How to make friends as a grown up: stop being a victim, start making plans

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Best friends shirts by Etsy seller ThePlaidDeer

I got into a huge conversation recently with an old friend of mine. He’s in his mid-30s, self-employed, and works from his home in the burbs. He recently broke up with his girlfriend, and is newly single and realizing he just doesn’t have the group of friends that he did in his 20s. I’ve had the same conversation with other friends in their late 20s and 30s (and 40s)… how the fuck do you make friends as a grown up? I was reminded of a question we got recently from a reader asking about making friends, saying, “I’m not cool like Ariel so I can’t just meet people out dancing.”

Uh, thank you for that adorably vintage impression of my life, sweet reader… but my social life hasn’t revolved around going out dancing in over a decade. When I think of the friends I’ve made in the last 5 years, they’re people who’ve come to me via parenting groups and book clubs. They’re people who moved in next door, or who my mom introduced me to. This is not the way I made friends in my early 20s, when it was all pills and back-rubs and speaker-stack hugs. Those people are still my friends too, but these days I make friends like anyone else: through mutual interests, people, or groups. It took effort to make these connections — and continues to take an ongoing commitment to stay connected.

Look: I don’t want to dictate that anyone needs to make friends. I’ve got mad love for the introverts, and serious sympathy for those who wrestle with social anxiety disorders — but for the rest of us who are just dealing with run-of-the-mill social apathy? Here are my common sense tips for grown-up friend-making:

Stop thinking friendships “just happen” (or fall into place for everyone but you)

Maybe friendships “just happen” in your early 20s, when more folks are in a state of joyfully stumbling around exploring who they are and what they like and what they want, but in your 30s and older, friendships take serious commitment and time. Lots of folks are busy with stuff (work, housekeeping, general “being a grownup keeping your crap together” bullshit), and so you have to seriously invest time in finding, nourishing, and maintaining your friendships. Don’t let yourself get into a pity loop about how other people have friends just fall into their lives — for most of us, real friendships take real time and real commitment.

Be forward and direct

When I meet someone who I feel like I might click with, I get crazy forward. I have honestly said these exact words: “You seem really cool! Let’s try to be friends!” It’s like kindergarten: HI I LIKE YOU. PLEASE LET’S TRY TO BE FRIENDS NOW. Making friends as an adult is not a time to be coy or play hard-to-get. You have to be direct and forward. This is notoriously difficult in my hometown of Seattle, known for passive aggressiveness and “The Seattle Freeze” … but I think it’s also just endemic of our tech-focused era. (As another Seattleite said, “Apps this good, who’s got time to make friends?”) So yeah: it’s hard to break out of your iPhone bubble and be forward with people you want to be friends with… but it’s worth it.

Don’t talk about making plans; MAKE PLANS

It’s so easy to get into endless loop around “We should get together” and “Yeah we totally should” and “Yeah totally we should maybe do that some time.” If you want to be someone’s friend, contact them with a pitch: “I’m thinking of going to an author reading at the bookstore this Thursday. Wanna go with me and grab a drink after?” If they can’t, then say, “Well, I’d really like to hang out — is there a time that works for you?” Avoid the dreaded “checking calendars” and endless texting back and forth about maybes and bla bla. Pick up the fucking phone, and make fucking plans.

Keep trying, over and over again

My general rule is to try to make plans with someone FIVE times before giving up. (And if I’m trying to make plans with a parent, it’s seriously like 10 times!) In my 20s, if a friendship didn’t easily click into place, I’d bail. Here in my 30s I’ve learned that we’re all busy and you have to commit to getting over your butthurt when people can’t hang out. Try again. Then try again. Obviously, be sensitive to cues that someone isn’t interested in being your friend (dude, it happens!), but ditch the self-pitying narrative about how no one wants to hang out with you. Friendships take time. Friendships take effort. This is what effort looks like.

When you want to go check facebook, directly contact a friend instead

This is something HUGE that I’ve been trying to work this year: Instead of pacifying my loneliness with passive social media consumption (which gives the sensation of socializing, but without actually CONNECTING to anyone)… when I feel lonely, I contact a friend directly. One on one. Even if it’s just to say “Hey, you popped into my mind! I hope you’re having an awesome day,” it’s a REAL connection that goes much farther towards maintaining true friendships than passive social media consumption. Everyone likes to feel remembered, and if you want to make real life friends, lurking on social media isn’t getting you there.

Consider organized groups or even churches

This is one of those things that I thought was silly when I was younger, but now I really see the value. When you work alone and aren’t close with your neighbors, you need to find groups of people who share your interests. I’m so happy to have a book club, even when I don’t like everyone in it or hate the book we’re reading… because it feels so good to come together and share an experience with people. Do you like taking pictures? Join a local photo walk! Interested in philosophy? Look for a Unitarian Church and go get your agnostic philosophy on! Have a dog? Look for a meet-up!

Remember: most people only have 2-3 close friends

I think many of us have gotten the warped impression that everyone but us has these huge groups of close friends, and it’s just not true. Again, it’s easy to get into a looping victim narrative — and that time spent feeling sorry about not having enough friends is time you could be dedicating to cultivating a couple close friendships.

These are the things that have worked for me, but I’m super curious — how do you guys make friends? Is it really basically just like dating, but without the sex?

Comments on How to make friends as a grown up: stop being a victim, start making plans

  1. Such a helpful post. Planning a wedding with little to no help from my friends has been hard. I admit it is challenge sometimes thinking about planning a wedding where most of the guests are my parents friends…but I am trying to take the time to find myself instead. I do like stalking Pinterest though and seeing what people like similar things hahaha!!!!!!

  2. I actually have met a lot of people that I like and hang out with occasionally, which has really helped with loneliness. However, I miss truly deep friendships. I do think that friendships are like relationships without sex, meaning that you need chemistry! You know how with some people you’re discussing the weather, and with other people you feel like you will never run out of things to talk about? I miss those friendships. Fortunately, I do regular skype dates with my best friend who lives on the other side of the country.

  3. Ariel, didn’t you say that soon there will be a forum (like the OBB Tribe) for OBH? Maybe a part of the forum could be “Homie Area Meetups” where people from certain areas can get together, be offbeat, and be friends? It seems like so many people commenting here are feeling such similar isolation, many of whom live in the same areas.

    Also, think about all the “Steal this offbeat party idea”s y’all would get with that…. oh man…..

  4. This post was great to read, and it definitely applies to my life right now. I’ve had some success with, and I wanted to recommend that site. I joined a bunch of groups, and then as meetups were announced, I left the ones that didn’t interest me or fit my schedule. In the past six months, I’ve met two awesome people with whom I really clicked, and we now hang out regularly outside of meetup events– so you never know! If you have a community interest, joining a local group is also a great way to meet people. For me, it’s a local choir and a local “terrible orchestra” (no rehearsals, just show up once a month and sightread), and I’ve made a few new friends there too. Sometimes you find yourself in a group that’s vastly different from your age group (my choir’s average age is about 60, and I’m 28, for example) but sometimes there are a few people you can really connect with. πŸ™‚

  5. Fabulous article! I’ve found finding friends particularly when I moved for my current job. I was used to hanging out with my colleagues – and suddenly I was in a place where my colleagues do not socialize very well. I just wanted to echo: PERSISTENCE. When people can’t get together the first or second or third time, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to! It wasn’t an easy lesson for me πŸ™‚ But it was a good one. Also – don’t be afraid to move to another neighborhood or nearby town where it might be easier to build and maintain a network.

  6. Making friends at church depends a lot on if the church that works for you as a church also works for you for making friends. I realized in college that although I’d been raised in a Presbyterian church (that I had already quit because it had become clear that the church was heading in a direction far more conservative than my personal interpretation of what my religion meant to me), I’d really always been more in line with the United Church of Christ at heart. So I looked up my local UCC, went there for a while, decided that the UCC was in fact for me, and joined the church and the choir. My parents followed me. But while it is great for me as a church, I do believe that I am the only child free woman under forty and out of high school in the congregation. Which isn’t to say that child free women can’t be friends with parents, or that somebody in the neighborhood of thirty can’t have friends in her mother’s generation, but when the personal conversations in groups inevitably circle back to children, grandchildren, caring for parents that are far older than mine, or medical problems of the sort that I won’t have experience with for several decades more likely than not, then I’m going to wind up rather on the margins.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that for some bizarre reason, people I find in a group based on one interest I have very often don’t share enough else in common to make likely friends outside of that group. So I go to the groups, enjoy them for what they are, and put more energy into actually getting together with the old friends who are still reasonably local.

    • I found this interesting because I did the same thing. I started attending a UCC church instead of a Catholic church. Thank god I did because it is where I met my husband! But anyways, I think it depends on the congregation. Many of our closest friends are from church and I am one of the only people with no kids and out of high school also. I am 42. I am part of the choir and most people either have kids, have kids that are grown and on their own. They are male and female. Some of the best times we have are with these people and I actually have a lot in common with them even though our life paths are quite different. I am also disabled and don’t currently work but yet, the friendships work.

    • “people I find in a group based on one interest I have very often don’t share enough else in common to make likely friends outside of that group”

      YES. I can only talk about the sport I play or dog training, etc. for so long with someone. Sometimes you can branch off into other topics, but either you run into major disagreements (politics) or run out of things in common. Or you just don’t like to do the other things they like to do. (Example: 4 hour board games are not for me even if I really like the people playing!) A party setting with a bigger group helps with this because you can go talk to someone else for awhile. It’s hard to find “multipurpose” friends like I used to, so sometimes a “multipurpose group” works.

      I am finding as we get older that it’s okay to have friends for specific purposes. Just acknowledge it- “Hey, you’re my garden friend. Want to go to this plant sale?”

  7. Living in Phoenix, I have felt the “I’m busy doing my own thing” vibe from people I’ve met. I am not sure if it’s the desert heat keeping everyone indoors and sequestered or if people here tend to be more standoffish but I know I’ve commiserated over this fact with people before (and these are patients of mine so not really an appropriate group of people to ask to hang out and discuss friendship more in depth!). I’ve done a few meetups but I’ve run into a “core group” who tends to keep to themselves and random outsiders (like me) who leave after attending one or two meetups. I’m definitely going to keep searching – maybe it’s volunteer work next for me!

  8. So the pattern seems to be: lots of people are hungry for new friends. If we all want it to happen, it just takes one of us to be brave enough to initiate and “ask someone out.” Odds are they may say yes, because look at how many of us are eager to have that very thing happen!

    I think it’s also important to be kind to ourselves, to be patient when it takes time to feel close to someone else, and to not take it personally when it doesn’t happen. Like Ariel said, most of us think everyone else has WAY more friends and WAY more fun than we do when that just isn’t the case.

    I know for me, I’m usually quite content with my friendships until I want to go to a particular event and there’s no one to go with (and it’s something I don’t want to do alone). That’s my weak spot. In fact, this conversation has gotten me motivated to reach a little further into the edges of my circle to find a companion for an event this weekend. Just be brave about it!

    • Totally! But does anyone have any suggestions for that “asking out” to be clear as a FRIENDS thing? I have that confusion a lot just because I’m so friendly… people assume I must be interested in fucking them just because I’m interested in talking to them. Any things that consistently work?

      Maybe we need a new post for that one …

  9. Reading through all of these comments has been very encouraging. I don’t drink alcohol and never have. Either consequently or coincidentally, the last time I had a wide circle of friends was in high school. I love that very few of people’s friend-related activities involve going to a bar. I don’t mind going to bars, but it’s not my go-to locale for socializing, and at times when I’ve been with just one or two friends, they have commented that they feel weird drinking since I (and my partner, if he’s there) are not.

    I always assume that I’m not going to be a very exciting friend for someone because of this non-drinking aspect of my life. But it looks like that’s not the case at all. I seem to know a lot of people whose socializing continues to center around alcohol at 30+ years old, but these comments indicate that there are plenty of people who enjoy socializing in other ways too. I’m quite encouraged.

    I’m a huge introvert, but I wouldn’t mind some friends to do things with once in a while.

    • Oh, there are totally ways to hang out outside of bars! I have friends who don’t drink and I never think of them as boring or uptight or anything like that–the choice whether or not to consume alcohol doesn’t determine how fun and awesome someone is. I’m always happy to hang out without alcohol being involved, and that’s probably true of most people out there. I think the media sometimes gives us distorted images of what “grown-ups” do for fun, since a lot of TV shows, movies, etc. rotate around hanging out in bars.

      In addition to all of the other activities that people have mentioned, you might also find some ideas/events within the recovery community. Those are definitely people who know how to have fun without drinking. I know that many folks in the community are very welcoming, though I’m not sure how if you’d feel weird plugging into that if recovery isn’t actually part of your story.

      • In addition to all of the other activities that people have mentioned, you might also find some ideas/events within the recovery community. Those are definitely people who know how to have fun without drinking. I know that many folks in the community are very welcoming, though I’m not sure how if you’d feel weird plugging into that if recovery isn’t actually part of your story.

        Yes, I’m not sure about that since recovery is not part of my story. But it is interesting to think about. And thanks for the other thoughts too. One of the closest friends I made at a summer intensive language class was a recovering alcoholic, and we definitely bonded over our nonalcoholic beverages during larger group outings. πŸ˜‰

    • I feel like as my group of friends has crossed 30, drinking has been a lot less integral to our socializing. Which isn’t to say we’ve stopped drinking… it’s just no longer the focal point. And there are usually a few folks who aren’t drinking.

      Bar outings are usually pretty boring for the teetotalers, but activities like bowling or playing board games or dinner and a movie are perfect. People who want to drink can, and those who don’t aren’t left out.

    • I fall into the “I love me some wine” group, but it’s just that- SOME wine. I love having 1-2 drinks max. So it’s also difficult for me to socialize with people who are intent on getting DRUNK. I haven’t always been this way, but I’ve come to realize that it’s more fun remembering last night and not having a headache the next day…

      I don’t know you, but if you are standoff-ish about not drinking, that’s why it can be awkward. People don’t want to be judged for how much they drink. I remember people in college who were like this, and I always just wanted to say “Just say no thanks and leave it at that!” At the same time, getting annoyingly drunk around sober friends or friends having 1 drink is also awkward.

      I’ve also never liked going to bars because I’m short and not very loud, so it’s really difficult to communicate with people there!

  10. This post and all the comments were amazingly helpful. I’m in my late 20’s and have a nice core of friends now where I’m currently living but will be moving to another state to live with my boyfriend. I have already mentally worried about not having any friends outside of his friends. I’ve already told him that while I love his people, I need people of my own. But its not going to easy.

  11. I’m shy in person, so the name of my game is “meet, make small talk, add on facebook, and interact indirectly until you feel comfortable enough to invite them to things.” The idea of asking someone “hey be my friend yaaay!” is totally mortifying to my awkward introverted soul…but I do want to keep in touch with people and occasionally invite them to dinner parties ;-P

  12. Like everyone else said, there’s a lot of really helpful advice here. The older I get the harder it is for me to push out of my shell and stay out in the face of what feels like rejection. But hearing how you handle all of this in detail is inspiring. I would have thought trying 5 times (or more) to make a friend date would make me look desperate (which is the ultimate shame in this whole friend-finding thing for me) but if you’re doing it, then I’m gonna do it too.

  13. Great tips! I’m a shameless friend stealer – my roomie works with a lot of young nerdy people (which we are) and I don’t, so I happily tag along to parties/hangouts with them. I am hoping to make some of my own buds soon…luckily, I work on an event calendar site, so I’m trying to make an effort to get to new and interesting events in my area. Hopefully there will be interesting people there!

  14. So at what point do you finally give up on someone? Because constantly trying and getting nothing in return for years is the exact reason why I don’t have any interest to try again. You just feel pathetic.

    • As I said in the post, I tend to try about 5 times with a new friend before I give up.

      As for “feeling pathetic,” it’s up to you to decide what’s worse: feeling pathetic and empowered, or feeling lonely and powerless. I’m not saying it’s easy to make friends — I’m just saying that if you want meaningful friendships, you have to keep trying, even when it feels “pathetic.”

      Come to think of it, I feel like this is true of anything you have to work for. Sometimes you work for something, and it doesn’t fall into place. Then you have a decision: keep trying, or release the goal. If you decide you still want it, then you just keep working toward it, even when it feels uncomfortable.

      Then again, if you’re asking about giving up on a specific PERSON? That’s an easier decision. If someone can’t commit to keeping in touch in the ways you’re asking, then it’s not a good use of your or their time.

      • I know this isn’t a super recent comment, but I’m just wondering if at any point one should call their potential new friend out on not making plans. Example (and why I’m asking): I have this almost-friend that I’ve been hanging out with on and off for about a year. Because she’s been agreeing to hang out for that long, I think I can safely assume that she actually wants to hang out, but I’m never 100% sure since I’m the one who always ends up reaching out to her to make plans. Do you think it would be appropriate to ask her why that is, and do you think there’s a tactful and non-dramatic way to ask?

        • Just ask! But you can also judge based on how she is when the two of you are together. I have a much loved friend who once said, tearfully, that we were still friends because I kept in touch with her. She’s just not able to sustain friendships over time on her own. That doesn’t meant that she doesn’t love me or doesn’t want to spend time with me, and when we’re together, it’s beautiful girl friend time. She’s just not as socially adept as me, which I’ve known for a long time in other areas of her life.

  15. I am kind of struggling with this right now. College activist groups made making friends easy, and then the last three years after I graduated I was working at outdoor education camps in semi-remote areas. When you work full time AND live full time with all of your coworkers, friendships form VERY FAST and can get very close and/or intense. Now that I’ve “settled down” in Madison, WI, I’ve found myself confused that I am not making friends quicker. My partner and I have made a couple, and it’s definitely becoming evident that we just have to keep at it. We all really like each other, but with such busy and conflicting schedules it takes a lot more effort to hang out. :/

  16. 1) Thank you for posting this. I’m a lot more socially awkward now that I’ve been out of school for a few years, and now all our friends are moving away (guess that’s what happens a few years after high school!). Fiance and I both find ourselves basically loners (at least we’ve got each other!) most of the time. It’s hard to find people with mutual interests, because mostly we don’t like talking to other people lol. But we did meet some people this weekend that I was thinking I really want to make an effort to try and become friends with!

    2) I really like the call-to-the-audience question at the end. I feel like it really encourages commenting (and since there’s two pages of comments I’m going to assume it does work!)

    3) I don’t feel like friendship is dating without the sex, but maybe that’s because I haven’t done the “go out and make an effort” part!

  17. The easiest way to make friends is to be nice, and actually listen. Ask your colleagues about their family, crack jokes with the guy who sells you coffee every morning (he’s more important to you than your siblings anyway, as long as he’s got caffeine, right?), do the neighbors a favor (or thank them for doing you a favor by bringing cookies). First, you can practice your social skills, second you get to know people better, and third there will most definitely be one or two among them you would want to keep as friends.

    Tonight I am having some friends over for Disney movies, and have asked a colleague I like to come over and bring her daughter, since she has a hard time finding a babysitter. If nothing else comes from it, there will be food and movies, but I am almost sure we’ll all enjoy ourselves. ^^

  18. One other suggestion for meeting awesome people who have all different interests and personalities is Couchsurfing! I know to some people it sounds like a sketchy way of traveling for free but it is really so so so much more. There are group events all the time in people’s home cities for both locals and travelers. Here in Istanbul they do language practice (Turks practice English, foreigners practice their Turkish), cooking lessons, huge parties, etc. You can also set your profile to show if you have a couch to host or are just interested in meeting people for coffee. You can meet other people who live in your area who are looking to meet other people, and the profiles are pretty detailed so I can usually tell if it’s someone I will get along with. By hosting people we’ve met amazing, long-lasting friends from all over the world who now we can go visit and travel with again.

    The community is definitely focused on travel, but people have many other different interests too. Give it a shot! I was actually just thinking about writing a post on here about my experiences with CS because we’ve had such a great time and it might be of interest to other homies πŸ™‚

    • YES! Couchsurfing is amazing and I would love that post. Two years ago I had a goal of making friends in 10 new countries. CS helped me do that! We have hosted people from all over the world and been hosted both domestically and internationally. Think about it- nobody knows the cool things in your area better than YOU, even if you just stay home and do stuff, and when you travel, you don’t want to usually do the touristy stuff as much as interesting secret local stuff, right?

      A few of the things I’ve learned from my experiences with my hosts: how to make jewelry, how to make cheese, amazing facts about Eddie Vedder, how Google helps its employees work, how much Australians can drink, etc. etc. Oh- and we got engaged while CouchSurfing in New Zealand πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Please do write!. Couchsurfing is awesome. We’ve been ‘surfing for over a decade, even though we’re stay-at-homes and not quite the demographic. Met some great people, some of which we’ve still kept in touch with.

  19. I LOVE this post. I have some good, very dear friends but most of them are an unfortunate combination of busy working and studying as well as being slack at arraniging to spend time together. I know they still like me because if I say hey let’s have coffee they will come, but they rarely contact me and suggest it (social anxiety analysis here haha). Thankfully I have some other friends I’ve met through Twitter and a shared interest (feminism) and they are much better at arranging to hang out! Still, I want moar friends, so this is handy

  20. Organized groups: this is huge. It was a game changer for my husband’s and my entire life. We have a really awesome, tight-knit group of friends who all live in the same ‘hood, and every single one of them we met through our homebrew club. We discovered while talking about beer that we all also like cooking, and baseball, and hockey, and camping, and all the girls like to go running, and the guys like to play poker, and people are willing to babysit one another’s kids (for free!), etc. etc. etc. Basically our homebrew club just does everything together now and it’s awesome. But we never would have known them, had it not started with that one shared interest. That’s the great thing about organized groups: you KNOW going in that the majority of the people in your knitting club/gardening club/book club/church group/ whatever share AT LEAST that interest and you can bet there are likely to be MOAR shared interests if you just get to talking.

  21. Everything changed when I thought about making friends as a skill to be developed like working on that one yoga pose that always makes you grind your teeth. It’s tough as an introvert, but when I compare it to an intense stretch, I can “hold” being outgoing and proactive for a while without stressing out.

    Last week when I found out this woman I just met likes the same kind of tv, drinks, and critters that I do (BBC, hard cider, and cats for anyone else in the Florida Panhandle looking for friends) I blurted out, “I like you! Let’s be friends!” The trick was to actually follow up on it. We’re hanging out one-on-one for the first time tomorrow. I hope it goes well…

  22. Thanks for the mention of Unitarian churches! I’ve met almost all of my friends in Seattle at one… Don’t think I’d have friends after moving here without it!

  23. As a board game and other game geek, my husband and I have been going to a local game shop on Wednesday night for open board game night. We’ve gone three weeks in a row and it has improved my mood dramatically.
    We are new to LA and have no friends here. All our social interactions came from folks visiting. I’ve gone out with folks from work, but that didn’t work out too well.
    After 9 months of loneliness, I decided we needed some geek time. We have a huge bookcase full of games and open gaming seems to be the perfect solution.
    I’m also pushing to go to Local Goth Industrial night, because dancing can really be the greatest cure sometimes. (Even though I hate the Cure)

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