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. I am a hair stylist and have some pretty awesome clients that I thought should be my friends. I hosted a “my favorite things” party in my home and invited some, as well as my sister and her friend, some friends I already had and some daycare moms. When we went around the group introducing ourselves, each one pretty much said I’d forced them into becoming my friend. Every. One. Sheesh… I harassed these people over and over to hang out, even found a dog sitter for a lady’s new puppy. And you know what? It worked. Yay for new friends!

    • This is so interesting! I was actually recently wondering if hairstylists want to be friends with the people whose hair they cut and how one would go about doing that. I generally don’t like talking to the stylist cutting my hair, but once in a while I end up in a pretty cool conversation, and it does seem that stylists must learn so much about their clients, some of whom they’d probably want to get to know even more outside of work!

      • Kind of related, but I’m a librarian and there are so many times when I want to tell a patron, CAN WE BE FRIENDS I LIKE THE SAME BOOKS AND YOU SEEM COOL, but being at work, it’s kind of awkward. 🙁 Sometimes I just wistfully dream about the fun times we would have, reading Gaiman together, laughing over salad. (I should edit, a coworker and I have thought about launching a book club for twenty-thirty-somethings in our retiree-heavy city precisely because we want to be friends with these patrons and need a venue in which to be friends!)

  2. The flip side of asking people to do stuff is saying yes to people who ask you to do stuff! I found it really awkward at first to make friends when I moved to a new state. I made it a rule: “Never turn down an invitation.” If someone invited me, I went, regardless of how I felt or how interested I was. I wanted people to invite me to things, so I “rewarded” them by saying yes, no matter what. Once I was established as someone who liked to do stuff and was friendly, I started to be more choosy about invitations. But if someone else was brave enough to ask me out, I needed to be brave enough to say yes!

    • This! For the first summer after I moved to my current city, I had a policy of never turning down an invitation unless I truly couldn’t make it. It meant that I did a lot of things that might not have been my cup of tea but, I tried some new things, met some new people, and wasn’t sitting at home alone all summer. Seven years later, I’m still friends with a few people from that summer.

  3. I seriously love and can’t thank you enough for this article. I’m in my later twenties but, honestly, I’ve always felt that I’ve had a hard time making friends. I always had lots of acquaintances but I’ve really only had one best girlfriend(she was seriously like a sister to me) but I was burned really bad by her completely ditching me for another group of friends. Since then I’ve had a couple of close friends but it seems like I am ALWAYS the one initiating contact and I just feel like I deserve better than that. This article is perfect because now I’m thinking that maybe we’ve all just become too lazy in our personal relationships which is why it’s hard to maintain friendships. I’m also in a long term relationship(10 years) and really he’s the best friend I had been waiting for all along. We love each other for all of our weird traits and genuinely enjoy spending most of our time together. Some of our friends even tease us because we both like each other SO MUCH(ya know, because in a lot of couples there might be 1 person who loves the other person more.) Now with age and perspective I think that it might be ok to have your partner as your ultimate best friend while also nurturing your other friendships.

    Oh also, I’m a Unitarian so thanks for the shout out!! I really love our church because it’s not really about spiritual worship, it’s about being humanist and truly accepting people from all walks of life. We’re pretty much awesome 🙂

    • Wow. Sounds like me. My husband is my best friend too. He can’t relate to the guys he meets who seem to want to get away from their families to do “guy stuff.” We’re a very weird match and he’s much older than me but he really is my best friend. When I think of developing a relationship with someone new, I always have him in mind and struggle with how that person could integrate with us. I don’t want someone (or a couple) to go away and spend time with. I want someone he would be comfortable around if I wanted to hang out at my house (and the flip side – I have yet to meet anyone new who would feel comfort ale hanging around us!). I’m ok with us not having a lot of friends. We’re home bodies and theoretically pretty antisocial. He would rather garden or chop wood then sit around a bar. But we aren’t really antisocial – we just long for the persons who are kind of like us! Maybe someday we will find people who fit the bill! And on the Unitarian note – we often push people way because we make harsh comments and seem judgemental. Heck we are judgemental sometimes. But what frustrates us most is how much we feel judged by “open minded” people we meet or how much we find they do not accept people who are not like the . At least we will admit our feelings, despite our harsh words think we’re really some of the most open minded people we know!

  4. I love this post. I’m due to move back to the city I went to university in soon. I’ve been away from 2 years and while I’ve kept in touch with a few people, I’ve grown apart from a lot of people. I don’t think I want to try and rekindle old friendships, because a lot of them have died away for a reason. However, this leaves me with most of the people I know/hang out with being my husband’s friends, and while they’re awesome in lots of ways, I don’t want to be *that* wife, and I don’t have that much in common with most of them. So some new friedns would be good! Because of the nature of my job (rotating every few months) I don’t tend to make friends with colleagues a lot either. Plus I’ve always preferred having a more eclectic group – if you hang out with a lot of medics, you end up talking a lot of shop.

    Some of the meetups on that site look really good! Book clubs and coffee clubs in particular. You may have saved my social life!

  5. OBH!!! This is why I love you so! I just sent out three very specific invitations to hang out with a cousin that I’m trying to get close with (coffee), a friend of a friend that lives in my area (play-date), and a couple that my husband used to be roommates with (BBQ) . It’s so exciting! : )

  6. Thanks so much for this! My fiance and I are moving to Austin, Texas in a month from our small hometown in Louisiana. We’ve both lived in our hometown most of our lives, save for leaving for college, and have strong friendships there. Now that we’re moving, I’ve been terrified of the processof making new friends. He is notorious for substituting social networking for real human interaction, so I’m hoping that showing him this article will open his eyes!

  7. I was so glad to see this post – I have recently been feeling really down about the lack of really good friends in my life. As I approach 40, I am noticing that I have been drifting away from my “friends” because I feel like our views in different areas of life are changing and instead of really enjoying each others company I am annoyed by their comments about “this or that” or by the way they or their kids act. I have been completely passive in reaching out to anyone new – expecting something to just happen. This has given me a good push to get creative with inviting a group of ladies to do something – especially with the summer weather to enjoy!

  8. This article seriously almost made me cry. Ever since a traumatic event in preschool (yes, it was that traumatic), it’s been painfully difficult for me to make friends. In high school and beyond, it was a little easier, but it’s been hard to keep the friends that I make. We always seem to drift apart. Now I realize I haven’t been putting any effort into these friendships. I don’t call my friends, I don’t suggest we hang out, and I just don’t see them on a regular basis. I’ve always left that part up to them because I didn’t realize how integral that was to our maintaining a friendship. I can see why they would stop calling if I never called them. I could see how they would interpret that as me not wanting to hang out with them or talk to them, even though I always jump on it when they initiate.

    Thank you again, Offbeat Home, for shedding light on what is a sensitive issue with me.

  9. I’ve been living in a new city for 8 months now, and while I’m still struggling to make friends, I’m learning I really do have to TRY. I’m not in college anymore (and hell, even THEN I had to try a little). I did some initial scouting of the Unitarian church and discovered unfortunately it’s all people who either have kids (which is fine, but I’m facing infertility, so not the social hangout club for me!) or are 60+ (retirement boom city). So, I moved on, and am now starting to volunteer at a horse rescue farm. I also kind of clicked with a fellow at a local bakery and we exchanged numbers because, as I put it, ‘dude, I’m trying to make friends, give me your number, let’s be friends.’ It’s not like I’ve made a million friends (I wish!), but I’m working on it, slow and steady.

    I guess my main point is, it’s hard, but if one thing fails, keep trying. Unitarian church failed for me, but I refuse to give up without a fight.

  10. Ariel,

    I knew I loved you and now this! You seem really cool! Let’s try to be friends! 🙂

    People often ask me how I have such a wide range of friends and I shrug. But when I think about it it is because I follow up with, certain dates and I give people quite a few times before I stop trying.

    I am in Seattle too and moving here in my twenties was hard. People are friendly but not open. I found activities to be the best way to meet people, mom’s group, book clubs, sports and now west coast swing and blues dancing.

    I approached dating this way when I was single and I loved dating.

    I think that one thing to remember if that if someone you thought you wanted to spend time with doesn’t respond, it is probably them. Don’t worry about it, they may just be in a place that has no room right now, but be open to them showing up later.

    I could talk about this for a long time, will shut up now.

    🙂 Rose

  11. This IS good advice! We recently moved to Austin and I have realized I wasn’t sure how to make brand new friends without any of my old friends around!

  12. “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:”

    Ok, so I was initially upset by the title but as usual you fixed it somewhat with this ^. I really appreciate that you do that Ariel. I think it’s one of the things that make Offbeat Empire AWESOME. It did bring up this thought for me though. As a formerly gregarious out and aboutster with a bad case of the Pollyfuckinannas I once was all about getting out and making the dates and turning up and spreading the friendship mojo. Now I’m not able to spend the same amount of energy and effort on friendships that I once did and it’s upsetting to see how people just drop off or become uncomfortable with your circumstances so they spend their energies on others. I’d just like to mention that there are HOARDS of truly awesome people in this world (who you will often find socializing on the internets) who perhaps aren’t able to get out so much to maintain friendships. IF I had unlimited energies I’d be off making friends with those people if I could. As in going to see them, turning up with cake for a tea party, bringing my friendship to them. It’s great that you are suggesting that people get out and join groups and put effort into making friends outside of their homes by making dates and networking. I guess I’d just like to put it out there that some of the more housebound or those limited by illness/disablity or carers, some of those people REALLY would benefit from an understanding friend or two who were able and willing to take on that aspect of cultivating and maintaining a friendship. I do believe it would be well worth it though.

  13. Thanks so much for posting this. I tend to go through spouts (read YEARS) of depression, and am truly an introvert, so between being truly UNABLE to connect with people because my brain chemistry makes me truly believe I’m X. Y, or Z and completely incompatible with other people and really needing alone time when I’m not depressed to recharge… I have a hard time really connecting. A reminder that other people have insecurities about meeting people and hearing about people who find ways to make it work is great.

  14. I love the advise! I’ve recently moved though to a super rural area, everything I like doing in groups…everyone is 50 years old minimum and polite and lovely though they are, they don’t want to hang out! (not quite 30 and no children or partner). Anyone been in a similar situation with any ideas?! 🙂

    • These are great suggestions. But what do you do when you are in an environment where there are truly few people you can identify with, or who can identify with you. If you are not in a position to move away, it can be very difficult. I have always tried to maintain my long-distance friendships, but I feel you do have to meet up at some point to make it work, and that is not always possible. Like Elle, I’m not sure what to do.

    • I hear you. I’m rural too and there are a multitude of activities for people over 50 or people open during the day during the week. The only things meant for my age group are directed at parents, of which so far I’m not. Not that I’m on for lions club get togethers anyway … But I know what you mean.

  15. I have a social disorder and all, but this article wasn’t directed towards people of my age so that’s irrelevant. My parents – 36 and 45 years old – on the other hand have a lot of close friends. This is because of their affectionate – and sometimes creepy – ways. They hug all people and say “I love you.” to everyone they meet. Seriously. We go to a random mechanic shop to get the car fixed and by the time we leave they’re laughing and hugging while making plans to go eat at our house. At a store downtown as they leave it’s “Bye! I love you!” or “Tomorrow at our place?”. My dad’s even made two or three friends through random numbers always ending a phone call with I love you. I’m sure it’s made someone’s day. They dance and skip through organic grocery stores, museums and fast food restaurants singing and don’t think for a minute that it’s awkward. I find that so awesome. I wish I could be like that…

  16. Thanks for posting this article! I’ve been in my city for a long time, and after being busy with my dh and two kids, have realized my local friends have dwindled down to one. I love your tip about trying to make plans five times before giving up. I’m determined to make some new friends this year.

  17. Oh MAN. I live in Seattle too, and thought that the idea of the Seattle Freeze was totally ridiculous (after all, *I* had friends… yeah, I see the faulty logic there). It wasn’t until I found myself saying, “It’s not that I don’t want to meet new people, it’s just that I really, really like the people I already know…” that I realized I was a part of the problem. Oops.

    It didn’t help that, actually, I did not want to meet new people.

    But I started a grad program with no desire to make friends whatsoever. And then, slowly, I discovered how cool some of the people in the program were! I went from being totally uninvested in making friends to being almost creepily calculating about it. “Oh, she seems so cool! Yes, yes, I shall talk with her at lunch!” It worked out. ALL of those people on my “wow, she seems cool” list REALLY ARE COOL. It’s great!

    When talking about this making-friends-post-college challenge with one of my college friends (with whom, yes, I did become friends with 0 trying, Back In The Day), she sighed deeply. “It’s so stressful and hard,” she bemoaned. “It feels like you’re asking, ‘Do you want to get coffee as long as we both shall live?'”

  18. Thanks for writing this! I find myself to be a “pushy friend-maker” compared to some of my friends; I’m always the instigator (the one who texts, messages, finds fun events to go to, etc.). What a lovely, concise article for me to share with some of my pals who have hard times finding new friends!

    And, yes, I think making new friends is TOTALLY like dating, only without the smooching. Many times, I “date” new friends once or twice, and realize that we’re not all that right for each other. Unlike my early 20s when I seemed to have all the time in the world, my time at age 30 is a little more limited, so I have to really pick and choose who gets my love and attention. Sometimes, my new friend “date” and I really hit it off, and I want to spend ALL my time with them (just like “New Relationship Energy” for those up on polyamory terms). But we all got jobs, kids, lovers, volunteerism, etc. to schedule around.

    And, dang, I still have a love of going to dance parties, late-night shows, alley cat bike races, etc., that a lot of my older friends just aren’t into these days. But some of my 30-something+ pals still are, and it’s GREAT to meet other “old folks” at these generally-20-something venues. If we’re 30-somethings going to dance parties and shows, well, dang, we already have something in common! 😉

  19. I find that part of the problem as an adult is the need to have an activity or a reason to get together, especially when trying to make “couple” friends. No – I don’t particularly want to go out and eat dinner with two people where it’s awkward and we waste money. I could cook something better at home and were more comfortable. Thinking about this, I realize the thing I love most about our few good friends (which we recently moved far away from) is that we can just “hang out.” We can bullshit while we watch tv. Then maybe decide to go to dinner or do nothing. It doesn’t have to be planned because it’s about the persons company, not the activity. I don’t know how or even if I can get to that point with a new adult friend (especially when your spouse needs to be comfortable with it too). It seems that on either side, with new friends as adults were just not willing to invest that amount of time. I say willing, because I now I am able (I would MAKE the time for those few good friends). I also require a lot of energy from friends – to some degree. I’m not content to just go to someone’s house for dinner every 3 months. I need more. I give more. That’s not to say I would see them often even, but there needs to be more than a get together now and then or what’s the point? I also realize I’m kind of all in or all out. We’re tight or we are just acquaintances. I emotionally invest myself in relationships and need others to do the same. I abandoned some relationships I developed in college when I realized I was ALWAYS the instigator. It might be a personal hang up but it made me feel needy- I want someone to reach out to me too. Lastly – I don’t really know how to navigate with social media. Facebook for example can be problematic. I purposely keep my list of friends small. Like 30 friends and family. I often have extreme, harsh or otherwise offensive things to say. The people who really know me get it – they can tell the difference between a true rant and sarcasm. They know not to take it personal and to take it up with me if they do. New people? That acquaintances who wants to be friends on Facebook? They don’t get it. They don’t know how to interpret me yet. You don’t know me and shouldn’t be privy to that level of my social circle – that takes years (not to mention the confusion of then being exposed to the personal comments etc of my spouse – not understanding us that well it might further scare someone off!) I feel like you skip a lot of the “getting to know each other” phase and delve right into the good and bad when you haven’t made the emotional connection that allows you to excuse things because you really value someone. And good luck explaining that… You’re just the asshole who wouldn’t accept their friend request! Now I’ve lost my train of thought. Oh also, I can’t open up at work. I work in a supervisory capacity and frankly don’t think you can ever let that fully go – or if you do open yourself to trouble at work. Fraternizing should not be taken lightly!

  20. Standing dates is something I rely on heavily to keep connected with friends, instead of falling into the “we should totally get together” spiral. I have a standing lunch date on the first Saturday of each month with one close friend. Sometimes the first Saturday doesn’t work, stuff comes up, but because it’s a standing date, I have to at least check in and say, hey I got called into work that day, but can we reschedule for next Saturday. I also had a really fabulous coworker, who ended up moving on to another job. Another coworker and I fell into the spiral with her, and were always going to get together “sometime” for a solid year. Finally my coworker’s birthday rolled around and we managed to make it out to a happy hour. Before we left, I suggested we put another happy hour on the calendar for the following month, and we’ve been meeting up for a happy hour once a month since, and set a date for the next meetup before we leave. Now the other coworker has a new job as well, and I’m so glad we have this standing date as we might never see one another otherwise.

  21. Hey, you ask if it’s really dating without sex. My experience is that all relationships are built in the same ways. They are exchanges of service -usually relief of loneliness- and only the content of the exchange varies. An exchange needs to be negotiated and in some cases, one party wants something the other will not give, as in the case of the unrequited love we now call the friendzone. Violating the conditions of the exchange is perceived as a personal attack and as such, increasing the demands via aggression fosters resentment while decreasing the reward by failing to meet expectations fosters disappointment. It often startles me how simple relationships are. It’s easy to build an entourage by giving freely without expectations, but do so with the understanding that without expectations, a friend is in no way dependable; an exchange of equal value is the hallmark of a good friendship.

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