Friendship Renaissance: How to Make Friends in Adulthood
As we grow older, making new connections goes beyond basic social skills; it becomes crucial for our mental and emotional well-being. Supported by research, forming friendships significantly impacts our overall health.
In this blog, I explore common obstacles in making new friends during adulthood and provide practical guidance, ideas, and insights on strengthening the ‘making new friends’ muscle.
From a neurobiological perspective, humans are inherently social beings, with evolved brains prioritizing social interactions and connections. Various brain regions and neural pathways contribute to processing and responding to social cues, highlighting the intrinsic wiring of the human brain for seeking and maintaining social connections, which are crucial for cognitive, emotional, and physical well-being.
Positive social interactions, such as meeting new people and making friends, profoundly impact the brain by:
- releasing oxytocin,
- regulating emotions,
- stimulating cognition,
- reducing stress,
- improving mood, self-esteem, and long-term mental health.
What else does friendship offer?
Valuable Source: Friendships offer social support, care, mutual respect, a safe space for struggles, and celebration of successes.
Reduced Isolation: Friends reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, promoting companionship and a sense of belonging.
Emotional Well-being: Friends contribute significantly to emotional well-being by providing a cathartic outlet and fostering connection and understanding.
Coping Mechanism: Friends serve as sounding boards, offering diverse perspectives and advice, which is crucial for effective coping.
Connections and Health Benefits: Engaging in activities with friends releases neurotransmitters, influencing lifestyle choices and promoting well-being.
But let’s discuss loneliness for a moment.
.Experiencing loneliness is a challenging journey that can affect anyone. It extends beyond mere solitude to encompass feelings of disconnection and isolation, even amid the company of others. Whether facing difficulty making friends or struggling with loneliness despite having a social circle, remember you’re not navigating this experience alone.
Loneliness Despite Having Friends? Why?
Quality vs. Quantity: Loneliness persists when relationships lack emotional intimacy, understanding, or shared interests.
Mismatched Expectations: Discrepancies between expected companionship levels and reality contribute to loneliness.
Isolation within Groups: Feeling like an outsider within a friend group can foster loneliness.
Lack of Emotional Connection: Superficial interactions or fear of vulnerability hinder meaningful bonds.
Life Transitions: Changes disrupt social connections, leading to feelings of isolation.
Internal Factors: Low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression can contribute to isolation.
Communication Patterns: Miscommunication within friendships can lead to disconnect.
Personal Growth: Evolving social needs may result in loneliness if friendships don’t adapt.
To combat loneliness, individuals should reflect on feelings, openly communicate with friends, and consider seeking professional support.
What gets in the way of making new friends?
Time Constraints: Demands of adulthood limit time for socializing, hindering new connections.
Fear of Vulnerability: Life experiences make adults guarded, inhibiting vulnerability with new acquaintances.
Established Social Circles: Joining existing circles can be intimidating, making individuals feel like outsiders.
Limited Social Opportunities: Adult life offers fewer chances for meaningful encounters, with workplaces often competitive.
Changing Priorities: Career shifts, relocations, or family life changes impact priorities, challenging new friendships.
Digital Communication Overload: Technology fosters connection but can lead to superficial interactions, hindering substantive connections.
Overcoming these barriers involves proactive reflection, open communication, and a willingness to adapt to changing social dynamics.
Let’s talk a little more about the inner process that could be getting in the way of making new friends.
AN INSIDE JOB:
Feeling shy or introverted when meeting new people is entirely normal. Many individuals share concerns about judgment or feeling different. If going out feels overwhelming, start in environments where you feel at ease, engaging in shared interests or activities. Join clubs, classes, or online communities related to your hobbies to meet like-minded individuals at your own pace. Authentic connections often happen when you’re genuine, so be kind to yourself and take small steps aligned with your comfort level.
Parts: Embracing Imperfection
Our inner perfectionists, inner critics, or people-pleasers parts can flood our minds with negative thoughts, creating discomfort in the body. This internal dialogue can make trying new things, like asking someone for a platonic ‘coffee,’ seem daunting. If this resonates, take it one step at a time. It might feel a little uncomfortable at first. It takes time to (re)-build ‘making a new friend’ muscle.
It’s crucial to understand that everyone, including seemingly confident extroverts, experiences fear of rejection or judgment. Despite appearances, we all long to feel heard, understood, and connected. A simple smile or compliment can be the initial step to test the waters of connecting with others, even for a moment—move at a suitable pace, acknowledging your comfort zone while considering where your edge lies. Not every connection will be perfect, and that’s ok!
Building and maintaining meaningful adult friendships is not always easy, but it’s worth the effort.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE?
Intentionality, Adaptability, and a Willingness
to overcome the barriers that adulthood may present.
Navigating the balance between prioritizing meaningful connections and identifying shared interests amid busy lives can pose a significant challenge. The intricate complexities of adulthood and the multifaceted layers of personal responsibilities and issues contribute to the understandable difficulty in fostering quality relationships.
But, where does one start?
Before action, start with:
Investing time and energy into making new friends is a thoughtful decision.
Without that conscientious reflection, making new connections is left as an idea that can pull at the emotional heartstrings of apathy, grief, frustration, etc. If you don’t feel ready, that’s okay. Be okay with that decision until you feel more authentically prepared to move forward gently and safely.
Ask yourself reflective questions about your reasons for wanting and making new friends, what has stood in your way before, and what might be needed to do things differently this time.
Decision + Intentionality + Action = Possibility
And the idea of possibility is where it’s at.
Continue reading to learn more about creating possibilities:
Let’s explore a few ways to meet new adult friendships emphasizing real-world connections and meaningful interactions.
Some you’ll recognize, and some might be helpful reminders. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I hope it might offer a spark of inspiration for new ideas and empowered thoughts:
Diversify Your Social Engagements:
To connect with new individuals and participate in various social events, gatherings, and parties. These can range from work-related functions and community events to local clubs or organizations hosting activities. I have been pleasantly surprised as the recent public notice boards and online platforms, apps, and social media accounts promoting in-person events and gatherings where everyone has a shared interest and an interest in meeting others.
Explore Networking Opportunities:
Attend professional and social networking events to create connections and foster ample chances for meaningful conversations. Be open to extending connections beyond the immediate context, as friendships can readily develop at networking events.
Immerse Yourself in Cultural and Social Scenes:
Attend cultural events, art exhibits, or live performances to connect with like-minded individuals who appreciate the arts. These gatherings provide a platform for intellectual conversations and shared experiences, creating a unique setting to meet someone with similar values and interests.
Take Classes or Join Groups:
Enroll in or join groups (within or outside your wheelhouse of interests) to provide an opportunity to meet people. Whether it’s a cooking class, a language course, or a book club, participating in activities you enjoy or are simply curious about can lead to meaningful connections. Although shared interests can help create an excellent foundation for friendship or connection, learning or trying something new can significantly benefit your overall well-being and mental health. Stretch both muscles, that of new friendship and brain health in learning something new.
Volunteer for Causes You Care About:
Volunteering allows you to meet with people who share your values. Volunteering exposes you to a diverse group, fostering connections based on shared charitable interests. The sense of fulfillment from positively impacting can be a robust foundation for a lasting relationship. It also contributes to good mental health.
Explore Active Activities:
Outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, or joining sports leagues provide an opportunity to meet individuals who appreciate an active lifestyle. Shared adventures and the joy of exploring and playing can create a strong bond. Whether you’re a seasoned adventurer or a novice, participating in group or paired activities introduces you to various people who share a passion.
Be Open to Chance Encounters:
Life is filled with serendipitous moments, and being open to chance encounters can lead to unexpected connections. Consider everyday situations, whether at a coffee shop, in a bookstore or during your daily commute. Genuine connections can stem from the most unexpected places. At the very least, they could provide exciting or interesting information or conversation, and also, an opportunity to build confidence.
By practicing authenticity, attending social events, adapting to life changes, and prioritizing face-to-face interaction (video or in-person), you can create genuine connections that provide emotional support, shared experiences, and a sense of belonging.
Remember, the challenges of building substantive adult friendships are valid, but the rewards are even more remarkable.
Take the pressure off. Explore new opportunities to meet new people, and let the action of going be the first goal if that helps. Or go to get the lay of the land before participating fully. Before a marathoner races, many steps (and time!) precede that (no pun intended). Consider one action at a time to practice.
Two: Prepare for Different Outcomes:
Approach situations with an open mind and acknowledge that various outcomes are possible, including rejection, lack of ‘click,’ or the appearance of ‘disinterest.’ Preparing for different scenarios can help manage expectations. Perspective is also critical. Avoid making assumptions and approach each successful or non-successful encounter or interaction as beneficial, helpful, and informative.
Rejection or feelings of rejection is a universal experience, and everyone faces it at some point. It does not define your worth, and learning to navigate rejection with resilience and self-compassion is essential for personal growth and well-being. Speak to someone if this fear is a wall between you and creating new connections.
Embarking on connecting with new individuals entails stepping beyond one’s comfort zone and actively engaging with the world, navigating the possibilities of connection or rejection with courage. Diversifying social circles, participating in classes, volunteering, attending networking events, exploring outdoor activities, immersing oneself in cultural events, fostering mutual friendships, and being open to serendipitous encounters all contribute to cultivating opportunities for meaningful connections. Real-world
interactions carry a transformative depth and authenticity, enriching our social experiences. Embrace the adventure of discovering friendship in unexpected places. Through authentic connections and shared experiences, you may find yourself on a path leading to a fulfilling and enduring connection.
Thank you for reading! Your support means so much to me.