Romantic relationships get all the attention, but I’d argue that friendships are just as important—if not more so—for our health and happiness.
Just like with romantic relationships, creating fulfilling, lasting friendships as an adult can be really hard.
I mean, sure, there’s the logistical side of it. As we age, our lives get more complex and filled with responsibilities, making it harder to find the time and energy to forge new connections.
We also get set in our ways, making it difficult to let down our guard and open ourselves up to new people and experiences.
But there’s also this whole emotional world that, as adults, we tend to forget—or outright ignore—because we think we shouldn’t have these kinds of “emotional problems” anymore.
I mean, it probably feels a little weird to even be reading an article about “making friends.” You should have figured out how to “make friends” by now, right?
Well, like nearly everything in life, it’s not quite that simple.
Why Is It So Hard to Make Friends as an Adult?
The fact is, as we get older, any lingering emotional issues we have only get more complex. We layer emotions on top of emotions on top of baggage from our past on top of all the fucked up programming society has shoved in our faces for decades by this point.
When viewed from this perspective, it’s really no wonder it gets harder to make friends as we get older.
From my experience, here are some of the deeper, more difficult challenges we face in making friends as adults.
You’re Too Afraid of Rejection
Perhaps the most significant emotional challenge of making friends (or forming any new relationship, really) as an adult is the fear of rejection.
When we reach out to others and attempt to build new relationships, we open ourselves up to the possibility of rejection, which can be deeply painful and discouraging.
It’s natural to feel anxious or nervous when trying to make new friends. Hell, I’d say it’s even a healthy sign. After all, if you truly just didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought, well that would make you a psychopath.
But the social pressures we face to fit in or not look “creepy” or desperate or whatever have taken their toll by the time we reach our 30s and beyond. Rejection from our peers, we’re taught early in life, is something to be avoided at all costs.
But it’s important to recognize that rejection is not a reflection of your worth or value as a person. It’s simply a sign that you aren’t compatible as friends.
This is a good thing, even if it stings to get rejected. It means you can move on and find friends that accept you for who you are.
This is a necessary, albeit painful part of the weeding out process.
You’re Desperately Trying to Cover Up Your Flaws
Building deep connections with others requires a willingness to be vulnerable and share your true self with others. That includes all the fucked up parts of you too.
This can be scary. It means putting yourself out there and risking the possibility of rejection or judgment. It takes courage to be vulnerable, but the rewards of deep, meaningful friendships are well worth it.
I have a friend that is absolutely horrible at keeping secrets, but he’s completely open about it. If you start to tell him something that even smells like a secret, he’ll warn you about this “flaw” of his.
Because he’s so open and honest about it, in a strange way, I find it endearing. Part of that is because I don’t really value “keeping secrets” nor do I want to have a bunch of secrets that need to be kept.
So in this way, we’re both self-selecting for a friendship without secrets and we’re better off for it.
If he were to meet someone who was highly secretive and valued friends who kept their mouths shut, well it just wouldn’t work and one or both of them would reject the friendship—and they’d both be better off for it.
(See how that works?)
You’re Not Making the Time or Space for New People in Your Life
As we grow older, our lives get much busier and more complicated. As a result, our time and attention is far more limited than it used to be.
When it comes to building friendships, one of the core components is the simplest: time spent together. People who spend a lot of time together, naturally tend to become friends.
When you’re young, it’s easy to spend a lot of time with somebody. In fact, you’re forced to. In school, you have to spend hundreds of hours with the same group of kids. In college, you live with your classmates.
But by middle age, everyone lives on their own, with their own families and their own jobs and their own hobbies and their own vacations.
Therefore, fairly late in life, you have to teach yourself to deliberately make time and space for friendships. That means, schedule and plan social time. Create or join social groups that meet regularly. Go out of your way to make sure you’re getting steady face-time with certain people.
Unf*ck Your Relationships
Four Counterintuitive Principles for Making Friends as an Adult
In my experience, some of the most effective ways to make friends as an adult are a bit counterintuitive, paradoxical even. But they actually address the underlying issues that a lot of people face when trying to make new friends in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.
So without further ado, here are four ways to actually make lasting friendships in your adult life.
1. Focus on Yourself First
This may seem selfish, but the truth is that when we invest time and energy in our own passions and interests, we become more interesting and likable to others. People are drawn to those who are confident, passionate, and engaged in life.
What’s more is that there’s nothing worse in a friendship—any relationship, really—than someone who constantly needs to be “fixed.” Take care of your own shit so you can be there for other people when they need you, and they’ll do the same for you.
In a seemingly paradoxical way, taking care of yourself first will attract the kind of supportive, loving friends that can help you be even better in the long run.
2. Seek More Rejection, Not Less
When we put ourselves out there and attempt to build new connections, rejection is inevitable.
Rather than fearing rejection, try embracing it.
Recognize that rejection is not a reflection of your worth or value as a person, and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
3. Be More Selective
If there’s one point that conventional advice for making friends misses completely, it’s how selective you should be.
I don’t mean that you should be a snobby asshole, going around thinking you’re better than everyone else. All I’m suggesting is rather than trying to connect with anyone and everyone, focus on building deep, meaningful connections with a few key people.
It’s better to have a small group of close friends who truly understand and support you than a large network of superficial connections.
By being more selective, you’ll be more likely to find the right people who share your values and interests.
4. Drop Your Expectations of Others
Any healthy relationship of any kind doesn’t come with strings attached.
When we approach social interactions with the expectation of getting something in return, we can come across as needy or insincere or even manipulative.
Instead, focus on giving to others without any expectation of reciprocity. Offer your time, resources, and expertise freely, and you’ll be more likely to attract people who appreciate and value your generosity.