possible, try spending time together in both one-on-one and group settings. Different qualities will be highlighted in each of you in these different contexts. Furthermore, in-person bonding is important, but texting, talking on the phone, and video chatting are also ways to add to your connection. There are a multitude of games that can be played via zoom, and many of these offer 2-player and group options. You could try being on the phone while both watching a movie or sports game or listening to that new album you are both excited about. Get creative!
The importance of being yourself cannot be overstated. Many of us have generic conversational scripts ingrained into our socialization processes and these can put a damper on the building of a new friendship. If your new friend asks how you are and you say “fine,” the conversation comes to a lull. But, if you take the time to actually reflect on how you are and give your new friend some more details, the conversation will likely move along at a more interesting rate. Interesting conversations are fuel for new friendships.
Small gestures add up over time. Remembering to wish your new friend a happy birthday or to reach out and ask them how that important meeting went can bolster your relationship in significant ways. Take a brief moment to send your new friend a picture or a joke that made you think of them. Being remembered makes people feel seen and held and those two feelings are important for a strong relationship.
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A Solid Foundation
Making meaningful connections when you’re an adult can be difficult, especially when you have to start from the ground up, but it is worth the effort. For most people, a solid friend base, or even a single friend you know you can always count on, is absolutely necessary. It is hard work to build and maintain friendships as an adult. However, when the chips are down, your friends will always be there for you.
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