Talking with people about their lives they often say, “I’m an adult its just too hard to make friends now.” As if it is a given that when we become adults, we lose the ability or opportunities to make friends. Even though it appears it should be easier for us as adults because we are generally more stable, handle rejection better and we understand ourselves better. All of these things should lead to forming higher quality friendships with people we enjoy. So, what keeps us from making friends as adults?
Recent research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences shows that there are 6 categories of reasons why adults find it hard to make friends.
Introversion. We expect others to make the first step at friendship. We convince ourselves that if they really wanted to be friends with us, they would reach out. Unfortunately, the other person is probably thinking the same thing and we end up in a loop of no one reaching out.
Fear of rejection. Even though as adults we have developed ways of dealing with rejection, we still do not want it in our life. The fear that someone might judge us or not like us often causes our anxiety to swirl which stops us from even trying to start a conversation.
Practical concerns. There are health concerns, transportation issues, family obligations which might limit the amount of time or the ability to socialize.
Low trust. The older we get there is a higher chance that we have been hurt. The more we are hurt the lower our trust is of others. We often wonder if someone is looking for something other than friendship from us which keeps our guard up at initial interactions.
Lack of time. Work schedules, getting the kids off to their activities or other time-consuming activities may make us believe we do not have time for friendships.
Pickiness. This is when we are not giving others the opportunity to become a friend because of something we have judged about them.
Knowing that there are obstacles does not mean that we give up on friendship as adults. Making friends as adults is not only possible, but also a key component in developing high satisfaction in life or as the researchers call it happiness. When I think about the friends that came into my life as an adult it was through being a neighbour, attending church, being introduced by a friend, or joining other activities (book club, networking group, cooking class) I was interested in. What these all have in common is proximity, repetition, and similar interests.
Proximity. Being close to someone geographically is important. I use the turn geographically loosely because there are online forums that would fit this category. Basically, we need to have easy access to the person. We bump into them in the grocery store, on the road while we’re walking our dog or in chat on our favourite MMO.
Repetition. Seeing the same people over and over creates a bond and increases the trust level. When we see the person weekly or monthly, it allows us to observe their behaviours and become familiar with the way they think. This allows us the opportunity to decide about friendship.
Similar interests. Research has shown that we tend to like people who enjoy the same types of things we do. We are more likely to encounter people with similar interests in activities that we enjoy.
What does this mean as an adult trying to make friends? It means we need to make sure we have the opportunities and exposure to others to develop friendships. This does not need to be hard. I know someone who decided to start sitting in their front yard instead of their backyard. They realized that after doing this a for a week all the sudden they were starting to know their neighbours who they had lived beside for 10 years. People were talking because they were available. I recently saw on Facebook that they have “communities” where you join a group of local people around your neighbourhood. There are opportunities around to start interacting with others. Find yourself a community group, religious community or social activity to join or start one of your own and the possibility of friends will grow.
Having great friendships in adulthood is possible. Give it a chance.