It’s late at night and I’m scrolling through Facebook when an acquaintance’s post gives me pause: “How do adults make friends?”
I don’t know this person very well, ironically, but her words resonate deeply. As a grown-ass woman, it seems like I should have such a basic life skill down. And yet, sometimes I am lonely. Sometimes I wish I had more friends. Sometimes I wonder why it can’t it be as easy as it was in first grade.
Now, decades later, this woman’s post struck a chord. Not just with me, but with dozens of others who jumped into her comments to offer advice or commiserate. Because let’s face it, the older we get, the harder it is to build real, meaningful friendships.
In school it’s, relatively speaking, easier to make friends. That’s because you’re thrown into each other’s company, day in and day out. You share classes and bus rides.
Start “adulting” however, and friendships too often take a back burner to myriad obligations: Work, bills, partners, maybe kids. It’s tough maintaining the friendships you have, much less making new ones.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: It’s tough, but not impossible. Here’s five tips on how to create a sustainable and satisfying friend network.
It seems like a simple rule but it’s often the toughest to follow. Friendships require maintenance. This means regular conversations and hang-out sessions. Schedule them way in advance if necessary. Literally block out dates out on your calendar and plan, plan, plan.
Favorite band or speaker coming to town? Offer to buy a pair of tickets. Dying to try that trendy new restaurant? She’s probably eager to check it out as well.
The returns on this kind of investment will be paid out for years to come, says Shasta Nelson, author and founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a “friendship learning” community. Such relationships help us literally live our best life because they “increase and enhance the positivity in our lives,” she says.
Sometimes it’s smart to take that very direct, kindergarten-like approach. I realized this when a casual friend mentioned her book club. I felt comfortable enough to take the leap and ask if they were open to new members. They were and, in fact, I’d soon learn my book club has an open door policy.
Fast-forward a few years and not only am I closer to that once-casual pal, I’ve also gained a circle of smart and funny women who like discussing books almost as much as they like drinking wine and talking about TV.
A “like” is cold comfort when you’re in need of real interaction. Social media has great uses (kitten videos, political memes, travel photos,) but it’s no substitute for tangible experiences.
Plus, too much browsing can sometimes make you feel lousy about your own social life or lack thereof. Oh look, everyone’s posting brunch selfies—why weren’t you invited? Log off and text a friend or, better yet, call them and see if they want to hang out IRL.
Social media does have some positive outcomes, Nelson says, because it “can help us create consistency—we feel like we know what’s going on with our friends, even when we can’t see them all the time.” Still, it’s important to know when to not let it stand in for the real thing.
“It’s better to call a friend and talk for 20 minutes then spend 20 minutes thumbs-upping each others’ posts. If you’re in need of deeper friendships, don’t let social media take up that space,” Nelson says.
We’re all too busy, but sometimes you have to cut each other slack. Recently I was out to dinner with a BFF. As we lamented how long it had been since we’d last hung out, she looked me in the eye. “You don’t ever have to worry about going too long without talking to me,” she said. “I’m always here and I know you’re always there for me.”
Those words meant the world, not because they were a pass to let our friendship slide, but because they felt like an oath to not let time-crunches be the end of us.
Rate your friends
No, really. Nelson says it’s important to realize that not all friendships are created equal. Instead, think of how they fall on a diagram. A period of friendship needs, if you will. Some friendships are thicker than blood, some are merely the casual cocktails-after-work kind.
That doesn’t mean you’re creating a hierarchy of worth, just that each friendship has its own, unique worth and understanding these differences will help you know where to invest your time, and when.
Sure, we all want a ride-or-die, “but not every friendship is going to be a ’10,’” Nelson says. “Friendships don’t have to be all or nothing.”