As a young man, I wasn’t very good at making friends. I was nervous, awkward, bad at sports, cried easily, gave up quickly, avoided putting in effort. Most of these things are still true.
Over time, I gathered little circles of friends centered around creative endeavors. I started making videos, joined a band. By the end of high school I’d found a half-dozen or so people who were at least semi-willing to indulge me regularly.
And they still are, once or twice a year when we manage to see each other. People get busy.
“Over time, I gathered little circles of friends centered around creative endeavors.”
I made some new friends at La Salle University in Philly, but transferred to another school after freshman year and mostly let those relationships wither. Then at BU, I resisted many other possible friendships for reasons I still don’t fully understand. It was a complicated time, emotionally.
But I’m not going to burden you with my long history of self-sabotage! This is about making new friends as an adult!
Because, see, as time wore on, and my contact with those first few gathered friends was starting to loosen and crumble, I became worryingly aware of the stereotype that it is Hard To Make Friends As An Adult.
“It’s hard to make friends as an adult.” – Ben Franklin (probably)
Where did I learn this, exactly? Paul Rudd movies? It’s a fear articulated by many a millennial. I got dozens of questions about it when I used to write an advice column. I don’t remember what my responses were at the time; probably just jokes about Paul Rudd movies. I was still in the thick of it myself.
But let me tell you now, dear reader, that I am on the other side of full-fledged adulthood – with a wife and a dog and a house and a baby* on the way, and I have found that making friends as an adult is easy, and fun, and fulfilling. So throw your Paul Rudd movies in the garbage where they belong, and read on!
Just kidding. Paul Rudd is a national treasure (pending any revelations about harassment or whatever else may come to light after this blog post is published).
“I have found that making friends as an adult is easy, and fun, and fulfilling.”
So – how does one go about making friends as an adult? Let’s take a few potential sources** and consider them separately.
(*NOTES: My wife, dog, and unborn son are actually some of the very best friends I have as an adult, but since “Get married to someone you truly love” is not particularly useful advice and some people are allergic to dogs and/or babies I’m leaving them out of this post. But yeah – get married to someone you truly love and who loves you for you, and buy a dog as soon as possible!
**And let me also just say that recreational sports — adult kick-ball leagues etc. – are probably a potential source for making adult friends. But they exceed the scope of this article because they exceed the will of its author.)
Everybody’s working for the weekend – literally for my brothers and sisters in food service, and as a semi-metaphorical goal for those of us in office jobs (am I the only one confused by the semiotics of that song?). We all need to make that paper, but we’re often afraid of pushing for anything more with our fellow paper-pushers. Sometimes for good reason!
When I was working at a fundraising firm, I witnessed a co-worker reject a fellow employee’s Facebook friend request IN PERSON. He didn’t just leave the request unanswered and in limbo forever like a gentleman, he rejected him out loud, with words, to his face! (I did the noble thing, which was to accept the friend request and then mute him as soon as the option became available.) When you try, in any way, to breach the cordial co-worker barrier in favor of something more, you risk that kind of rejection (or worse, having to be the rejecter)!
So let’s just say that if you work directly with someone you get along with pretty well, the best bet is to enjoy the fruits of that semi-friendship within the confines of your day-to-day work environs. That’s more than most people have, and you shouldn’t jeopardize it. You’re there most of the day anyway!
But inevitably you or the co-worker will move on, to another department or company, and dear reader: that’s when it’s time to strike! Invite them to an after-work drink, or a party you are having or whatever, and see if the way you got along at work is transferrable to other settings.
I did this, with my good friend Dave, and it worked! We brew beer together now, and last night we texted a lot about how Dunkirk sucks. (Don’t @ me – I deleted twitter from my phone.)
“But inevitably you or the co-worker will move on, to another department or company, and dear reader: that’s when it’s time to strike!”
2. Significant Others (past and present)
This might be controversial, but I’ve made friends with several of my friends’ girlfriends and then remained friends post-breakup. These were amicable splits, mind you, and as yet have not impacted my relationships with the initial friend. I hopped aboard their trains when they were running parallel to each other, and I happily remain on both trains now that they’ve diverged. (There’s probably a better metaphor for this than the train thing; it sounds like I’m pitching a Jake Gyllenhaal Sci-Fi thriller. QUANTUM TRAIN. But you get what I’m saying here.)
I’ve recently started playing music with my cousin’s boyfriend, and man, that dude is the best. If things ever go south with their relationship, I’m holding on to his number.
Also, I never delete anybody from Facebook unless they’re a Nazi. I’m still online-friends with everyone my brother-in-law has ever slept with.
“I hopped aboard their trains when they were running parallel to each other, and I happily remain on both trains now that they’ve diverged.”
3. Long-gestating seeds, finally bearing fruit
Sometimes you’ve been farming for potential friends without even knowing it. In this day and age, we’re usually talking about online acquaintances. The longer you’ve known someone online, the more likely it is that sooner or later you’ll see each other in the flesh. This is a concept known as Little’s Probability, or it will be as soon as the American Journal Of Sociology gets back to me.
Usually there needs to be some X factor that necessitates stepping out from behind a screen. For me, that was starting a podcast, but for other people it’s a book club or whatever. You don’t really need to look out for these triggers, they just happen after a given period of time. The first couple times you meet someone IRL from URL, it’s going to be awkward. But after the 5th or 6th time, it becomes oddly effortless. But reply to tweets! And encourage the efforts of your online acquaintances. Water those seeds when you can.
“The longer you’ve known someone online, the more likely it is that sooner or later you’ll see each other in the flesh.”
I met my friend Dan at, of all places, a networking event. If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you know that networking is basically the least likely thing to happen. Murder is more likely. Those events are horrible. But Dan is an unstoppable engine of friendship, and I just had the good fortune of being in his way. For me, this was another revelation – that someone could befriend ME, and that I wouldn’t have to do the befriending. A thing like that!
There’s a “when it rains it pours” element to this. If you befriend a recently promoted co-worker and then play cards with a dude you met on Reddit, you’ll probably stumble into a third new friendship by accident. Once you successfully put the new friend bat signal out into the universe, they find you!
“If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you know that networking is basically the least likely thing to happen. Murder is more likely.”
There’s substantial risk when you try to befriend the people who share walls with you. They hear you in your most private moments. They know things about you that your family doesn’t know. But NOT making friends with them is somehow worse, right? I have trouble with this one. It’s my final friendship frontier.
In Boston, a budding friendship with the couple next door fizzled after I didn’t come to their art show. I had a good excuse – I was getting married. But the damage was done.
When I moved further north, an existing friend moved into the apartment above mine. We spent many evenings drinking on the front porch, which led to some exciting (to me, a person constantly desperate for friends) developments: other people in our building would usually stop and talk to us, and others joined us for hours, sometimes even moving to a second location! It never progressed beyond that; numbers were not exchanged. We moved away.
I recently bought a house, so you know, it was do or die with these neighbors! It’s not going well. The one guy I managed to get along with actually did die, and the neighbors on the other side seem to hate me and are currently antagonizing me with a giant inflatable Olaf.
But let’s not get into my neighborhood drama. This is just to say that, if you wanted to, you could probably make friends with your neighbors.
“There’s substantial risk when you try to befriend the people who share walls with you. They hear you in your most private moments.”
So there you have it! A couple of useful starting points for making friends as an adult, a process incorrectly believed to be difficult. And as we’ve seen, it’s a process that gets even easier as soon as you start. Once you’ve put yourself out there, you’re out there! Honestly, it’s something I wish I’d understood when I was 12. But those crushingly lonely early years made me into who I am today—a reasonably well-adjusted and probably only borderline bipolar man who relates everything to past trauma. Subscribe to my podcast!