I don’t remember making friends when I was a kid. We lived in a small, rural town and I went to church with most of the kids I went to school with, so my friends were sort of built in. In about second grade a new girl, unlike the rest of us, came to school and she didn’t fit in. I was one of the poorest kids in school, but my mom sewed nice clothes for me and I was clean. The new girl wore a thin, dirty shift of a dress like I’d seen in pictures from another era. She smelled funny, and her hair was frizzy and tangled.
Apparently I was not very intimidating because in front of everyone she walked up to me and asked, “Wanna be friends?” Just like that.
Nobody had ever asked me that before and I remember being uncomfortable but I knew it mattered to her, so I said, “Sure.” We had to hold hands for an activity in P.E. and I figured I was a good choice for her to have made “friends” with because I wouldn’t have rejected her for her differences. I didn’t have it in me.
Her family left town within a matter of days—hours maybe–but her boldness and her need to connect with somebody stayed with me.
I went through all 12 years of school with most of the same kids and I had lots of friends. I didn’t have to make them—I had them.
When I was in my early 20s, I left the state and I left my religion. I realized then that I didn’t have a method for making friends. I didn’t know how because I had never had to try.
When my kids were little, I marveled at how easily they seemed to make friends. Our street was full of kids who piled into each other’s yards and kitchens and forts and wagons and lives. Somebody would knock on the door and ask, “Can Zach play?” “Can Brittan come outside?” They came through the gates and over the fences and slept in the front room and in snow caves they built and on the trampoline. It was so easy.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if making friends could always be so easy? Wouldn’t it be great if we could walk up to somebody and ask, “Wanna be friends?”
I do know people who have tons of friends and easily make new ones. It turns out, though, that a lot of people have a hard time making friends after they get out of college, or when they break up with somebody, or realize they’ve been heavily focused on one part of their lives to the detriment of their social life, or any number of reasons.
For a long time I thought it was just me, but I’ve realized it’s pretty common. I don’t think everybody else has a truckload of friends and I don’t. I’ve just realized in recent years how tricky it can be to make new friendships as an adult, but a healthy social life is as important as everything else. We need people. We can’t necessarily climb over the neighbor’s fence, ask if they want to come outside to play, and sleep in their snow cave.
Fence climbing and snow caves aside, here are a few tips I’ve found helpful when making friends as an adult.
- Talk to people. “Whaaat?!” Yes, introduce yourself! Ask questions. Note what you have in common. Sometimes it takes guts and sometimes it’s not going to go well, but at least you tried.
- Think about joining groups—volunteer organizations, fitness teams, church groups, meet-ups, book clubs. I remember a couple of friends saying they could never go to “one of those groups where you don’t know anybody”. I’d gone to a few Meet-ups just that month and my friends thought I was nuts! It doesn’t bother me at all—they exist so you can MEET people. Some of them I had fun at but most I didn’t go to a second time. New ones start often and you can also start your own. I joined a writing group and connected to people faster than I have in years. It was the right kind of group for me at the right time.
- Make real plans. Don’t just say you should do this or that or go here or there—actually do it. Call somebody and invite him or her to meet you for a cup of coffee or go to a fun event. Invite people over. Get over your fears, whatever they are, because they’re holding you back. I knew a woman who loved throwing dinner parties and planning activities. She was great at gathering a diverse group of people together for a good time and she told me, “You socialize for the sake of socializing until you meet the people you really want to spend your time with.” I bet we would still be hanging out, but she moved back to England.
- Try-try again. Just like my socializing for the sake of socializing friend said, and trust me, I know how awkward the process can be. I’ve quit three book clubs—mostly because I just didn’t click with the group and that’s not fun. I’m in another one now . . . and I’m feeling good about it. Like I’ve said before, anything worth having is worth working for.
- Don’t compare yourself and your stuff to other people and their stuff. Just don’t. This means not only the tangible things but also relationships. I will always fall short if I compare myself to other people who seem to have more friends than I do or space and things to entertain them. I loved when I went to my friend Starr’s house and she said, “Glad you came to see me–not my house.” Perfection doesn’t matter. Stuff doesn’t matter. What matters is I that have a few people in my life who mean a lot to me, who I can call on, and who enjoy my company. True friends like me—the real me; and your true friends will like the real you.
Do you think making new friends as an adult is easy and if so, how do you reach out to people? What would you add to the list?
And, last question: Wanna be friends?