We often hear about the importance of friendships for children’s development and well-being. For example, interactions with friends provide a key context in which children develop their social skills and moral reasoning (1,2). We also know that friends can help children do better in school (3), protect them from being bullied (4), and act as a buffer against symptoms of anxiety and depression (5). The good news is that, between play dates, school, camp, and extracurricular activities, youth are regularly surrounded by their peers and friendships are often formed naturally.
However, what happens as we age and life becomes increasingly complicated and busy? Once we leave school, launch our careers, and begin to invest more in our romantic relationships and families, friendships can sometimes take a backseat to other priorities and stressors. That being said, we are beginning to better understand the benefits of having good friends well into adulthood.
The importance of friends in adulthood
Just like they do in childhood and adolescence, having good friends can help adults lead happier and healthier lives (6). In addition to protecting against symptoms of depression and loneliness (7), friends provide emotional support, practical help, and problem-solving strategies (8) that help us cope with many of the stressful life events that occur in adulthood, including conflict with family members and partners (6). Additionally, because friendships are voluntary, and friends willingly choose to connect with and support one another on an ongoing basis, friendships are a powerful form of validation that can help individuals to feel valued and loved.
The paradox is that although friends can help us cope with life’s ups and downs, the busyness and structure of adulthood does not always allow us to make new friends, let alone invest in the friendships we already have. Moreover, given that changes in friendship networks are normal, it is unsurprising that, at some point or another, many adults may find themselves wanting to expand their social circle.
For many, the thoughts and feelings associated with making new friends as an adult can be anxiety producing or, at the very least, confusing. Unlike childhood, there isn’t necessarily a structure in place to facilitate friendship-making, nor are there clear-cut rules for how to go about making friends in adulthood. As a result, questions about the best way to go about making friends as an adult (e.g., What should I say? What if they don’t like me?) are bound to arise. One of the most frequent questions, however, is Where do I find new friends?
Where to find new friends in adulthood
As a starting point, it is always a good idea to use your existing social network. Take inventory of the people you enjoy spending time with (e.g., friends, cousins, co-workers) and see if you they can introduce you to anyone. If being explicit about your desire to make new friends is a bit daunting, why not suggest a group activity and ask them to bring along a few of their other friends?
After you have exhausted your existing social network, it is time to step outside of your comfort zone. The best way to do this is to identify activities that you would like to engage in and, ideally, share with a friend. Typically, the root of friendship is an underlying similarity with respect to one’s interests and values (9).
A great way to meet people is to sign up for an activity or class that you have been wanting to try. Whether it is a cooking class, book club, or running group, trying a new activity will allow you to meet people with similar interests while having fun! Here are some specific suggestions about where to find social activities:
- Sign up for an activity related to your current life stage (e.g., parenthood, retirement). Often times, going through a meaningful, challenging, or exciting transition with someone can facilitate the closeness and intimacy that exist in friendships.
- Explore activities that are available in your neighborhood. These are often advertised in local newspapers, shops, or online. This is a great option when you are looking to make friends, since living near each other makes it easier to maintain a friendship over time.
- Volunteering is another great way to meet people while giving back to your community or a cause you are passionate about. Locally, the Volunteer Bureau of Montreal has a fantastic website where you can search for organizations looking for volunteers by neighborhood, type of activity, or population.
- Online communities or apps can also help you expand your social circle. Meet up is a useful website where you can sign up to attend local events catering to a wide variety of interests (e.g., fitness, hiking, dance, languages, photography). There are even groups specifically created for people looking to make new friends! For those who are tech-savvy, apps also exist to help you connect with others much like the way you would in online dating. Women in mind is a local resource devoted to connecting women with each other that we recently featured on our Facebook page. Bumble BFF, MeetMe, and Girlfriend Social are other options as well.
Putting in the effort
Finally, what happens when you are ready to initiate a friendship with someone? It is really common to assume that friendships just happen or develop automatically, but that isn’t always the case. Relationships, including friendships, take work. The best way to approach making friends is to remember that this is a process. Start small, by greeting a familiar face, and build from there. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully making friends as an adult, thinking about what we look for in our friends will help guide your behaviour.
First, friends often share important or personal information with each other. This process of self-disclosure is how we build intimacy and trust in our relationships. That being said, when you are pursuing a new friendship, you don't want to go overboard and spill your deepest, darkest, secrets right away. Start small by sharing stories or insight into your thoughts and feelings when appropriate and make sure to show an interest in the other person.
Next, find opportunities to do things together. One of the main ways friends connect with each other is through shared activities and experiences. If there are opportunities to work together during an activity, go for it! You can also suggest getting together for an activity you think you will both enjoy (e.g., going to see the movie about the book you have been reading). If you aren’t comfortable asking someone to spend time with you one-on-one, why not make it a group outing and invite others?
From there, it is important to remember that we expect our friends to be reliable and trustworthy. An important way to show others that they can count on you is to be true to your word and follow through on any promises made. If you say that you will call or offer to arrange plans, make sure you do so!
Finally, positive friendships are characterized by reciprocity or sharing. Although good friends don't always keep such an explicit score count, making sure you are both putting equal effort into the friendship and providing support to one another are important ways of establishing balance in the friendship.
A few final tips…
If you have tried to seek out new opportunities and are still having trouble making friends, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Pay attention to how you interpret rejection. If you automatically assume others do not like you, you will likely end up feeling down and will be less inclined to put yourself out there in the future. Instead, try to come up with alternative interpretations – Is it possible they had another reason for saying no?
- If you are still having trouble, use the resources at your disposal. There are some great books out there (10) and individual or group therapy can help you feel more comfortable approaching others and asserting yourself.
Above all, be kind to yourself. Remember, this process is difficult for a lot of people and it takes time to develop trust and intimacy in all relationships. Success should not be defined by the number of new friends you make, but rather by the meaningful interactions you have, the quality of the friendships you form, and your willingness to put yourself out there. Even though it can be daunting, it is so worth it. It is never too late to make friends – So go ahead and set up your very own play date.
Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogs, podcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.
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