Making new friends as an adult

How have you made deep friendships as an adult?

It seems that as we get older it's harder to replicate those cohort experiences (e.g. school, university) where you share so much time with people who are in the same situation as you.

I guess it's part of growing up, but it feels as though it should be possible to create those conditions as an adult if you really wanted to. The conditions I'm referring to are having shared interests, sharing your day-to-day, seeing each other through highs and lows (not just the highs of meeting up for a coffee/dinner), going through an intense bonding experience (e.g. studying for an exam, navigating a tough personal situation).

Do you think it takes more time to make friendships as an adult? Given that we're not spending time as intensively with friends/acquaintances as we used to at school?

I've definitely created deep friendships through work when I worked in-person, but it's definitely more of a challenge now that I work remotely.

Those of you who work remote, how have you navigated making new, genuine friendships as an adult? Curious to hear what's worked for you!

I feel like I haven't had friends in years.We have moved a lot, we are busy, we have kids younger than the people we want to hang out with. There's too many variables than "we are in the same class".
Right, I supposed it's a lot more nuanced than just being in the same class. Thanks for this insight!
I have, quite successfully, made the relationships you seek.Quick tips:Remote bonding requires directly stating more than you would face-to-face. You have to engage more, be a bit stronger about projecting your personality during sessions, and be the one that engages at least initially most of the time. If someone says something in a meeting, that may mean sending a quick DM saying, "I feel that way too!" and elaborating as time allows.Create the routines and rhythm for connection. Turn a quick DM conversation into either an audio one. I have a lot of phone conversations, because they allow me and someone else to walk for 20 minutes. Not every conversation needs to be video. Studies show you can actually pick up body language through voice.Make time - this is often challenging at work. Routines help. Particularly if you're the one seeking the relationship, you'll put in most of the effort at least initially. In a good relationship, this should roughly balance out. Early on, it will absolutely feel like you're doing all the work with everyone. You may want to pace how you initiate with people and phase people in.Find ways to differentiate people. When you work remote, it's very easy for people to blend in with each other. Phone calls bring a voice, video calls can give you a sense of how people emote and carry their body, and sometimes, preferred emojis can signal someone's style. Find ways to discern difference or everyone is a mental amorphous blob.Friendships fill roles - most of them tend to be fairly shallow, but a few really deepen because they fill multiple roles. Going to dinner - that's a role. Sharing pains or grief - also a role, but not one everyone is willing to fill. I'm attaching an image with a "friendship pyramid" in Arabic. I'll defer to Arabic speakers on accuracy, but this calls out some roles and levels of "depth." There's other roles, but I like this graphic a lot.Probably the hardest thing I had to learn: lower your expectations. Few relationships really evolve into those deep friendships we dream of or that make the movies. Most have a season (workplace ones), some stick around longer, and very few make it to the top of the mountain. You want a varied diet of friendships and to be at peace where each one lands (for introverts, this last piece can be hard, since we "build" relationships slowly).Longer thoughts:Your early 20's are all about finding yourself. We tend to find cohorts easily because (1) we're less fixed on who we are (2) the identity is still fairly shallow (3) cohorting in a space, as you mentioned with a key interests already defined (major). As we mature from that point, we refine, whittle down weaker links, and settle into longer tethered relationships (key communities, partnering, marriage, children, etc). As these longer relations settle or mature (ex: kids becoming more autonomous, career changes), we may find ourselves lacking other durable relationships (late 30's and 40's). At this point, we have a strong sense of self (it may not feel like it, but we do), and validate this by finding relationships outside the mirror. You redefine by enriching the pot. It becomes less about shared roles and more about shared values. You may still find that one mirror that's slightly different that's extraordinarily validating.We often seek friends who are an exact mirror of us. As roles diverge, our experiences further refine us and make our experiences more unique. Students at college have a lot more overlap than people in a workplace. Friendships later in life may align on one facet but not many others. We have to get good at integrating people into the greater fabric of our lives. Think stew or curry, not ice cream. You want a lot of varied flavors in the pot. What basic values are must-haves for you?Introverts and extroverts bond differently. Cross group friendships can cause a lot of friction here. Introverts generally build slowly, seek deeper connections from fewer relations, and want more "protein" than "salad". Extroverts thrive on a highly varied diet, with clearer roles for what each person fills. They don't require as much protein, because they get their nutrients from a variety of sources. In-group, they play by the same rules. Across groups, there's a lot of confusion - the introverts think in terms of building and deepening, whereas extroverts slot relationships into specific size containers. Ambiverts can vary between extremes wildly, adding even more confusion. The more you understand where you fall (I'm highly introverted) and others who you're looking to bond with are, the better clarity you have to both your patterns and theirs.Corey Keyes has a great book called "Languishing" - he has 1 section specifically towards social wellbeing. Often, when we look for friends, we're missing parts of social well-being and at times, psychological and emotional as well. I found it very helpful to identify where I was flourishing versus languishing, because you can then address that specific aspect. The pandemic fissured a lot of supports and this book can help spot those. Best of luck!
Bridget, I LOVE how this graphic breaks friendship down. Thank you for sharing it.I'm trying to think of the book I read last year, that talked about and *measured* friendships based on the amount of time spent - It was incredible information, and your graphic brings that to mind.
I'd be curious what the book is. Anne Helen Peterson is writing one on friendships and it's one I'm looking forward to reading once it's out. I really like the graphic too, because it addresses a little bit of that time spent, but specifically the quality.
I think it was in "Find your people" by Jennie Allen. I have a screenshot of the page. This article also shares the same information:
Excellent! I've been hunting for the primary source for this. Thank you for sharing!
My pleasure!
Wow, thank you for this Bridget! This has given me so much food for thought. I especially like the idea of accepting that friendships fill different roles. I also really appreciate your longer thoughts on identity and how as this evolves the pool of people that we want to become friends with becomes more refined. And thank you for the book recommendation! I've just downloaded the sample – excited to read it and gather some more insights!
Making friendships as an adult is one of the hardest things, but I've always had a hard time fitting in and finding people I can relate to, even at school. Most of my closest friendships developed in my late twenties and early thirties, so I can't relate to people who have had the same friends since middle school. I started my current job remotely and it was tough as everyone on my team already knew each other and had a strong bond. I found it helpful to set up 1:1s with everyone to ask questions about a particular task and get to know them, even if it was only 15 minutes. It gave me a better sense of who everyone one was and what I kinds of things I can ask them.I've found it more beneficial making friends outside of work by joining and Bumble. It can feel intimidating at first, but I think it's important to remember that you don't have to be friends with everyone you meet and that some connections may not work out. That's OK. Also, everyone feels just as awkward as you do, so acknowledge it and don't let it get in the way.I think it's good to evaluate your expectations and not set the standard to become BFFs with everyone you meet. You're looking for a couple of people you can become good friends with and that will take time. There are some Meetups I've joined for writing and virtual puzzles so I feel like I'm connecting and getting to know folks, even if we don't become BFFs. I like having different levels of friends and acquaintance groups so I can feel less alone and know there are people who enjoy the same things.When I meet people I really connect with and want to see more often, I'll set reminders on my phone to catch up with people with a quick text message or DM because adult life gets busy! It may sound weird, but it helps me stay in touch with the people that matter most and that's all you need.
Yeah, I totally get you on the not having the same friends from middle school. I've moved around a lot throughout my childhood and now adulthood, so I'm used to developing and investing in newer friendships. Ah yes, I've been looking into Meet Up and Bumble as well since I've recently moved to a new city! Thanks for these recommendations :) And on the topic of setting reminders, a slight variation: I have a friend who sets up reminders on her phone for her friends' important life events e.g. an exam, first day at a new job, moving to a new city, getting surgery so that she can send them a short message wishing them good luck, safe travels, etc. Thought that was a nice touch to make others feel seen and be part of their day-to-day!
I like the idea of setting reminders for friends’ life events so you can wish them well. A good way to show you’re thinking of them and that you care.
Do you think it takes more time to make friendships as an adult? I don't think it takes more time necessarily. I'm 46, and in my experience I would say that as life has played out I've witnessed shifted priorities in myself and others, which changes how and why we connect. Not to mention that everyone seems to find themselves in different stages of life at different times. If feels like, when we were younger, the "playing field" of what we connected over was more focused, but as we grow and age and life unfolds, we become more dynamic, and where we focus our energy is directly related to 1) what's important/prioritized in our life, or 2) the habitual ways of being we've developed along the way (for instance - focus on family, career, or you just won't let yourself get unfamiliar enough to pursue other friendships outside of the ones you've had for years - "You" in general, not you specifically). I also feel like most of us are desperately wanting to be "seen", but don't want to be looked at. As a whole we've trended away from being vulnerable enough to relate to on a deeper level, and sometimes that's because we're torn in so many directions that our capacity simply won't allow our thoughts to settle long enough to share anything other than superficial check-ins (which can be well meaning, but don't curate deep trust and connection). For myself, I don't have any friends from when I was in school, and I only have about 3 that I've been friends with for more than 15 years. I have 3 friends that I'm incredibly close with - one I used to work with (we were hot messes in our twenties, but developed a deep rooted respect for each other that is now a friendship full of love AND we've both grown as humans), one was my AirBnB guest, and one was someone I randomly connected with a few years ago - we stayed in touch, and our vulnerable conversations have led to a deeper friendship). As for meeting new people - I dive into things I love to do, outside of work (but lucky for me my work is something I love to do AND somewhere I get to connect with others as well). If I have a passion in something, or an interest, or even think I might like it, I'll try it. From cardio drumming to connection events to movies in the park to pickle-ball, I'm constantly exploring things that light me up, and where I find other humans that are lit up too. I also feel like approaching potential new friendships is best practiced with NO expectations, including the timeline around how the friendship "should" develop. It's through more meaningful, honest, and authentic conversation that I've experienced beautiful sparks with friendly souls. P.S. A great book about curating amazing friendships is "A Tribe Called Bliss" by Lori Harder. I can't tell you how many copies of that book I've gifted to clients and friends.
Thank you for these thoughts, Marie! I especially liked this point about "most of us are desperately wanting to be "seen", but don't want to be looked at." Uff! And also the idea of letting yourself get unfamiliar enough to pursue other friendships outside of the ones you've had for years. Happy to hear you're doing what you love and have found friendships through that!
Yeah, that "desperate to be seen but don't look at me" trend hurts my heart. I'm someone who tries to "see" others as often as possible. But we can only be seen to the extent we allow ourselves to be. And there are plenty of reasons that THAT is scary for most. Eye contact, big smiles, deep hugs, allowing emotions..... all of those things humanize and connect us. Most of those things aren't practiced nearly enough because we're jaded or scarred or guarded or distracted. I practice "cracking" my heart wide open as often as possible, because it allows my light to shine AND brings out the light in others. Thank you for SEEING me. I appreciate you!
Thank YOU!
Work is a great way to meet people, but I'd encourage you to look outside of your job as well! 12 years ago, in my late thirties, my partner and I moved to a very small rural town, where I worked remotely. We don't have kids, so I lost out on two big social drivers to meet people - jobs and kids. I had to put myself out there a LOT - I volunteered for a lot of different organizations in town so I could meet people, and eventually made some great friends. It took time, because it's no longer baked into your daily life, but it was also a great way to become involved in the community and feel a part of something beyond work.
Thank you for this Lucy! Volunteering is a great idea – I'm going to look into it in my city. Just moved here, so excited to check out what opportunities are available!
Things that have worked for me: 1. Exploring activities that interest me /I am passionate about e.g. I joined the rowing club out of a genuine interest to learn the art of flow. An unexpected gift was that I made like-minded friends (most of them much older than me, from their 50s up to even 60s). If I met any of these friends outside of rowing I'd never have guessed that we would become friends. Yet because of our shared passion / interest and our commitment to showing up 2 times weekly at 7am, whatever the weather, to row on the river, we created strong bonds. In a similar way, I'm a part of virtual communities like CaveDay and CreativeMornings because of my interest in creativity, co-working, and have made like-minded friends and even found paid projects through these. 2. Challenging your assumptions: Most of us have some assumptions about the kind of friend we will enjoy / want, where and how we might find them and so on. This was definitely me in the beginning. In relation to #1 I'd say, just be open. Be open to whose company you might enjoy, as they might surprise you, you might surprise yourself. 3. Organising events to attract like-minded people / people whom I would enjoy. This is not for everyone, but is very effective. If you don't find a community / event / space you desire, then create it! When I moved to Turin from Singapore, I was missing a community to co-work with and be held accountable. So with my partner we co-created Tuesday Tribe, a weekly Tuesday co-working group. Through that I made my first close friend in Turin, who remains a good friend (though our relationship has changed since she entered motherhood). Then 1-2 years later, I was really feeling alone being a digital entrepreneur in Turin. So I organised a digital entrepreneurs meetup and 13 people came. Out of these 13 people, I made one of my best friends ever (we even worked on a podcast together, and are still co-creating together). Last year, craving a space for deep connections, I organised monthly 'Deep Talk Circles' where strangers could come together, skip the small talk and connect in an intimate and meaningful way over our hopes, dreams and fears. Through these circles I got to know many others, and made a special new friend, and she's a part of a small group of 3 of us of meet monthly to review our month, share our goals and dreams for the upcoming month (also my initiative). 4. Regularly forcing myself to attend things that make me uncomfortable, including larger gatherings (which I used to think wasn't 'my kind of thing' as I prefer smaller groups of max 5-6 to get to know people properly). Recently I went to a formal dinner which was the inauguration for myself into the rowing club (I joined officially as a member). Though it was formal, I actually had a really nice time and it was a good opportunity to make shallow connections with others (which might be deepened). My participation in the event also encouraged my other friends to join, making it more enjoyable. 5. Go for things alone (as opposed to with your friend). When you go alone, it becomes easier to get to know someone new. Despite being an extrovert, I routinely do things alone, like traveling, exploring a new place to eat, get coffee etc. Through this I've made friends, had people buy me coffee, show me around... most recently I spent an entire afternoon walking with a 60+ year old resident of Nervi, in Genova, Italy, sharing our life stories with each other. It all started because I was on the seaside walking path alone, he saw me alone, and asked me what time it was. 6. Express your desire / feelings honestly and courageously: With people whose company I enjoy, I say it plainly to them. I don't hesitate to let them know (even in the initial stages) that the conversation was stimulating for me, I had fun, would like to spend more time with them etc. Like dating, with platonic relationships I find sometimes we can beat around the bush a lot. If I meet someone interesting whom I want in my life, I go for it. This makes it much easier for the person to reciprocate, because they know you appreciate them / enjoy their company. 7. Go beyond what this person / friendship can give / do for you: Just as with life, a job, a partner, often we ask, what can this give me? I think rather than that, I enjoy the question, 'what / how can we co-create together?'. How might we add value to each others' lives? Whether that is in a small (e.g. making an afternoon walk by the sea more enjoyable) or big ways (e.g. supporting someone through a difficult career transition). Whether that is by inspiring, supporting (emotionally/physically/in practical ways), lightening up / uplifting etc... For me, life = the people you meet + the magic you create together. 8. BONUS: Shamelessly ask more of / trouble others. This is a big one, and also related to #6. I've had a few strong friendships / connections forged in the recent 2-3 years now precisely because I asked more from them / challenged them. Asking others to help you, co-create with you, offer you their time / energy / money deepens the relationship. An example - after we met for the first time at the digital entrepreneurs meeting I organized, my friend and I were texting and she said I would be welcome to visit her home / artist studio in the mountains and spend the night anytime. Most people would think that is just lip service would not take on the offer. Instead I was immediately, 'Yes I would love to, when?'. She is now one of my best friends...With friendships it's really important to know clearly what you're hoping for, so you know where and how to find it. For me, I knew clearly that inspiration, fresh perspectives and ideas, and accountability the top priority for me (as opposed to say, friends for emotional support, to do activities with, etc.)It's also important to be patient with yourself, and compassionate with others while fostering the connection, because as with all good things, they take time. You don't always hit it off with others immediately. And many people are like onions, as you peel the outer layers they reveal more of themselves and sometimes it can surprise you in a good way... I think life is too short to let brilliant / interesting people pass you by. We tend to have this perspective for jobs / opportunities, but relationships are completely the same! If you meet a person you feel intrigued by, (whether romantic or platonic), don't let shyness / politeness / whatever other reason hold you back. GO FOR IT. On this topic, relationships in general, these 3 articles I've written may be helpful:
Wow thank you so much for all of this! I really enjoyed reading your rowing example. It's so true that we have so many assumptions over who we might get along with and it's a good idea to challenge these every now and then. So many great tips just in this post, I'll also definitely check out the articles you're written as well. Thankyou!
Ah, this!! I worked for a company that I joined in 2019. We were not very big at the time but shortly after I joined, Covid hit and we actually grew a lot after lockdown ended. During that time though, we were remote and left it up to the employees if they wanted to come into the office or not. After a bit of time, the company decided back to work in office a few days a week. But almost everyone fought it. I was in charge of planning ways to encourage in office attendance. We tried snacks, occasional lunches/breakfasts, after hours meet ups, in office game days. Hardly anyone wanted to attend any of them. A lot of them said they had children and wanted to get home to attend their sporting events or after school activities. It became near impossible to connect with these now strangers I worked alongside with. Even now, I also struggle with making deep connected friendships with people and I’m in a new job in a new city. It’s like in the office they will share some conversation about this or that, but after work ends, so does the friendship. I feel like I’ve been forced into being an introvert! That’s why I now I have 5 dogs. 🐾❤️🫶🏻
Dog's are wo(man)'s best friend, so you got yourself 5! Love that. Ah yes, I can totally relate to this. I've also just moved to a new city and haven't made any new friends yet. Though I also haven't given it a fair chance yet since I'm just settling in and also moved here with my partner. I hope to engage more with the city and its people soon though! Thanks for sharing your experience – returning to work from remote is tough to implement!
The absolute best friends I've made were from volunteering. Find something you care about enough to give your time and go do it. You'll fine a lot of people just like you.
Maybe one other thought. I do find that most of my religious friends have a lot of good, deep friendships with people who are local, even if they've recently moved to an area. If you used to belong to a religion and no longer do, rekindling it could be a big help in finding meaningful friendships.
I have struggled so much with making friends as an adult, without the social circles or friends-of-friends connections it is really hard! My husband and I are mid 30s, no kids, living in a small-ish town in California. We are active and I go to meetups, yoga frequently, joined Bumble BFF, etc, but it's been two years and I still feel like I don't have close girlfriends here. It's difficult because we escaped city living in the Bay and love the town we are in but may have to consider elsewhere if we don't manage to make close friends in the next year or so.
If we analyze how we made friends while in college or at a younger age, it was because we gave the time to nurture them. Sometimes, we were forced by circumstances to spend more time together (e.g. in labs etc.) and that is how we got the time to bond as friends. The key to developing friendships while working remotely is to find/make opportunities to meet in person. This may either be with colleagues (if they live close by) -- or with other people in the community -- where you can volunteer, join clubs etc. I have found that gym or yoga studio are never the best places to make friends, because you end up checking in, doing your thing and leaving. It's very transactional and we don't make friends in a transactional setting.Anyway -- so look around you and see what opportunities there are to mingle with like minded people. HTH.
Time, effort and habitats like school, work, leisure and activity clubs etc. are natural environments that spark opportunities for friendships. It is not difficult to make friends as an adult when you're willing to get out there, participate / share in an activity that you are passionate about. I've made friends in university and at work when I moved from the Philippines to Chicago. Same in New York, social dance clubs. In San Francisco, I met my best friend and now life partner of 12+ years. Now that we're in Portland, OR and Europe...we're rekindling friendships with friends who relocated to Portland and Europe. And when we have more time, make room for new friends. :-) Admittedly, making new friends has become tough for me to prioritize because of my busy schedule and priorities. And I'm totally comfortable with that for the time being.
It’s incredibly hard when you get past 45 in particular - even if you go to the Meetups etc. it’s been harder to find people who share my interests. I still go clubbing but also do it rarely and my finances are tight; the people I meet all see to have stable jobs and are find spending $200 each on food and drinks. I wish I could find my group and look to when I move to a new city as the way to find them. This city is too rude anyway
Work at a co-working space.I also think people discount online relationships. It's very hard to find forums these days, but they are out there. I do have close friends on forums and through online hobby groups.So many women want to chase the "standard" nuclear family (at least in the west) that the only socialization they ever get is their children, other parent groups, and their partner. Look for a weekly club, find a Meetup group and remember - it may not be the first group that you click with and that's fine!
I agree that it's tough to make friends as an adult. I have met a lot of new folks by pursuing my hobbies in a social way. Running. Fitness. Dance. Volleyball. Even a support group. Not everyone turns into a friend though. Reflecting on those who did, I would say it was a mix of ...1) Being authentically myself. Ignoring the voice in my head telling me "if you say that out loud, they'll think you're weird" or "if they found out X about you, they might judge you." So what if they do? Why would I want to be friends in that case? The more myself I am around people, the closer I felt to them. 2) Being vulnerable to some extent. For example, I made a lot of close friends through burlesque classes, when we were undressing in front of each other and creating art together - sometimes based on very real and personal experiences. I also made friends through a monthly support group, where we were not only bonding over a commonality but sharing very real and vulnerable experiences. 3) Activities that had some kind of frequency - weekly classes or run clubs, monthly support groups or book clubs. People will start to recognize you and the more time you're together, the more you learn about each other. 4) Reliability. It's so easy to flake out these days. We're tired and busy and there's a million other things we could do. By regularly showing up to our regular event or following through when we make plans, I demonstrate that I'm accountable and reliable. 5) Being willing to reach out to make plans. It's so easy to put this off or wait for someone else to do it. Be willing to be the one to ask first.
It’s been more difficult for me to make friends post-college. People just seem so busy. Life continues to be tougher for my generation in many ways and I think many just don’t have extra time to socialize away from the hustle, raising family, etc.