Through childhood and teens and into early adulthood, friends form the touchstones of our experiences. From passing notes in social studies to grabbing pizza after the big game to all-night sessions of mending a broken heart, we couldn't imagine navigating the journey of life without them.
For most of us, though, there comes a time when we realize it's been ages since we've added a new number to our cell phone contacts. Despite research from the last decades suggesting making friends is about mastering simple principles, it's something that we don't seem to become better at with time. Some are fortunate enough to maintain good relationships with long-term friends, but as we reach 30 and beyond, making new ones becomes increasingly rare.
Until we reach the point of financially supporting ourselves, our sole responsibility is becoming educated, both academically and spiritually. While studying algebra and history, we also spend time learning about ourselves and where we fit into the rest of the world.
With our options wide open, friendships develop organically. Living next door to one another or sharing a workspace in chem lab is all it takes to create a bond. When we're not yet "fully cooked", as Judge Judy would say, we haven't developed a strong sense of values and interests that make us more selective in our choice of companions.
Other realities of becoming an adult in today's world can get in the way as well.
- Society is more mobile. It's become increasingly common for people to live in a different city or state than the one in which they grew up. With careers also being more fluid, the result is a state of transience in both our neighborhoods and workplaces.
- Time is a commodity in short supply. As we become occupied with the responsibilities of adulthood, especially if they include a spouse and children, free time becomes limited to nonexistent. The luxury of being able to just "hang out", a vital ingredient of earlier friendships, becomes a distant memory.
- Our shell becomes a little harder. After getting bruised by various hurts and disappointments, our youthful openness becomes a more protective wariness.
Fine-tuning a strategy for developing adult friendships
Let your grown-up mindset work for you, not against you. Leave the idea of a "best friend" behind. No longer needing the security of being joined at the hip with someone reduces the pressure of feeling you need to have total compatibility.
Your roster of friends can expand along with your horizons. Are you a movie buff? Find someone to watch with you. He or she can be different from your workout buddy and your after-work-drinks pal and your traveling partner.
Consider some of these other proactive ways of meeting people.
- It's called "social" media for a reason. It may seem counter-intuitive to develop virtual friendships online, but it's actually a great way to give them a trial run. If you make a connection with someone you'd like to meet in person, the groundwork has already been laid.
- Take a page from your earlier life and head to class. As an adult, you have the freedom to "study" fun topics, like wine tasting or Chinese cooking. You'll already have at least one interest in common with the others.
- Check out social networks such as Meetup.com. They provide information on an endless variety of activities, so whether your idea of fun is a rowdy game of soccer or a thought-provoking poetry reading, you'll find something that's right in your wheelhouse.
Making friends is no different than most facets of our lives. It's not the effortless proposition of our youth, but the additional work it involves as an adult can make it more meaningful.