Making Friends As an Adult
When it comes to making friends, it is never about how many that you have, but about the kind of energy that they bring. Please choose wisely.
Edmond Mbiaka (Author)
People closest to me know that I’ve led somewhat of a gypsy life. After graduating from undergrad, I took a role that required me to move every nine months for a three year period. Since that time, I’ve lived in over seven states, with each move mostly for work but a few for personal reasons. In my last move, it took me less than twenty-four hours to make my apartment look like I have always lived there. I have nesting down to a science. For me, moving is always a fun adventure—I enjoy being in new spaces. And a skill that I’ve acquired, rather unintentionally, is the ability to adapt very quickly to a new environment.
Over the past three weeks, two totally unrelated people have asked me for advice on how to find friends in new places. It’s an interesting question because it really depends on where you are in life and what your expectations are for the relationships you have. Although I still have a few friends from 15-20 years ago, quite a few have come and gone. People change and I’m certainly not immune to it also. I’m not the same person I was twenty years ago and with that evolution came a change in interests, expectations of myself and others, as well as my overall approach on the energy I want in my space.
Finding friends as an adult can be hard or easy depending on how you look at it. It can be easy because by the time you reach your 30s, most of us know our preferences and aren’t afraid to act on those preferences. We aren’t so tied to doing certain things or behaving a certain way because of who we choose to keep as company. This focus helps us to quickly identify people with whom we are “equally yoked” and choose whether we want to invest in a friendship.
On the other side of the coin, it can be harder to find friends as an adult for the same reason. By a certain age, the majority of what makes us who we are is pretty much set in stone. There may be shifts here and there but for the most part, we don’t change drastically unless something catastrophic occurs. Because our preferences are known, the pool of potential friends becomes much more narrow. We have standards that we didn’t have before. No longer is the fact that we like the same color or shop at the same stores, enough to sustain a friendship. The substance of friendships becomes much more complex and mature.
When these two co-workers asked me for my advice, I gave the following thoughts based on my life experiences:
Pursue interests that you genuinely have an interest in. Interests could be anything from learning how to scuba dive to joining a non-profit board for a cause that you believe in. Even if you don’t meet anyone directly, you still come out enriched as a person. If you hate dancing and loud music, going to a club because everyone one says that’s the thing to do, will not be fruitful and will likely just discourage you. Find out what you enjoy and do it.
Learn how to become comfortable being by yourself. As a proud introvert, I’m particularly passionate about this advice. Related to point #1, I really think that having time to yourself will give you invaluable insight into the activities/interests that you naturally gravitate towards. If you don’t have a strong sense of yourself, you’ll find yourself settling for any kind of company which can be disastrous. Find out what you enjoy and do it...even if it means doing it alone.
Be open to making friends with co-workers...but proceed with extreme caution. A significant number of the people that I spend time with outside of work, are either current co-workers or prior co-workers. Work is where you spend most of your time during the week so it’s natural to develop friendships. The danger with this approach occurs if the relationship goes awry due to a disagreement or if the person ends up not being who you thought they were. Things can turn awkwardly bad pretty fast.
Much like dating, get to know who you’re really dealing with and avoid disclosing too much about yourself too early. In fact, I’d suggest refraining from disclosing anything too personal (that you wouldn’t want known publicly) for a significant amount of time. I’ve had some really amazing experiences with co-workers that turned into friendships so it’s certainly possible, you just have to be patient and thoughtful with the boundaries you set until a trusted relationship develops.
Remember that there can be a sliding scale with friendships. Friendships as adults aren’t black or white. There can be different types of friendships with people depending on many factors such as personality, distance, interests and priorities. I have friends that I regularly go to dinner with and we have wonderful chit chat about a number of things but never anything too personal or serious. I have other friends that I see once every year or so, but when we see each other, it’s like we were never apart and we pick up right where we left off. We talk about everything under the sun, from the silly to quite serious. The person that you work out with or go to the movies with may not be the right person to confide in when you’re feeling low. There’s a sliding scale and the form that friendships take on will vary on what you need from each other and what you’re willing to give...and that’s ok.
Take your time and go slowly. It takes a long time to get to really know someone. I’m talking about the real person, and not just what they want you to see. Time gives you the luxury of seeing people in different settings to see how they carry themselves and interact with the world. This isn’t something that can be rushed, and honestly, there’s no reason to.