The Secret to Adult Friendships

group of friends smiling at each other

It’s International Friendship Day on July 30. While this isn’t a major holiday when we take the time to reflect, many of us celebrate and express gratitude for our deep and meaningful friendships. However, we aren’t all so lucky. Many adults struggle to find and maintain close friendships with other adults. People move out of Oakland County, friendships change, and life gets in the way. Friendship in adulthood isn’t the same as when we were young, and it’s not actually all that uncommon to find difficulty in the process. You are not alone and nothing is wrong with you. Today, we’ll explain why it’s hard to make friendships as adults, and just when we lost that easy-going friendship-making nature of our youth. 

Friendship From Childhood to Young Adulthood 

It may have seemed effortless to make friendships when we were young. Our parents set up birthday parties and sleepovers. The neighborhood kids ran around together; we made friends in clubs or sports. In college, you made friends in the dorms, cheering on the Wolverines, or by participating in study groups, chess clubs, etc.  Making friends was instinctive, all we needed was to be in the same room. 

So, why is it harder to make friends in adulthood?

If you’re feeling bad about your lack of friendship in adulthood, cut yourself some slack. Of course, it’s hard to make friendships and maintain them as adults. Here are six reasons why our connections fade or end. 

  1. We’re not the same people we were. People change, and that is okay. We all change over the years, and our interests do, too. What was fun to do with friends in your 20s may not be fun for you to do in your 40s.  
  2. Our attention is divided. Adults get into romantic partnerships, leaving less quality time for friendships. Many choose to have children and parenthood is a full-time job, leaving less time to invest in friendships.  
  3. People move. Maybe you’re new to Oakland County yourself, or your best friend has moved out of the state. It’s harder to maintain friendships with large distances separating the ties. Even if you do maintain those relationships, it doesn’t replace the need for in-person friendships.
  4. Our responsibilities seem endless. Many adults work. Some even work more than one job. Often, with work and other adult commitments—putting meals on the table, taking care of our homes or apartments, running to the doctor, paying bills—there isn’t time for much else. These tasks can be exhausting, so the thought of hanging out with a friend may seem like one more thing to do in life, as opposed to the appeal of getting in your jammies and watching a favorite show.
  5. Death, Dementia, or Illness. This is one of the saddest forms of losing friends and commonly happens to older adults. Even health problems on a smaller scale seem to steal our focus away from friendships. 
  6. Social Anxiety holds us back. Whether we’ve lived with social anxiety since our teenage years, or this is a relatively new experience for you, feeling anxious in social situations can be responsible for your difficulty in cultivating friendships in adulthood. If you have anxiety in general or it is specifically linked to social situations, working with a counselor in individual therapy sessions can teach you the skills needed to regulate your nervous system and approach adult friendships with more calm and confidence. 

All Humans need socialization. Here’s why.

With these givens of adulthood stacking against you, it may seem easier to give up on the entire pursuit and invest time in a pet instead. But according to evolutionary biology, humans are neurologically wired for friendship. We need it. 

Think of our ancestors. To survive, they had to delegate tasks such as hunting, gathering, building shelter, etc. If a member got thrown out of the tribe, that member would not survive on their own. They would perish under the weight of all the tasks required to survive. In a way, we still retain some of our ancestor’s neurobiology. Even for life today in Oakland County, If we have a tragedy, a physical illness, or a loss of a loved one, facing it alone may be impossible or bad for our health.    

Beyond that, hanging out with friends increases brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. These chemicals make us feel great, which increases our bonding with others.  

group of female friends smiling at camera

How to Make Friends throughout Adulthood

  1. Let your passions lead. Do you have a hobby, or is there a topic that really interests you and you’d like to learn more about? There are many groups that you can find on the internet that specialize in different subjects. Check out sites like Bumble BFF, VINA, and Meetup. There’s even a site for new moms called Peanut. Check them out!
  2. Be brave. Think of it like dating where someone must make the first move. Ask a neighbor or acquaintance out for a cup of coffee or breakfast. You may have some things in common beyond what you already know. 
  3. Diversify your friendships! You can have a friend that likes to read and another friend who goes to spin class with you. You may not find someone who’s your exact match in every way, and that’s fine! It’s okay to have friends that have different interests from yours. 
  4. Be a good friend. The age-old saying applies here, “in order to have a good friend, you must be a good friend.” If you make plans with someone, don’t cancel. Especially don’t cancel at the last minute. 
  5. Be a good listener. Take an interest in what someone is saying to you and make an effort to remember what they tell you. Ask curious questions, make eye contact, and lean forward when you listen. 
  6. Be yourself. People are not drawn to perfection, they’re drawn to what’s real. Don’t back away from sharing a flaw now and then; we all have them. When you are open to not being perfect, people feel safer with you.   

Lastly, be gentle and compassionate toward yourself. It takes time to cultivate quality friendships in adulthood. It may take lots of attempts to find the right fit. That’s okay. Pat yourself on the back each time you initiate an opportunity to make a friend. 

Making friends can be scary. If you feel overwhelmed with anxiety when thinking about making adult friends, consider talking it over in individual therapy sessions with your counselor. This can normalize your stress, and help you gain confidence. From our Highland, Michigan office here in Oakland County, our team of therapists wants to support you. Reach out to us today to schedule a free consultation!