It can seem like kids make friends almost effortlessly. With school and extracurricular activities, children spend a lot of time with their peers. They often have common interests and are eager to spend time together. And if friends don’t click right away, there are new classes to take and activities to try where they’ll meet new people.
For adults, it’s not so easy. “As adults, we have busy lives filled with work, family responsibilities and other commitments,” said Varun Monga, MD, a psychiatrist with Banner Health. “In school or college, we had many opportunities for interactions and built-in social networks. But as adults, we must actively seek social situations. Finding common ground with potential friends and establishing meaningful connections can be hard.”
We can also have different priorities. We might focus on achieving career goals, starting a family or pursuing hobbies, rather than making new friends.
Those aren’t the only things that make building friendships harder for adults. For many of us, it’s harder to build trust as we get older. “Letting people into our lives is more difficult since we are more aware of potential risks and past experiences,” Dr. Monga said.
And while children may expect that other people will want to be their friends, the experience of rejection may make adults more hesitant to approach new people. “Fear of rejection can hold us back from starting a new conversation or joining new activities,” he said.
But having friends is vital for people of all ages. Research published in the National Library of Medicine found that adult friendships, and components of friendships like socializing with friends, are linked with well-being.
Friendship-building strategies to try
Here are some things that can help you meet people who share your interests.
- Pursue hobbies: Try joining a book club, cooking class or sports team. Some experts recommend trying the same group at least three times before you decide if it’s a good match for you.
- Attend social events and meetups: You can use online platforms to find groups you can join for in-person events.
- Volunteer and join organizations: You can contribute to a cause and meet people who share your passion.
- Tell people you’re trying to build your social network: People you know or meet might introduce you to others.
- Connect with old friends: There’s a good chance your old friends will be delighted to hear from you—send them a message and connect with them. “Meeting them will also help you grow your social circle with mutual connections,” Dr. Monga said.
- Build a routine: If you do the same things in the same places, you might run across the same people and gradually get to know them.
- Be open and approachable: Make eye contact, smile, listen actively and show genuine interest in what others say.
- Don’t get discouraged if your initial efforts fail: Not every person you meet will end up being a lifelong friend. Keep in mind that other adults share the same challenges with finding time for friendship and building trust. “Continue your efforts to make friends,” Dr. Monga said.
Making friends is even harder for some adults
Some people struggle even more with building friendships.
- Introverts may find social situations draining. Dr. Monga said they can make friends by being honest with themselves about their introverted nature, being authentic and trying not to force themselves to be someone they are not. That way, they can build quality friendships with people who accept them as they are. “Start with one-on-one interactions to develop meaningful relationships,” he said.
It can help to seek out smaller social settings and events where introverts do not feel overwhelmed. They may find online platforms less intimidating. Active listening can help them connect with others while conserving their energy.
- People with autism might start by learning and practicing social skills. “Learning about nonverbal cues, building conversational skills and understanding social dynamics can help improve your confidence in social situations,” Dr. Monga said.
Like introverts, people with autism may benefit from using an online social platform. “Finding online communities that focus on your interests or specific areas related to autism can help you build connections by engaging in discussions and sharing experiences,” Dr. Monga said.
- People who are divorced can find that their circle of friends dwindled when their marriage broke up. They may want to join a support group or recovery program where they can meet people in similar situations and connect with them by sharing experiences. “Being authentic and genuine, sharing your story and being vulnerable may help make new and deeper connections,” Dr. Monga said.
They can also try engaging in new hobbies or new interests, revisiting old hobbies, attending social events, volunteering in the community or reaching out to old friends and reconnecting with them.
- People who work from home. For a lot of people, working from home has its advantages. Many people find they’re more productive, appreciate getting their commuting time back and can find a better work/life balance. But there can be a downside—you don’t get that in-person interaction you get in an office.
If you’re missing the office camaraderie, try scheduling in-person coffees, lunches or evening gatherings with your colleagues. And if your workplace offers a hybrid option, consider going into the office on occasion.
- Men may face unique challenges when they try to make friends, though it depends on each person’s experiences. For some men, traditional gender roles, social expectations and cultural norms may discourage emotional vulnerability and prevent them from expressing their need for social connections and friendships.
“Male friendships can sometimes be considered superficial and competitive rather than deep and meaningful,” Dr. Monga said. “And men may be perceived as weak and vulnerable if they discuss their social needs and challenges.
Men may also struggle to find new social avenues outside work or their existing social circles. “Research suggests that women tend to engage in more diverse social interactions than men,” he said.
Men can try any of the strategies listed above, such as exploring hobbies, volunteering or building a routine where they come across the same people regularly.
The bottom line
“Remember, building meaningful friendships as an adult requires effort, patience and genuine interest in others. It is important to be proactive in seeking social opportunities, participating in activities that align with your interests and investing time in making new friends,” Dr. Monga said.
If you’re struggling with anxiety and feel it is impacting the quality of your life, reach out to a Banner behavioral health specialist.