If you’re lonely, you’re not alone.
The observation that making friends as an adult can be awkward and challenging is nothing new. Anecdotes about making friends frequently play out in sitcoms, and on TikTok, jokes about the weirdness of trying to make friends are met with comments nodding at the relatability of the struggle. As a psychotherapist, it’s something that comes up from time to time with my clients: why is it so hard to make friends as an adult, and am I alone in this?
We find ourselves at a time in history when this plight might be particularly pervasive. It appears some people have emerged after the past two years finding that the connections they had before the pandemic have fizzled. In fact, about a year into the pandemic, 13 percent of women and 8 percent of men in their 30s and 40s said they’d lost touch with most of their friends, and 1 in 3 Americans reported feeling seriously lonely during the pandemic. Another subset of the population moved to a new city right before the shutdown or in the middle of it, so it was extremely difficult to form new connections in a new place. As pre-pandemic activities resume, plenty of adults are finding themselves less connected than they’d like to be.
Why is it harder for adults to make friends?
Even before the pandemic, many people were struggling to make new friends in adulthood. Among the reasons adults report difficulty forging new friendships, common answers include finding it more difficult to trust new people, having less free time to invest in developing new friendships, and introversion preventing them from taking social risks. Beyond that, it can be challenging to figure out where to start. After all, you can’t simply go shopping for friends.
Do you really need friends? How many?
Faced with the daunting task of making friends, some adults may reason that they’re fine without them. And this may be more true for some people than others. For example, some people might feel really connected to their romantic partner but not maintain any other close connections. And naturally, it’s better to have one go-to person than no one at all.
Loneliness and social isolation have been linked with an increased risk for mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and other scary health risks like heart disease and stroke. On the contrary, research shows that people tend to be healthier and feel more fulfilled when they have a least a few close friends. According to friendship experts, somewhere between three and six close friends is recommended for better health outcomes. Having supportive and enjoyable friends is associated with improved immunity, lower blood pressure, and higher cognitive function.
So how do you know if you could benefit from more close friendships? Start by asking yourself if you often feel lonely, or if parts of your identity feel restricted because you’re lacking connections with people who can relate to your particular interests.
Tips for making friends in adulthood:
1. Focus on quality over quantity
Research suggests that one or two close connections are more beneficial than having lots of acquaintances. Intuitively, this makes sense: it’s the intimacy and reciprocity of close friendships that help us to feel truly supported and cared for.
2. Don’t start from scratch
So how can you forge these close connections? Try rekindling lost connections first; when it comes to making friends, you might not need to start from scratch. Maybe there’s someone you were close with at one point but the connection has fizzled, or maybe you have an acquaintance with friendship potential. Reach out to whoever you have in mind and make a plan to get together. From there, the key is consistency: it takes repeated interactions to become close with someone, so a one-and-done coffee date is not going to cut it.
3. Use friend-finding apps or join online friend-finding groups.
Maybe you moved to a new city right before or during the pandemic, or there just isn’t anyone you have in mind that you’d like to get to know better. Friend-matching apps like Bumble BFF and Yubo are the equivalent of online dating for making new friends, and networking sites like Meetup and Facebook are popular for groups with the specific mission of helping people find their people. Platforms like these expedite the process of making friends because the mission is clear from the start: everyone there is interested in making meaningful connections. Don’t see any groups in your city? Start one!
A quick mindset check.
When you think about going on this mission to make friends, what kind of mindset do you have? It would be normal to feel nervous and even a bit pessimistic. But try to think of the friend-making mission as a great opportunity to find the right people for this phase of your life. You’re not the same person you were a couple of years ago; you’ve learned some things about yourself, so use that to your advantage. What are your interests? What are some qualities you’re looking for in a friend? What kind of expectations do you have about friendship?
If you’re feeling nervous about putting yourself out there to find friends, remember that you’re offering up something pretty valuable to your future friends: you! You’re not just looking for something to gain, you’re offering friendship and connection in return to someone who is also looking for it. Take stock of your attractive qualities: why would someone be lucky to have you as a friend? Remember your value and go forward with confidence.