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Why is it Hard for Adults to Make Friends?

by Katie Moritz
August 11, 2017 | Love

As we get older, it can feel harder and harder to make friends. We're no longer stuck in a classroom or a dorm with a bunch of people our age who probably share a lot of our interests. There are no more school clubs or extracurricular activities. If you want to join a sports team you have to go out and find one that matches your skill level. And, depending on your personality, it can be tough opening up to new people once you're in social situations.

But, as adults in the working world, we're also more in control of our time and who we spend it with. So what's holding us back?

Take some time to go offline

Max Abeln, a family therapist who works with people of all ages on their relationships at Minnesota-based Cabot Psychological Services, said there are "two main culprits that hinder young people from cultivating new friendships:" social media and "a lack of effort and patience."

"Social media has created a false sense of connection that both increases feelings of isolation while it also depletes a person's interest in pursuing new hobbies," Abeln said to Rewire.

Make Friends pbs rewire

Earlier this month, The Atlantic published an article examining the habits of what the author, San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge, calls "iGen," people born between 1995 and 2012 who have grown up with smartphones. She argues social lives increasingly revolve around social media—young people see less of a need to get together with friends in real life.

"The shift is stunning: 12th-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009," Twenge wrote.

Abeln attributes this in part to the hit of dopamine we get from using social media. That feeling is addicting.

"One could say that the higher the levels of engagement on social media throughout the day the higher the strength of the dopaminergic response,"Abeln said. "Perhaps a correlation could be drawn to the higher the response the lower the motivation level to pursue new friendships. ...

The advice I would give to young people is to maintain a growth mindset; to continue to try new things; to find out what their interests and hobbies are and when they go places to meet new people to leave the cellphone in the car or at home."

Friendships take work

It's easy to meet people you like. But making a genuine friend is difficult. First of all, you need to feel a connection. Sometimes that connection is instantaneous. Sometimes it takes time spent exploring the relationship before you realize it could really be something. And sometimes you meet someone who seems like a good friend candidate at first but doesn't stick for whatever reason. (In that way, it's a lot like dating.)

The key is to keep trying.

In Abeln's experience, a lot of young adults are giving up on making those connections too early on. If you want to make new friends, patience and persistence is key.

"We live in a society that continues to move toward prizing instant gratification and not having to exert a lot of effort," Abeln said. "Cultivating relationships takes time and effort, both of which are quickly becoming countercultural values."

What can you do?

Make Friends pbs rewire

Those are the two barriers to adult friendships that Abeln sees most. But everyone is different and there are lots of things at play once you're in the working world, especially if you're relatively new to it.

"I would remind (young people) that... it takes courage to put themselves out there and that they can take pride in doing so," Abeln said.

I've met some pretty awesome people since I finished school. I asked them for their top strategies for making new friends as an adult. Here's what they said (ironically, I collected these responses on Facebook):

1. "I joined a zillion book clubs!"

2. "Actually leave the house."

3. "Force yourself to say 'hi' first. There are people who will ignore you, think you're hitting on them or just may not click but those people don't matter. Fear of awkward situations mostly prevents me from talking to people."

4. "Dogs are a great icebreaker. Many of my newly acquired friends are people I met at the dog park."

5. "When I moved to a new city and the one person I knew best was out of town, I Facebook messaged... acquaintances every single Thursday to find out what was going on that weekend. I'd ask them what fun, cool things I should be doing. And then eventually, they just started inviting me to fun, cool things without my weekly prompts."

6. "I 'force' people I like to be my friend. Coworkers, other parents..., etc. I just straight up say 'I like you and I want to be friends in real life and can we please go out for brunch/beer/etc.' There's no other way around adult friendships."

7. "Is it a strategy to just ask people you admire if they want to be friends? ... It's also the most flattering thing if anyone ever does it to you. Wins all around."

8. "Get a hobby, seriously. I joined Roller Derby and have made oh so many friends, friends that normally I'd never even be in the same room as, and yet by having this one interest in common I have expanded my friend group which is now becoming far more diverse and inclusive than I imagined it could be."

9. "Church has been where the large majority of my non-work and non-college friends have been made or met. ... But some of it was also just making a beeline for people I thought were cool and asking them to do things three to four times and then letting it go if it wasn't feasible. ... I also do better/seek out friends for one-on-one relationships more than group entities, so large meetup groups were never going to be right for me."

10. "Find a group of people who enjoy the hobbies you enjoy. Like running? Google 'Running clubs.' Or get Facebook recommendations ('Hey, who knows a great knitting club, rock climbing club, beer tasting club, etc?'). Like choir? Join one. I've got a whole bunch of people I call friends now thanks to finding a way to pursue my hobby with others who like it too."

Katie Moritz
Katie Moritz was Rewire's senior editor from 2016-2020. She is a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores and pho. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.
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