Many of my casual friendships over the years were “right time, right place” sort of connections. You know the ones: the people you were childhood friends with, the ones from school or from work. They just sort of fell into your lap. The connection was effortless, but also largely due to circumstance.
As you get older, those sort of relationships become few and far between. Without the social structures in place to form easy bonds, connecting with other adults becomes much more difficult. You can’t just stroll into homeroom or camp or ballet class and expect to become BFF’s with the first person you meet (and see every day). Making and keeping friends when you grow up is tough.
This was something about which I had heard horror stories since entering adolescence; yet I only started to see the severity of it when I (temporarily) moved across the globe.
All of a sudden, my social life was completely uprooted. I was in a new place, with new people, which meant I had to put forth effort into forming relationships in a way that I never had. I also had to combat some slight anxieties in doing so.
First, I had to become comfortable doing things alone. This meant trying new restaurants, attending events, figuring out my way around the city. I’ve heard (and believe) that you should be sure of yourself before pursuing new relationships. Well, I also believe this applies to platonic relationships just as much as romantic. You can’t give full attention to your budding friendships when you are not okay on your own.
Solo activities help to build this sense of self. (Plus they’re a great way to get to know some place new). Although the introvert in me loves a quiet night at home, the pull to make new connections won over. Luckily, in my fresh environment, I had a strong motivation to get out and explore.
I realized it was crucial for me to put myself out there if I wanted to make friends. I had to get down and dirty in the process- researching (a lot) for happenings around town, contacting people, staying true to my obligations. However, there’s always the fear that comes along with meeting new people for the first time.
Do you ask for their number first? What do you do together when you hang out? What if they’re not as interested in the friendship as you are?
These are all queries that accompany the complicated friendship dynamics of adulthood. The fears are not unjustified, either. There will be relationships that don’t work out, or interactions that are awkward, or people who are not receptive to your outreach.
The key is not to overthink things. I have generally found negative experiences to occur much less frequently than positive. I have been putting myself in situations with like-minded people, which may explain why. If you are seeking experiences that speak to you, you will probably “speak to” the others who attend as well. Most people I come across seem open to making new friends, and if they’re not then I figure they’re not worth my time and energy.
If you have not experienced it for yourself, take note: maintaining stable friendships takes LOTS of energy (at least speaking for myself).
I’ve been conscious of checking in with new friends on a regular basis to keep our relationships going strong. Consistency is crucial–whether it’s a text to confirm plans, a call to see how someone’s day went, a quick coffee to catch up. Although these little things can be tiresome, the payoff is worth it.
These small acts keep your friends feeling valued. They increase your dependability, which is one of the strongest qualities in a friend. Yet they are so easy to let slip under the radar.
It’s always because we are too tired, or too busy, or too fearful or whatever other excuse we can come up with. I’ve felt all of these things, sometimes at the expense of my relationships. Any relationship requires effort and time and energy, which is naturally uncomfortable.
What going abroad really taught me about friendship is that it’s all about getting out of my comfort zone. If you never get beyond your little safe space, you never grow. Over my time abroad, two things have proven to be true. One is that the more we push ourselves to be uncomfortable, the more comfortable we actually become. The second it that the more we do it, the greater the payoff grows to be.
So, if you are struggling to make or maintain friends as an adult (or in a new place), I strongly urge you to look for where you can push yourself. Try something new. Ask that person you’ve been admiring out for coffee. Put forth a little extra effort and see what happens.
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Photo: Quincy Malesosovas