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Why making friends as an adult is so hard (and how to do it)

June 8, 2022 - 20 min read

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The importance of friendships in adulthood

How to make friends as an adult

6 activities to meet potential friends as an adult

Making friends as a parent

6 ways to maintain friendships as an adult

As an adult, I’ve lived in five different states. 

Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, California, and now, I live in Colorado. Each experience has brought its own set of challenges. Some moves were prompted by school and education. Other moves were prompted by job and career opportunities. But all the moves came with one common denominator: it’s hard to make friends as an adult. 

The research backs this up: making friends as an adult is harder than it seems. In fact, the May 2021 American Perspectives Survey had interesting findings on adult friendships. Many Americans don’t have a large number of close friends. In fact, 49% report having three or fewer close friends. 

When it comes to adult friendships, most Americans report having situational friendships. For example, people make temporary friends in the workplace, at school, in the gym, or in some other shared community. Nearly 70% report having a friend that they only see in certain places or at certain times. 

So, why are adult friendships so complicated? Well, for starters, we’re still weathering a global pandemic. COVID-19 catapulted many adults into social isolation, an understandable barrier to making friends that also created an added layer of awkwardness to our interactions.

People are also getting married later, working longer hours, and traveling more for work. People are more geographically mobile than before, like my husband and me. 

We’ve now lived in Colorado for nearly three years. We bought our first house, are putting down roots, and hope to stay for good. And in these last three years, we’ve been faced with this challenge: how do you make friends as an adult? 

I’ve learned a lot about making friends as an adult from my own personal journey. In this post, you’ll learn about the importance of friendships in adulthood. You’ll also walk away with tangible actions you can take to help make friends as an adult. 

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The importance of friendships in adulthood

Before we get into how to make friends as an adult, let’s talk about why. Let’s talk about the importance of friendships in adulthood — and why friendships in adulthood can be good for your health

  • Adult friendships create meaningful social connections. Combatting loneliness and social isolation comes with creating connections. More than ever since COVID-19, we’ve seen first-hand the impacts of loneliness and social isolation on people. Fostering meaningful connections through adult friendships can help overcome the negative impacts. And from there, the positive ripple effect only grows. 

“When I think about friendships, I reflect on our partnership: the joys and the sorrows we share, how we inspire one another, where we challenge each other to think outside our comfort zones, and sometimes to just be. True friends see my blind spots and can recognize a shift without me having to say a word. Keeping these bonds alive goes both ways – and the value we bring to each other enriches our lives every single day.”

 Lois Melkonian, BetterUp Fellow Coach 

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How to make friends as an adult

It may not be as easy to make friends as an adult as you would think. But with the right support, resources, and guidance, you can start to create lasting friendships that’ll help you thrive. 

1. Get in a growth mindset 

Let’s face it: making new friends is about growth. I grew up in a small town where I’ve known my best friends since we were four years old. So, when it came time to go away to college and make new friends, it was a challenge for me. In the beginning, I admit to having a fixed mindset. I used to think, “I have great old friends at home. Do I need to make new ones?” 

I’m glad I’ve evolved from the old 18-year-old me. In order to make new friends, you need to get yourself in a growth mindset. Be willing to look at new friendships as new growth for who you are as a person. It’s important to realize that new friends can also expand your perspectives, help you grow as a person, and challenge you. 

2. Commit to making an effort 

Making friends doesn’t come with a snap of your fingers. As easy as that would make things on us as humans, making friends requires intention. It also requires you to push yourself outside of your comfort zone

When I first moved to Colorado, I kept running into a neighbor who seemed to share similar interests. We often kept our conversations pretty surface level at the mailbox or while walking our dogs. But through our brief interactions, I learned she liked to hike, go running, do yoga, and spend time with friends. 

I decided to invite her to a free yoga event at a local brewery. It was a little uncomfortable and pushed me outside of my own comfort zone. But I had a feeling that we’d get along well. Today, she’s one of my best friends in Colorado. Think of ways you can commit to making an effort to make a new friend. 

3. Get curious and be willing to try new things 

Meeting new friends as an adult often comes with trying new things. And much like making an effort, trying new things can feel intimidating. 

I’ve always been a runner. But my form of running usually meant sticking to the pavement. I’d register for road races but never really ventured far from my comfort zone of what I knew. In fact, if you look at my Strava history, you’ll see that I generally stick to the same neighborhood route. 

But when I started to hang out with one of my new friends in Colorado, I learned she was a big trail runner. She spent most of her time running in the mountains instead of the road. So when she asked if I would want to go for a trail run, I was hesitant. Could I keep up? Would I hold her back? Is this something that I’d even like? 

Even though it was scary, I gave it a go. Now, most weekends, you’ll find me trail running with this friend. She opened me up to a new part of running that I’d never tried before — and it’s an activity that I now get to do with one of my close friends. 

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4. Leverage your current social network for introductions 

When I first moved to San Francisco, I knew exactly one person outside of my colleagues at work. I didn’t have a single friend who lived in the Bay Area. But here’s the thing: my college friends knew people. 

My friends from college started to introduce me to people they knew who also were San Francisco transplants. And soon, we had a group of friends who were all connected by friends of friends. 

Look to your current social network to see where you might be able to connect with people. Chances are, there’s a friend of a friend who is also in your exact same situation. 

5. Tap into your community 

Don’t underestimate the power of community. Your community has avenues and resources to help cultivate strong adult friendships. 

For example, you might attend an event at a local coffee shop or brewery. Or you might try signing up for a gym or some other workout class. You could also volunteer, get involved with a local church, or join a social club. 

Research your own community to see how you can tap into it. Chances are, there’s something that you’d find interesting — and it could help you create strong friendships. 

6. Maintain a positive outlook 

Making friends as an adult is hard. It takes work. It’s an investment. And sometimes, you might feel a little defeated. You might not want to continue to make an effort, especially if you’re feeling overloaded in other areas of your life. 

As best as you can, try to maintain a positive outlook. A little shift in perspective can help remind you of what’s important to you. 

7. Be vulnerable 

Think about your best friend. Most people report having one best friend, even if they’re halfway across the world and you only talk to them twice a year. 

What about that friendship makes it so special? 

For me, it’s that my best friend knows the struggles and challenges that I’ve faced. My best friend has been there when I’ve been at my lowest and my highest points. My best friend knows about my passions, my dreams, and my goals. 

You don’t have to dive head-first into a new friendship with this level of vulnerability. But as you continue to foster relationships, some level of vulnerability helps strengthen your relationships

8. Consider coaching  

We all need support. And creating a support network that helps you reach your full potential is critically important to living a fulfilling life. 

A coach can help you understand the fears or self-esteem issues that might make you resistant to reaching out to others. We all carry an inner critic and self-doubts, past experiences, and anxieties about the future. That’s normal, but if you aren’t self-aware, they might be holding you back from building satisfying adult relationships. 

A coach can also help you reach your personal development goals. Plus, two years of semi-isolation has made us all a little weird and socially uncomfortable. With guidance from a coach, you can work on setting achievable goals for making new friends and building the skills you need to make friends as an adult. 

6 activities to meet potential friends as an adult

We’ve given you some high-level tips to help you make friends as an adult. Now, let’s talk about some activities that may help, too. 

1. Join a gym 

One way to meet people is by joining a gym. Many gyms (or other types of workout studios) offer group classes. For example, if you really enjoy yoga, you might consider joining a yoga studio to help meet people who also share your interests. 

2. Sign up for a workshop or class 

When I moved to Denver, I started taking writing workshop classes. Through these workshops, I’ve been able to make good friends who all share the same common interests in writing.

Think of ways you can meet a group of people in some sort of workshop or class. Platforms like Airbnb, Groupon, MeetUp, and more host things like art classes, workshops, and more. 

3. Join a MeetUp, Bumble BFF, or another tech platform 

Hear me out before your social anxiety kicks in. It can be scary to lean on technology to help make friends with total strangers. But platforms like MeetUp and Bumble BFF are literally built to help create a circle of friends. Give it a try. It might also help you get over a fear of rejection, too. 

4. Volunteer with a local nonprofit 

Volunteering with a local nonprofit is a great way to meet people. For example, I’ve volunteered at our local humane society and found other people who really enjoy helping animals. 

And science tells us volunteering can also be good for your mental health. Think of ways you can create new relationships by doing good.

5. Find a church or other spiritual service 

Lots of people turn to faith or religion to help find a sense of community. While this is very dependent on your personal belief systems, it’s a good option to consider. Consider ways you can create meaningful friendships through finding a spiritual community. 

6. Join a book club 

There’s nothing like a good book club. Seek out local book clubs through your library or other local bookstores. You can find that these get-togethers can help you find your footing in a social circle. 

Making friends as a parent

I grew up in a very close-knit community. My best friends from high school and grade school have long been a part of my social life. But beyond our own friendships, our parents are also great friends. 

The New York Times released a great guide on making friends as a parent. Here are four tips to keep in mind. 

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  • Try activities with your kid. This could any sort of activity, like story time at your local library or baby yoga. You could also volunteer at your kid’s school or even coach your kid’s sports teams. 
  • Find like-minded parents in the places where you already go. Think about the places you already frequent, like your favorite cafe or neighborhood park. Take the plunge and try talking to other parents at the places where you go. My mom always recounts when she met her now-best friend. She was pushing me in a swing at the playground while a mom next to her was doing the same with her kid. 
  • Introduce yourself to other parents. This goes back to getting out of your comfort zone. Be proactive about initiating conversation. A conversation doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than getting to know someone better. Put yourself out there without any expectation and see what happens. 
  • Look to social media for help making friends as a parent. A lot of parents lean on social media for help finding friends. For example, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and more generally have local groups for parents in the neighborhood. My sister-in-law founded her own neighborhood Facebook group where she regularly connects with other parents in the area. 

6 ways to maintain friendships as an adult

Making friends as an adult is one thing. But maintaining friendships as an adult is another. Here are six tips to help nurture your adult friendships. 

  • Make the time (even if you’re “too busy”) 
  • Regularly commit to something on the calendar 
  • Be present 
  • Communicate 
  • Show up for your friends (especially when it matters most) 
  • Accept that friendships evolve and change 

Consider how BetterUp can help you nurture and maintain relationships and friendships in your life. From navigating change to investing in what matters most, a coach can help serve as your guide. Get started today.

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Published June 8, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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