One of the saddest things about getting older has got to be that it's so much harder to make friends as an adult. And this is coming from someone who is pretty content with her group of friends. But from hearing so much from others about their struggles with finding and forming strong friendships in the years after college, it seems like a big problem for some people.
In his monologue for Saturday Night Live recently, the comedian and actor John Mulaney said that the greatest miracle about Jesus was that he was a 33-year-old man with 12 best friends. While it's a joke, it's kind of true, right? It's tough out there!
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You can be the most outgoing person in the world and it still might be hard to make new friends. There are a couple of circumstances that come into play. Some people might already be happy with their current friend group and are not really looking to expand their circle—and they might not be deliberately trying to be exclusive, but doing it subconsciously. Conflicting and busy schedules can be a snag in budding friendships. Some might have other relationships that they have to focus on, like with their partners or children.
Not to mention it's not exactly like college anymore where it's kind of your job to make friends and where you're meeting new people pretty much all the time through classes, clubs, parties, and just by hanging out in your dorm's common areas. (A moment of silence for college nostalgia… Okay, done.)
But not all hope is lost, and you don't have to be friendless as you progress into your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. You've just got to work a little harder now to seek out, grow, and maintain friendships. Here are some steps you can take:
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Yes, you've got to leave the house in order to meet new people. "I think the most important actionable step in terms of making new friends is to put yourself out there," says Madeleine DiLeonardo, MEd, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Mind Body and Soul by DiLeonardo Wellness. "Suggesting coffee to a co-worker you think you would like to get to know better or joining a group in your community such as a sports league or special interest group may feel awkward at first, but it's how you meet people! Reach out to acquaintances, accept offers to go out, attend workshops, and push yourself out of your comfort zone! Meetup groups, as well as online communities that have in-person meetup components, are also great."
With busy schedules, it can be hard to see people regularly, and when you don't, it's going to be tougher to form deeper friendships. So make a plan in advance, even if it means planning for something weeks later.
"As we get older people can be busier and have many responsibilities, but as we take inventory of our lives it's important to prioritize fun and friendship!" DiLeonardo says. "Planning in advance is a great way to work around this. You can acknowledge that most people are busy, but by scheduling a 'friend date' in advance, you can ensure that you have time blocked off to spend together. This doesn't need to be for long amounts of time, but just grabbing coffee or lunch uninterrupted (no phones!) can help to nurture a new relationship."
To avoid being too clingy, DiLeonardo cautions that you should try to be flexible and understand that life happens if your new friend needs to reschedule or postpone because of life responsibilities.
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Don't forget about what's going on IRL. "I think because we are so connected online to friends near and far, we sometimes do not feel as obligated to make the effort to make new friends or connect in person," DiLeonardo explains. "However, as we discussed when talking about friendships and social media, it is important to invest in the here and now, and work to cultivate a life and relationships that feel good to you on a day-to-day basis."
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Like the first point, it might be a good time to get out of your normal routine and try something new. Look to your interests to help you. Maybe that's joining a running club or volunteering or taking a class at your local community college. You'll get to enjoy a new experience, and you might make some friends with similar interests, too.
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It's also an opportune time to brush up on what it means to be a good friend. This can help you keep your expectations realistic and prioritize what you need to do. "Simply keep in mind the foundational components that make up a good friendship, such as being dependable, showing genuine interest, being supportive of your friend, sharing experiences, and demonstrating effort in terms of spending time together," DiLeonardo suggests.
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"Try incorporating new friendships into the existing activities and relationships in your life," DiLeonardo recommends. "Are you interested in trying a new restaurant or is an existing group of friends getting together? Invite your new friend to these activities while trying to foster a new friendship."
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If you're single, you might have asked your existing friends and acquaintances to set you up with someone to date. This idea can also be applied to meeting new friends, too. Who knows? They might know a potential friend with similar interests or personality. Don't be afraid to network.
We've warned you above about how social media can make you a little lazy when it comes to making friends IRL, but it can also come in handy sometimes. There are a lot of apps out there with users who are also looking to make new friends—like Meetup, Hey! Vina, or Bumble BFF. This can be especially helpful if you've just moved to a new city and don't know a soul or have only a few acquaintances there.
You probably see the people you work with more often than you see your existing friends or even your parents. You can be spending at least eight hours with these people five days a week. It's pretty inevitable that you might form close relationships with your co-workers. It's nice to be friends with your colleagues, but sometimes it can get messy, like if there's competition or gossip
But DiLeonardo has a few pointers to make sure it doesn't get messy. "Keep in mind that friendships with peers at work can be less complicated than friendships with bosses or supervisors," she explains. "Be respectful of boundaries, meaning that while it may be easy to slip into discussing work-related issues outside of work, a colleague may not want to talk about work when hanging out casually. We can have multifaceted relationships and acknowledge that even if there is a challenge or complication at work we can still care about the person on a deeper level as a friend, or that even if someone is experiencing a challenge in their personal life, you still need to maintain an effective working relationship."
And once you have new friends, you should remember that you need to continuously put in the work and effort to maintain these relationships. Reach out regularly, make sure they know you're there for them when they need you, and make sure that they're one of your priorities in life.