If you check out your social media feeds, you’ll see that you’re probably connected to a lot of people. But how many of those people are your friends? Probably not many. Some of your connections are professional colleagues. Some are people you knew a long time ago or distant relatives you want to be able to keep track of. Still others may be people whose updates you follow, but you don’t know personally. Only a small number of those connections would really qualify as friends.
Of those, chances are most of those connections are people that you met in the first 20-ish years of your life. As you get into a routine of working, your social circle tends to shrink. If you get into a romantic relationship, your circle will shrink even more. And if you have children, you may find that most of the other adults you know are parents of kids about the same age as your own.
Yet, there a lot of reward in having at least a few friends that aren’t tied directly to your main responsibilities (such as work and family). There are a few ways to make friends as an adult—even during a pandemic, when your social circle has probably shrunk.
Make the time
One of the difficulties many adults have trying to make new friends is that they aim to fit it in between everything else they’re doing. But, life is already pretty busy with work and other responsibilities.
If you don’t devote any time to making and developing new friendships, you can’t be surprised that your circle of friends is small. Instead, you have to clear the time. Look at your schedule. What can you move? Is there time you’re spending on other activities that you could use to call a friend or go out to do something? Can you negotiate time with other people in your life to make time with your friends a priority?
If you’re not used to having a lot of friends any more, you may actually need to remind yourself to engage. Set time on your calendar for a phone call or make plans to get a cup of coffee or to do something else together. As an adult, your life gets busy, so scheduling time with friends is a recognition of the complexity of your life, not a sign that you’re doing something you don’t really want to do.
You might feel guilty about taking time away from other loved ones or from your responsibilities to develop a friendship. In the long run, your happy memories will be based on the experiences you have with other people—including your friends. On top of that, having outlets for your energy beyond just work and family can help you to bring renewed energy to those facets of your life as well.
Engage common interests
A common approach to adult friendships is to organize them around a common interest or activity that goes beyond the interests of other significant people in your life. Having other friends who enjoy a similar hobby (scrapbooking, cooking, coin collecting), sport (golf, tennis, dodgeball) or interest (theater, music, TikTok) provides a way to spend time with other people while also engaging in a fun activity. Social organizations and religious groups also provide places to find people who share similar values.
In addition to participating in activities with those other people, add a little time before, during, or after the activities to talk. It is wonderful to have people in your life with whom you share common interests, but it’s even better if you can get to know them more deeply and develop a relationship that allows you to go beyond just the shared interest.
Be willing to open up
One of the great things about friends is that they provide a sounding board for ideas and a friendly ear when you need to vent. It is nice to have people that will just listen to what you have to say, provide a little feedback, but mostly be there to validate your concerns. (Of course, you’ll need to be there for your friends when they’re having a tough day, too.)
Sharing highs and lows with friends seems like it ought to be a natural thing to do. Yet, many adults have become adept at keeping many thoughts and feelings hidden. You might find that you can talk about what you’re doing, but not how you’re feeling about it. You might have difficulty expressing the things that scare you or the things you really want.
There is value in having friends you can be open with. The most central value is that it is easy to believe that you are the only one having the particular struggles, ambitions, or dreams you have. But, everyone has their struggles. Everyone wants things for themselves. Everyone has hopes. The negatives in your life often feel far worse when you go through them alone. And your celebrations are sweeter when people who care about you can join in.
In the end, you’re not just looking for people to hang out with. You need to take the leap to let a few of those people know more about who you are and to get to know them in turn.