Here’s how I make it easier
Making friends as an adult comes down to one thing: Find a common interest and build an experience to share with others around it.
I thought there was something wrong with me in high school.
I didn’t have a lot of friends. Only three to be exact.
I wasn’t anti-social. I just didn’t want all the fuss and responsibilities of managing multiple friendships.
Going to parties, celebrating birthdays, dealing with girl problems, I didn’t want it.
Instead, I committed myself to a few friends.
And it’s been that way ever since.
Why is it so hard to make new friends as an adult?
Two of my oldest high school buddies are practically family now.
The other third friendship fizzled out.
As adult life unfolded, we went our separate ways. We developed our own interests and carved out our own paths.
It’s a natural part of growing up.
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed how much harder it is to make new friends.
Recently my wife told me I should have a guys night out.
I’m a stay-at-home dad, so I don’t have many opportunities to socialize with adults.
“Who would I invite out?” I asked.
“Oh… good point,” my wife responded
I’m not a loner by any stretch, but 5 months ago my wife and I moved to Baltimore, MD after spending the previous 11 years in Pittsburgh, PA.
We left a lot of friendships behind.
My wife is originally from Maryland, which means she has some family and friends in the area.
But me? I have to start from scratch. Which is a lot harder than it seems.
Like I mentioned, I’m a stay-at-home dad. My wife is the one with the job and interacts with other adult humans throughout the day.
I, however, am left to try my luck at the playground.
I’ve met other parents over the past few months. Some have become budding friendships. But the conversion rate is really low.
I believe it’s due to two things:
- At first, we share one common interest: parenting. Which is enough to begin a friendship.
- However, the major factor that determines whether we’ll meet up again or not is proximity. The farther we live apart, the less likely we’ll meet up again.
Although my experiences are a bit niche for your average 30-something, they do reveal a common truth behind building friendships:
Shared interests are important, but proximity is more so.
It’s finding the right mix between the two that makes forming new friendships as an adult so difficult.
I’m not the only one who see’s it this way.
What’s more important to a friendship — shared interests or close proximity?
Malcolm Gladwell shares an interesting perspective on the prevalence of proximity in relationships in his book, The Tipping Point:
“We’re friends with the people we do things with, as much as we are with the people we resemble. We don’t seek out friends, in other words. We associate with the people who occupy the same small, physical spaces that we do.”-Malcolm Gladwell
Until my move to Baltimore, I was certain shared interests between people mattered more.
My friends and I enjoyed the same shows. We liked the same teams. We read the same books.
However, when examining my own friendships closer I could discriminate the vast number of differences.
And it’s these differences that make us unique and excited to spend time together. Why would you want to talk to someone who’s exactly like you? That would be boring.
Proximity on the other hand, according to Gladwell, has a much greater effect on our relationships.
- Think about all the friends you’ve made at work or school or the gym.
- Think about the friends who moved away versus the ones who stayed close.
- Think about where you spend the majority of your time and who you consider your closest friends.
It’s no surprise that your relationships have been shaped by your physical location.
As we get older, we become more entrenched in our ways. We’re less likely to try new things and put ourselves in positions to meet new people.
Which as I’ve recently found out, is not entirely our fault.
Making new friends takes one thing
In today’s social media driven world, it’s hard to forge deep, authentic relationships.
However, even before social media existed, America has seen a continued downward decline of civic engagement according to Robert Putnam:
“The most whimsical yet discomfiting bit of evidence of social disengagement in contemporary America that I have discovered is this: more Americans are bowling today than ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted in the last decade or so. Between 1980 and 1998, the total number of bowlers in America increased by 10 percent, while league bowling decreased by 40 percent.”-Robert Putnam
In other words, people don’t sign up for stuff anymore.
Sporting leagues, PTAs, volunteering have all seen membership decrease in recent decades.
By not allowing ourselves to physically interact with other humans, we make it much more difficult to make new friends.
And according to Putnam, we may be putting democracy at risk by doing so — but that’s a story for another day.
For democracy’s sake and the sake of my own sanity, I realized to find new friends I needed to make an effort instead of hoping for the chance encounter.
I needed to get out there.
I needed to take a risk.
So I signed up for coed soccer.
I hadn’t played in over 10 years, but I knew by signing up I’d tackle both facets of forming friendships:
- We’d all share the same interest around something specific: soccer
- We’d all have to show up every week and physically interact with each other
After 5 months of playing, I’m happy to report I have new friends.
We even won our December league:
Signing up for an activity such as soccer takes away all the hassle of planning, inviting, and coordinating. We show up, we play, we have a good time.
This is the key to making new friends in your 30’s.
There are friendship apps and happy hours, but I believe it comes down to one thing: Find a common interest and build an experience to share with others around it.
Here are some examples (but certainly not all of them):
- Team sports
- Book clubs
- Trivia nights
- Fitness classes
- Board games
- Social clubs
There’s no easy way around it. We have to make an effort.
I know I’m sounding old fashioned, but maybe our Boomer counterparts had something going for them.
Instead of scoffing “OK, Boomer,” next time we should take their advice seriously.
Maybe it is time we put down our phones and talk to people face to face again.