Why Is Making Friends as an Adult Weird and Kind of Difficult?

Verily Magazine posted an article last year with tips for making friends as an adult, and just yesterday, they added another one that compares adult friend-finding to dating. I’m glad I’m not the only one going on friend dates! Let’s blow this discussion wide open.

It’s going to be a girly discussion, though. Verily is a women’s magazine, and I’m a woman, so I don’t know if this advice (or even the problem!) applies to men. The dynamics of male friendships are beyond my scope. Both articles have great lists of strategies, but the second hints more at what my heart is still wondering: why it’s so weird (and kind of hard) to make friends as an adult.

I do have friends. I talk about this situation with them sometimes. The newer article highlights three critical factors for building a friendship: “proximity, repeated and unplanned interactions, and a setting that lets you confide in each other.” When you’re no longer surrounded by peers for the majority of your waking hours, you still need friends, but it’s much harder to find them. I managed to do it (and thus have someone to talk about it with; so meta), but why is it so difficult in the first place?

Me, with friends

Oh, hey, pretty ladies! This is me with my friends Sara and Rebecca. We met in undergrad. College is a great place to make friends!

When I moved to Austin (almost six years ago!), I knew a few people in the area from my grad school program, but they weren’t really my friends. Besides our collegiate affiliation, we had little in common. It took until about Christmastime for me to realize that I had no friends here. So I turned to my favorite resource, the Internet, and found a delightful non-parish-specific Catholic young adult group and my trivia teammates.

The Catholic YA group is no more, but I was always in it with the personal mission to make actual friends. I wanted to build connections with people so that I didn’t need organized, scheduled activities in order to see them. Since the group disbanded, I don’t see some of the people I met in the group anymore. No more proximity. No more interactions. Not surprising. But the ones I connected with, the ones who “got” me, the ones I cared about building a relationship with: we’re still friends.

My trivia teammates and I have a different relationship (mostly because I am very religious and they are very not), but I have actual friendships with a couple of them, too. When you’re invited to someone’s house, you know it’s for real.

But beyond that, it’s just me.

If I’m being perfectly honest about my efforts to make friends as an adult, it has a lot to do with my being unmarried and living far from home. There are no single men in my house, so if I want to meet any, I have to go out. (I’m taken at the moment; it’s not insignificant that he found me.) Many of my friends are married and have small children, so if I want to see them, I have to meet them where they are—literally. I’ve learned that private conversations with friends-turned-parents aren’t always possible, so I settle for semi-private conversations as we follow the toddler around the room so he won’t get mowed down by the bigger kids.

One of my friends-turned-parents asked me if there was a time when you stop wanting to make new friends. I replied that it was probably when parenting starts.

Think about the family you grew up in. Your parents probably didn’t actively make friends. They had old friends: college roommates, wedding party members, friends from their life pre-marriage and pre-kids. They had work friends, but they didn’t always see those people outside of work or maintain relationships after job changes. That’s possible, but it’s rare. They had your friends’ parents, mostly so they could keep track of you and your influences. Maybe they had a professional group, a church group, or sports teammates.

But can you remember your parents making new friends? I met one of my mom’s work friends at my grandfather’s funeral. She was touched by that friend’s presence, as was I, yet it was strange because I’d never met her in all the years they’d been working together. My dad had a buddy once he met at one of my brother’s sports practices, and it was weird because Dad had a friend. There was nothing fishy going on, but it was odd because, well, dads don’t make friends. Or do they?

I’m not saying that anyone who’s a parent is forbidden to make friends, but I wonder why they so rarely do. Families have to unite to form societies. Is it a good thing that those unions are driven by children or by the past instead of by current intentionality? Should friend-finding be more like dating? Can we work harder to turn online friendships into offline ones?

I don’t have any answers, but this is one case where I think it makes sense to raise the question, to start a discussion, to just talk without needing a defined takeaway. Am I just shouting into the void here? Am I finding a problem that doesn’t exist (because, after all, I do have friends)? Any ideas?



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I’ve had this conversation a lot too (actually mostly with Keaton as we both struggle with not having friends outside of each other). And your comments on people with kids are interesting. I actually feel like I need new friends now more than ever. I need mom friends. I need friends with kids my kids’ ages so we can hang out at houses where kids can be corralled and put to bed when necessary. Where our lives are in general on the same schedule and where we are understanding of the insanity of the other persons life. But it is hard because…where do you meet moms? Especially moms who are sort of similar to you and have similar family goals (so uncomfortable telling other moms who are “so done” after two that I’m just going to take all the babies that are thrown my way). Anyway, there’s not really a point here. Just that parents are looking for new friends too! I’ve found some here but it’s usually through other things like Keaton’s classmates’ wives. But I need the friends. Or I’ll go insane, as will my kids from being stuck in the house all the time.

    Well, right now, you’re in survival mode. Focus on keeping everyone in your house alive, fed, and reasonably clean. I struggle with those myself sometimes, and I only have one person to take care of! ;)

    After that, your best bet for finding like-minded mom friends is probably through your kids. Once your oldest is big enough for activities like religious education and tiny sports, you’ll probably be more likely to meet more parents, period. Then you can sift through them to find the ones you click with.

    I don’t know what your educational plans are for your kids, but school or homeschool groups also sound like good ways to meet other moms. Also, try the Internet. I still wouldn’t have any friends if I hadn’t figured out where they all were by finding their “come join us in person” plans online.

It’s harder for adult men to make friends than for adult women.

No, you’re not shouting into the void or misunderstanding things. This is a real issue. Pope Francis commented a few years ago how major problems include youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. He was right. These are problems in the US and, I imagine, worldwide. Bowling alone and all.

    I am absolutely with you on male friendships. I know they exist, and that is about all.

    I remember those themes from the synods. I was so glad to see them at least trying to address the problem of a growing population of young unmarried people, but now that you mention it, that does mean it’s worldwide. That can’t be good.

Making friends is SO hard for me. Even as a kid, I never really had that many friends. I rarely ever saw them outside of school or other structured activities. I still don’t really see my friends outside of my structured activities….which is sometimes fine but other times annoying. And it’s not for a lack of trying…I do try and just get no response until I run into them at xyz event or xyz store and they are all, “It’s been forever we need to get together!” And the cycle continues.

I have tried meetup and other internet groups to find groups and I just have never seen anything that interests me or the groups fall apart. I’ve kind of just decided that the people in my area are loners and just hang out with my fiance…which is fine most of the time but sometimes I wish I had a good girlfriend that was local.

There are times when I have felt it would be easier to find friends if I had a kid because I could go to all the mom groups, MOPS, and other play date type things that seem to exist for parents.

I know a lot of men that honestly don’t seem to care about having friends. Well, that is what I have heard. Like I have heard of stories of men that go out together and “hang out” and they barely say 2 words to each other. They’ll play video games or watch a movie and not really talk about their life. I think their brains are just so different than women that I’ll never understand it.

    Friend dates have to be scheduled, too. I have very few friends that I could just drop everything for because we are adults with things to do. That’s why I liked the friend dating article so much!

    Joining groups definitely takes work. You have to be in them with an agenda other than needing something to do just one time. Even when they’re kid-based, you have to make the effort to get your kid there and not just scroll through your phone the whole time. (I’m not saying that you do that, but I can’t stand people who go to events just to do what they could do alone).

    Boys. Boys are weird.

Funny, and here I thought I was the only one who struggled with this. Very interesting topic…

On one hand, I’ve told myself that it’s just me and how my personality has been shaped by my various experiences. Generally speaking, I’ll talk if I have something to say, if I’m excited enough about a topic, or if I really feel a connection with someone. I’m friendly, but not outwardly social. Rather than having a marathon meet-and-greet session at a big party, I would much rather prefer getting to know a few people at a time, which makes my circle of friends small and grow at a slow pace over time.

Then, there’s the flip side: Our society seems to be getting more introverted. Most of us don’t take the time to get to know our next-door neighbors, for example. They’re right there, living next-door to us, so what stops us from reaching out with obvious questions? (“How long have you lived here? What’s there to do around here? What’s your favorite [pizza/take-out/etc.] place?”) We also use digital communication as a substitute for “live” communication so much that some of us forget how to act in social situations (e.g., phones up to faces in the company of others) or how to invite someone to hang-out. It’s funny, most of us claim to be too “busy” that the idea of carving time out to go for coffee with a friend is too time-consuming, but we’re not too “busy” to linger on our devices for hours to “like” things on Facebook or binge on Netflix shows. We’re all guilty of these things, and it’s becoming the new status-quo.

The idea of kids bringing adults together… yeah, that seems to be one of the biggest ways to break through the challenge of making friends as an adult. I’ve seen how two women are connected by virtue of being in a grocery store at the same time and, oh look, they both have kids the same age, so they strike up a conversation. Kids are natural conversation starters and bonding points for people, and that’s cool — unless you don’t have kids, of course, which I don’t and likely won’t in the future, then it’s back to square one. :P

    You are not alone! I definitely hear you on the neighbor thing and finding time to do things that matter. I’ve been reading about time/life management lately, and they point out the exact problem of TV and social media binges versus “not having time” for exercise, reading, and so on. You make time for what’s important.

    I think it was Louis CK who points out that kids make friends based on very little criteria. If you’re the same size, you’re friends. Adults are more discerning. I guess having your own kids helps bridge that gap.

Yep. Adult friending is not my strong point.
I want children so badly so hanging around young families hurts too much. I’m happy with where I am in life and God willing, I will marry eventually. But seeing my friends with kids simply adds to my grief of childlessness and general singleness. At my age, it’s hard to find peers, as you say.

On the plus side, I’ve actually become like way better friends with my parents and far away siblings than my friends in town. I’ve also not limited to friends in my age group. I tend to make friends easier with much older generations. I’ve also joined a new parish and plan on joining a new ministry. Something I didn’t have time for before.

Anna also makes a great point about digital communication and not knowing our neighbor. I’ve heard someone call it a “cocoon society”. We’re all wrapped up in our small world instead of being a community. However, at the same time, we lack trust in the neighbor. I have a terrible self-preservation instinct to mistrust EVERYONE. Because I live alone and have to defend myself if it comes down to it.

Anyway, great article topic. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Thank you for commenting! I didn’t mention it in this post, but I kind of like the older people I’ve met through dance and Bible study, too. Intergenerational friendships are pretty awesome because, although their younger lives passed by in a different time, sometimes they were getting it right back then.

    I thought about the danger angle, too. I read a compliation from Reddit (I think) of surprises that foreign-born people had when they came to the U.S. One mentioned that he thought, based on the crime-loaded news stories, people would literally be afraid to walk down the street. In some sense, and in some times and places, perhaps we really are.

I can totally relate to this. I moved from Ireland to San Francisco and as you can imagine what a huge change that is. Not only do I need to figure out the place, the culture and the day to day survival, add to that having no connections or friends here, it has been tough. I feel the internet helped me at times, I tried the services out there like meet up etc, I found they helped. However, I do feel more can be done to improve this problem and make the services more personal and focused on finding the right type of friends. After struggling on my own with this problem a group of female friends and I have decided to create a service that’s entirely dedicated to helping ladies in San Francisco find their new BFF. If you live in San Francisco and are interested in finding your new best buddy, we can help you. Please click this link. We’ll be happy to help!

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[…] I published a rare essay-style post about making friends as an adult. […]

[…] Backing up. Deacon G gave the homily. He spoke about how gratitude requires the humility to acknowledge gifts that have been given to us. When we’re prideful, we forget to be thankful even for small, routine acts. When we’re humble, we are thankful across the board. One of my favorite things to do is to thank my friends for their friendship, which I usually do by writing that in their birthday cards. I don’t give cards to everyone, but I am thankful for all of my friends. Once you lose the convenient peer groups formed by school, making friends takes work. […]

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