Where Did All My Friends Go?: 3 Tips for Finding (And Keeping) New Friends
Throughout my 29 years, I’ve always placed a high value on friendship. My mom tells stories of me going up to random kids at the McDonald’s play place, asking them to be my friend, then declaring them my BFF ever on the car ride home. Yes, friends are relatively simple to make during childhood. And in many of ways, the same is true in middle school and high school. Often, you find instant connections with others through sports teams, classes, or activities you’re a part of. Even college can tend to breed “fast friendships” as you’re thrown into a whole new world with other random 18-year-olds from around the country, experiencing all the new things together.
Then, you graduate and those friends you’ve made for four years start moving away or getting married, and you’re left wondering, “where did all my friends go?”.
Somewhere around that post-college time in life, making friends becomes overwhelming and anxiety inducing. Our self-awareness grows. We tell ourselves that deep, meaningful relationships are just too impossible to cultivate. We begin to see our mess more clearly and convince ourselves that no one really can handle it all, anyway.
There’s lots of evidence out there about how important it is to find deep community and friendship, but we’re often left wondering about one big piece: how to actually find people to have these relationships with.
The practical side of friendship as adults seems messy and unnatural. It suddenly feels weird to walk up to a girl at Starbucks and say, “Hey, I like your dress! Want to hang out?” (the grown-up equivalent of a playground introduction). Throw in the busy schedules, the never-ending needs of your kids, the sheer exhaustion after a long week at work, and more… and friendships start to not seem worth it.
Yes, adult friendships are challenging and complicated, but maybe things have gotten out of hand. Do they have to be so hard? Could we simplify friendships and just get back to the basics?
Here are some tips on how to find friends, and actually keep them!
1. Return to playground politics.
We laugh at the earlier Starbucks example, but why does that have to be weird? Why can’t we just be people who put our own pride and fear of rejection to the side to compliment another human? This is something I’ve tried to practice over the years in low-risk situations. Anytime I’m in a drive thru, I try to notice something special about the person helping me and offer a compliment. You would be shocked at how quickly a smile forms on their face and the conversation that usually follows.
Genuine compliments immediately soften people, opening the door for them to want to ask more questions about you, too. Once you get more comfortable with this practice, you can try it out in groups of people while you are at work, church, or just out and about. You never know how this could lead to deeper conversation, and then, hopefully, hanging out again!2. Stop looking for friends who are just like you.
We tend to think that to have a good friend, we need to have everything in common with them. Though common interests and involvement are often what bring us together when we are young, as I get older, I’ve found that I enjoy time with people who vastly differ in their interests.
Yes, you probably need to have a few things in common with someone to initially connect, but don’t let a difference in surface level interests hold you back from giving someone a chance. You never know what deep values you share! Connect on what really matters and embrace what makes people different. At the end of the day, the differences are what bring depth and growth to friendships.3. Let go of all the pressure.
When you are in a season of loneliness, or just desperately waiting for “your people” to come along, it’s easy to unintentionally add pressure to your situation.
You know the high you get when meet someone new and really seem to click? First, there’s that giddiness. Then, there’s instant pressure to become besties. People in your path become targets—you are looking for your person—and a lot of times you don’t end up actually getting to know them. Take the pressure off yourself (and each new person you come across) by remembering that not everyone you meet will become a lifelong friend, and that’s okay! Enjoy the experience of getting to know people, and don’t force time together again and again, just because you’re set on making a new friendship out of it.
One final thought…
Making adult friendships is hard work. Keeping friendships healthy is even harder! You may feel like everyone around you has thriving friendships (hello fake Instagram perceptions), but I promise everyone still has seasons of loneliness, even when deep friendships are a part of their life. Having close friends is so much better than walking through life alone. This kind of community will always be messy and imperfect, but it will also always be worth it.