Adult friendships | Just Reflections - Issue #11
I can’t believe I’ve been writing continuously for 11 weeks now. I surely can’t look back now. I’ve got my eye on 100 issues.
Today’s issue is what I was planning to post last week, but I was so tired that I was struggling to put the story coherently. I’m talking about adult friendships this week. Enjoy!
Last year I moved to a new country on the other side of the world where I barely have any friends and family. On top of that, my arrival coincided with the start of all the lockdowns so for the past year and a half my entire community has been my wife and the regular virtual meetup with friends from home on weekends.
To add to that, the growing responsibilities of adulting are making it increasingly difficult to connect with the friends I grew up with. Everyone is just so busy all the time. Between keeping up with the work schedules, spending time with their kids, dropping the kids off at school, scheduling the ever so elusive date nights with our partners that have transitioned from a fancy dinner out to Netflix and chill at home to Netflix and napping on the couch. Schedules can fill up so much that our daily routine feels like it has no space to squeeze friends in. We’re caught in the rat race and we’re perpetually saying, “We should meet up sometime.”, but we know it won’t happen. Sometimes, it’s not the kids or work taking all the time but it’s that we’ve grown in separate directions with some of my friends and we just don’t click the way you used to.
I am one of those people who thrive on friendships, so the thinning friendship circle really makes me anxious. Because of all this, a question that’s been on my mind recently is, is there hope for making new friends as an adult? Are there solid ways of strengthening the friendships I already have amidst all the requirements of adulting and the struggles in getting people together? I took to the internet the past two weeks to try to find some answers, so let’s explore my findings.
The loneliness epidemic
Before you start feeling sorry for me, let me show that this loneliness stuff is a real problem. Consider this, it appears amongst all the problems we’re dealing with these days, there’s an epidemic of loneliness and of adults who don’t have any friends.
The COVID 19 pandemic has changed our societies in ways we would have never imagined possible and it just keeps on giving. One of it’s very generous “gifts” has been loneliness. In our combined efforts to stay safe and save lives, our usual ways of seeing family, friends or just familiar faces have been put on pause.
According to the Office of National Statistics levels of loneliness in Great Britain have increased since early 2020. Between 3 April and 3 May 2020, 5.0% of people (about 2.6 million adults) said that they felt lonely “often” or “always”. From October 2020 to February 2021, results from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) show that proportion increased to 7.2% of the adult population (about 3.7 million adults).
It goes beyond just feelings and a mental state. Loneliness is seen by some as one of the biggest health concerns we face as humanity. Here are a few examples of the effects of loneliness on physical health:
Loneliness and social isolation are associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke .
Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure .
Loneliness with severe depression is associated with early mortality and loneliness is a risk factor for depression in later life .
Loneliness and social isolation put individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia .
A sad part is that it’s not possible to look at someone and see that they have clinical loneliness. Most people who are diagnosed with clinical loneliness do so while they are frequently hanging out with their friends and family. Because the missing element is not merely the physical presence of people, but intimacy. What matters most is the quality of the bonds. It’s bonds that are stable, positive, and cooperative. We should all invest in relationships in a way that values those strong bonds. If we let our friendships become passive, it won’t be long before they’re just a shell of what they used to be. So let’s look at some ways of strengthening our friendships and combating the loneliness epidemic.
Making friends as an adult
Let’s forget about trying to find a boyfriend or girlfriend for a bit and just focus on the wider problem of finding friends. Which — I think — is also part of the difficulty in finding girlfriends and boyfriends. Many of us just haven’t mastered the art of making new friends, especially as adults where people are more guarded and have a lot more going on in their lives. How do you create new lifelong friends as an adult?
Interestingly, the advice about making and keeping friends that’s widely circulating online has some very clear patterns. It all comes down to these things.
Be an initiator
Be the person who will create social opportunities. Many of us are never the ones making the effort to make plans and call people to put something together. Yet we worry all the time about our thinning circles and depreciating friendships. You might think this is unfair. Why isn’t everyone else putting in the effort and starting things? Everyone is thinking that way and without someone who takes initiative, we’ll keep saying, “We should meet up sometime.”
As people get older, they have a lot of demands on their time and most people respond to that by not reaching out or organising anything, not because they don’t want to meet anyone or cannot but because they feel it’s too much effort in their already busy lives. So be the one to schedule a regular video call with your friends, not to solve problems or discuss the kids’ birthday party. But just to talk and catch up and goof around. Call your friends for an after-work meet up for coffee. Be the one who organises the weekend soccer game.
One of the best ways to get invited to things is to invite people to things that you create. Even if they don’t come to your events, after that they’re more likely to invite you to their events when they have something happening. If you long to do activities with friends, then take initiative.
Respond with enthusiasm
Speaking of invitations. Many of us, when we get invited for things, respond with indifference and say things like, “I’m not sure, I’ll see if I can or not”, “I’ll text you and confirm”, even when we are sure that we have space for it. As we get older, we start to feel like there’s something wrong with responding with eagerness or excitement when people invite us to things. Maybe we’ve been disappointed a lot and we are afraid to make ourselves vulnerable again or we don’t want to seem like we care too much. But in trying to avoid vulnerability, we act indifferent to everything and that sends the wrong message to the person on the other side. When we show excitement and show that we’re all in and we are committed to making the meetup happen, we fuel the friendship. So for a change, next time you’re invited for something, show some enthusiasm. Be the person who’s all in, who’s excited about meeting up. That positive energy will be paid back in kind.
All social groups have different people with distinct personalities. Each person adds value differently. Some people bring humour and they can make everyone laugh, some are the best at arranging something fun for everyone to do and other people bring great conversation because they’re curious and they know a lot of things and they’re fascinated by people. It’s different for every group and it’s different for every person, so whatever is happening, find a way to contribute, don’t just be an idle ride along. If you can’t figure out what you can bring, then bring a great positive energy to whatever is happening. We all like being around people like that because it makes us feel good about ourselves and about life.
While on the subject of contributing. There’s a big difference between group interactions and one-on-one interactions. Group interactions can be fun because there are a lot of shared experiences and there is less pressure for you in particular to contribute all the time since many people are there. But the problem with group interactions is that there is no room to have deep meaningful conversations with any one person. So, besides group interactions, make sure that you’re also making time for one-on-one interactions with specific people. This is where people are going to open up about things they truly care about. Unlike group interactions, when you hang out with somebody alone, they are more vulnerable and to open up and this is what leads to the development of closer friendships.
Speaking of being vulnerable. One of the biggest failings in social interaction is the fear of voicing your opinion or being controversial. We need to overcome this fear if anyone is going to truly know who we are. When you become extremely agreeable and careful about everything you say, trying to make sure you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, you usually do it at the expense of your true feelings and thoughts. This isn’t even beneficial to you because in the long run, we all generally never develop deep friendships with people like that because we don’t know who they really are. Of course, this isn’t to say you should be needlessly abrasive. But if you find it hard to make it past a surface level acquaintanceship with people, this might be the reason. By not voicing your true opinion or speaking honestly about the things you’re passionate about, or standing up for what you believe is right, you’re concealing your identity from people.
When you say something that’s really polarising, people will either respond with passion and excitement at finding a kindred mind or they’ll decide that you’re not their kind of person. Both responses are good because you both walk away knowing each other better. This also means you’ll discover the people who stay for who you really are much quicker. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Rejection will inevitably happen at some point when people are incompatible so be yourself and let it happen sooner if it needs to so that you can find your tribe faster.
Don’t be too picky about who your hangout with
Sure, not everyone is going to be your friend. I’ve shared here before about realising that there’s always something you can learn from anyone and having better conversations. You’re not always going to find that one person who connects with you in every single way. With one person you might connect deeply about a single subject and with another, you can spend hours talking about another different subject. And you can walk away from each of those conversations completely fulfilled, at least about the one thing you share. Some people you will enjoy your favourite sport with, other people you will have a great conversation about astronomy or some other niche interest you have. You don’t have to find everything in one person, you likely won’t. Some people you meet just so that they can introduce you to other people who will end up being your lifelong friends. The point here is don’t get so picky that you cut yourself off before you even get started.
Go where your people are
Whilst on the subject of having obscure hobbies and interests. Some people complain that they can’t meet people like them, who share their interests, with whom they just hit it off effortlessly. Curiously, these people also usually look in the most general places for people who share their eccentric interests. A better strategy is to evaluate what values and interests you have and then go to the places where people like you are found. If you’re religious, then go to that church young adults group that you always avoid. That’s where you’ll find people who think like you. If you like a certain sport, then join the communal team that plays on Sunday afternoons at the park. Go where your people are and increase the likelihood of serendipity.
Friendship takes time,
As a final thought, I’ll take a leaf from Aristotle.
“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit.” — Aristotle
This statement may sound obvious, but there’s more than just common wisdom behind it. Building friendships takes time. This is one of the biggest reasons adults find it hard to build meaningful friendships with people they haven’t known for a long time. When we were kids, making friends was easy because — among other things — it was easy to spend hours and hours with people. In fact, whatever free time we would get, we’d go seek our friends to hang out and that free time was plenty. So the way to build closer friendships as an adult is to dedicate time to it. There’s no going around it. Adjust your schedule and prioritise the time spent meeting people.
I found these ideas really helpful and I think I’m better prepared to face my new reality. I’m excited at the prospect of meeting new people and forming new connections. What do you think of them? What’s been your experience with making friends as an adult? I’d love to know.
That’s all I have for you this week. If you like the newsletter, consider sharing it with others on Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook. Hit the thumbs up or thumbs down below to let me know what you think about the issue.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about this week and I wish you ever-increasing curiosity.
Until next week.
Valtorta, N.K., Kanaan, M., Gilbody, S., Ronzi, S. and Hanratty, B., 2016. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke: systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal observational studies. Heart, 102(13), pp.1009-1016.
Hawkley, L.C., Thisted, R.A., Masi, C.M. and Cacioppo, J.T., 2010. Loneliness predicts increased blood pressure: 5-year cross-lagged analyses in middle-aged and older adults. Psychology and aging, 25(1), p.132.
Courtin, E., & Knapp, M. (2017). Social isolation, loneliness and health in old age: a scoping review. Health & social care in the community, 25(3), 799-812
Cacioppo, J.T. and Cacioppo, S., 2014. Older adults reporting social isolation or loneliness show poorer cognitive function 4 years later. Evidence-based nursing, 17(2), pp.59-60.
How I learned to make more friends - https://youtu.be/nm7OMGjbCgc
How to Build Closer Friendships
Impactful ideas that challenged my thinking.
I have a lot of interests so I'm always learning all kinds of things, some of which really challenge my thinking. In the Just Reflections newsletter, I'll be sharing with you a summary of the ideas that challenged my thinking recently and hopefully they will challenge yours too and we grow together.
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