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 also live in a notoriously cold, unfriendly city, and my experience has been that people already have all the friends they want to have-I’m a hanger-on, not someone who gets invited to go places unless I’m a plus one for my significant other. The people I used to be close to had kids and quickly stopped communicating more than 1-2 times per year (either they don’t have time, or perhaps we don’t have enough in common anymore.)
    I stay at home and read a lot, or do hobbies solo, when my partner is out with his friends (they have their own hobbies several days a week.)
    I’m not happy about it, exactly-I’ve been feeling deeply lonely for several years-but I’m tired of being friendly and trying to extend invites and being brushed off. I’ve grown more fragile and sensitive to rejection than I was a few years ago back when I had a handful of people I could talk to or meet up with once a month or so. I don’t know how to push past feeling lonely, but being ignored over and over gets old, so for the past year I’ve just stopped trying to get past the “people I say hi to” stage, and tried instead to focus on hobbies or activities that I can enjoy solo aside from those that I do with my partner.

  2. Hi Ariel

    Thanks for this excellent article.

    It really struck a chord with me as i’m in this situation at the moment as a 30 year old male. I model for a living and alot of my work is disjointed and not in one place. It can get lonely as your past f’ships dwindle as they get into long term r’ships, marraige, kids etc..So, your article, really hits the mark among a pool of many average articles on the net about friends.

    It’s fantastic that you wrote this relating to a male friend of yours. Nearly every articles I’ve read on ‘f’ships are from a women’s perspective(good work and credit to women for being aware of the importance of ‘f’ships) and it’s sad to read that many women (and men sing along, probably scared of being smacked down with the ‘oh you’re a bit sensitive’ or’ unmanly’ tag!!) think that men (i find this mostly this case with a western mindset on male f’ships) do not care about friendships or that they live in some perfect friendship utopia where they speak about sports and everything is just fine and dandy. Well, this is not true. Us guys get lonely for platonic f’ships just as much as women.

    I love that you say it takes alot of effort. It really does. Takes alot of strategy and effort ! It’s so worth it in the end, because i feel as you get older, f’ships become even more important.



  3. great information… for the general population….

    but there are those rare, unique people who are the exception.

    i try to make plans, i try to talk to people… i get ignored, forgotten or put off entirely.

    I’ve actually LOST friends while trying to make friends.

    but no one can understand… no one cares to listen anymore. i’m told to just learn how to “cope” with being alone…. i’ve been told to try and not give up (which i have several times and failed). i’ve been told i’m worthless; not worth the time.

    months of reaching out anonymously…. extremely rare i get a message; everyone gives up on me.

    but i’m glad this helps for some.

  4. I turned two acquaintances into good friends one day by throwing all “caution” to the wind and treating them like the friends I wanted to have. These were a former colleague of my husband and his wife. We’d meet them at social occasions with a group of other people, at birthday parties and the like. But there always remained that distance and politeness, making it decidedly not a friendship because everyone was just too polite and not forward enough.
    I managed to change this completely unplanned one day when I’d just found out my company was going out of business. I was very disappointed and emotional and then I just texted them something like “I had the worst day at work today, can I come over tonight and cook for you – I need to fry something!” this was so much more direct and emotionally vulnerable than I had ever dared to be with those two. But when I turned up at their place that day I was met with the concern and care I wanted and needed and I realised that they had considered me a friend / wanted to be friends already. Sometimes you don’t feel like you have a friend in someone until you allow that person to prove that friendship.

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