Friendship is linked to a host of mental and physical health benefits. These include reduced stress, greater self-esteem, and longer life expectancy. During childhood and youth, making friends may seem more natural than in adulthood. As playing and “hanging out” are societal expectations for youth.
As we become adults, societal expectations shift, and responsibilities like careers and financial obligations take precedence. American adults as a group have been reporting fewer and fewer close friendships over the last 30 years. But the need for close friendships is perhaps greater than it has ever been, as evidenced by rising reports of depression and loneliness. Investing in friendship may be one of the most important things you can do for your health and happiness. But how do you make friends as an adult?
Strengthen Established Connections
Most of us have a social network in place already. Look around at your acquaintances, coworkers, the parents of your children—is there anyone you would like to know better? We sometimes forget that as children, we became friends with people largely because there was already some type of connection. Maybe we were in the same class, played on the same sports team, lived next door to each other, or our parents were friends. The same principle holds true for adults. Maybe there are people with whom you already have some connection through work, a shared hobby, or an old friendship that needs to be rekindled. The groundwork is already laid!
Maybe you’ve identified someone you’d like to establish a friendship with. Or maybe you’re at a loss to come up with anyone you’re interested in getting to know better. In either case, getting involved can help you to make friends. If there is someone within your social network that you can see yourself being friends with, reach out to them. Send them a text, offer to buy them coffee, or invite them to an event. If your social circle is small, consider expanding your network. This can be done by joining a group, taking a class, or just getting out of the house more. Your first steps don’t have to be huge, and you don’t have to make any serious commitments if you don’t want to. Just practice chatting, listening, and getting to know people.
The hardest part of making friends as an adult may be opening up to others and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. It’s a difficult step, but one that must be taken if a close relationship is to grow. Friendships are founded on trust, and both parties need to feel safe being themselves. You can take this step as gradually as you need. There’s no need to share your deepest, darkest secrets just yet, but tell your new friend something that opens you up, at least a little, to their judgement. Your friend may invite you to do this by sharing something like this themselves—recognize this as an act of trust on their part, and an invitation to you to trust them in return.
Making friends as an adult may be more complex than making friends as a child, but it can also be richly rewarding. Through the demands of daily life and the challenges we face, we all need a variety of friendships: friends to share common interests and hobbies with, friends who can support us (and whom we can support) in troubled times, and friends to share our lives with. Friendship enriches our lives, empowers us as individuals, and makes us happier, healthier people.