Adulting is difficult and so is making friends as a grown up

Fareeha Arshad
Victoria Quirk/Unsplash

Graduating from college and entering official adulthood is hard. That’s the thing about adult life — the hardships are unending. One such difficulty is the loss of friendships.

It happens to us all. School friends and college friends slowly drift apart as people move on to settle in different states, countries, and sometimes even different continents. After my school ended, I moved to India for my further studies, while most of my friends shifted to the States or China. When I returned to Saudi Arabia, my new college friends remained in India. If I ever wanted to hang out, it had to be virtual, which could never beat the physical presence. Despite having a dozen awesome friends, they were scattered around the world... and I felt friendless.

Making friends all over again isn’t easy — especially as a grown-up.

Sometimes friendships fall apart not because somebody moves away but due to a lack of commitment that creeps in, causing the relationship to crumble and fall apart. This is significantly more common in cases where people have other unavoidable obligations.

A study titled Romance and Reproduction Are Socially Costly conducted by the University of Oxford in 2015 revealed that people involved in romantic relationships had fewer friends than people uninvolved in any romantic sentiments. This happened because other relations took preference above the other social ties. Another similar study carried out by the Dutch sociologist Dr. Gerald Mollenhorst showed that, on average, most people lost touch with half their friends over a period of seven years.

The rapid pace of life and preoccupations have cost us our time, energy, and social relations. Not only that, most of us are losing friends faster than finding new ones. At this rate, most of us would probably end up living a friendless adult life. I don’t know about you, but I find that sad. Many studies also suggest that having good friends keep us from mental atrocities — especially depression.

Our social connections may sometimes be demanding, but they are worth pursuing. If you feel friendless or lonely like I felt a year ago, and you don’t know where to start, I have jotted down four things you can do to invest in your current friendships and foster new ones.

Own your likability

Fear of rejection is real. Coupled with a shy nature, it transforms into an atomic bomb building up — at the brink of an explosion inside — which will harm not only your mental health but also affect your emotional health.

This fear of yours stops you from reaching out to new people.

What would they think?
How would they react?
Am I that desperate?

You know, it’s much easier to assume that people already like you. I mean, why won’t they? In 1986, A study conducted by Curtis and Miller, in 1986 revealed that having a strong mindset about oneself influences their lifestyle.

If you have a positive mindset, the chances of you making good friends are much higher.

Another study conducted by the Department of Psychology of Cornell University, Harvard University, University of Essex, and Yale University also showed that most people like us more than we realize. They introduced the term ‘liking gap’ to emphasize how rampant this phenomenon is and how hard we are on our own selves.

What can you do? Go into any social gathering assuming that everybody is going to like you. This thinking will help you get over your fear of rejection. Try talking to yourself to reinforce this thought process. Keep verbally repeating how awesome you are before any event. This will give you the confidence to go out there and start friendly conversations with strangers right away.

If you think you are likeable, trust me, you already are.

You have to take the first step

In her book, ‘We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships, ’ Kat Vellos shared that her inspiration for writing the book came from being alone for a while. Wanting to make new friends, she posted on Facebook:

Who wants to go eat French fries and talk about life with me?

She received responses from people who lived in another state. In contrast, the people living in her area were all preoccupied.

Vellos wrote about the experience in her book,

I didn’t just want to eat snacks and talk about life. I was craving a different kind of life — one that would give me abundant access to friends who wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see them.

This small post made her realize that she was running out of friends and needed new ones. This experience pushed her to create an elaborate plan and execute it — which paved a path for her to meet new people whom she liked and became friends with them.

How did she reach there?

She took the first step. She realized her loneliness and did something to get out of it. Vellos made time in her schedule to meet new people and rekindle the old friendships and committed to checking in with a few people each day. Her story shows how simply taking the initiative can change our perceptions of relationships.

Any friendship does not come into being without any effort. Somebody has to take the first step. That somebody can be you.

In a study conducted by Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroedertudy, the participants were asked to reach out to their fellow train commuters.

Guess how many were shot down?


See — it may feel scary momentarily, but it isn’t that bad. Nobody will penalize you for reaching out to them.

What can you do? Go out and meet new people, introduce yourself, ask for their phone numbers, follow up. Remember how you built new friends back in kindergarten? It was your relentlessness. You repeated the same process again and again — as much as you could, as hard as you could, and as boldly as you could.

Remember your kindergarten self? Go back to it. Be relentless.

Now that you have a few contacts, you will have to mould those connections into genuine friendships. Starting a relationship is easy, but sustaining it requires constant efforts. They need continuous and repeated interactions.

Meeting once a week won’t guarantee a quick and successful friendship, but repetitive interactions may help forge a promising relationship. Enrol yourself in activities that give you many platforms to connect with each other. Attend a few classes together, nurture a common skill together, take a happy hour together, play a sport together. There are innumerable options you can take and involve yourself with them.

It’s like the mere exposure effect — where we tend to like things that we happen to see repeatedly. Our brain works the same way, even with people. We are wired to like people we see more, as opposed to the ones we see less. More exposure means more familiarity — which makes people more comfortable around the known faces. That’s the power of simply making your presence known. Try it.

What can you do? Adopt child-like stubbornness. Nobody dislikes a kid. Show up at events, classes, gatherings as much as possible. Simply making your face known makes your job much easier. Eventually, you will start feeling comfortable, and people will feel the same way about you too. Even you can’t deny — everybody likes a known face.

It’s okay to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is beautiful.

A year ago, I volunteered at a summer camp. Mentoring a bunch of teenagers was as frustrating as things can get. By the end of the four weeks of the camp, apart from being happy and relieved, I was also excited. I had made an unexpected friend there. We bonded over our shared frustrations and annoyance. Strange — I know.

But it was worth letting out all the pent up anger and struggles to someone who could relate to me. I remember the moment just before I opened up to her. I felt vulnerable and even scared of being perceived wrong. However, it paid off.

Sometimes vulnerability has the power to strengthen friendship like none other.

After you have initiated, made yourself available, showed up each time, now is the time you start being vulnerable. You are a reader, which is why you are reading this now. What connects you to the writer? What do you remember when you try to recall just one thing about an individual you met years ago?

Their story.

Many studies have shown the power of vulnerability — sharing your story — that is what connects you to them, and that is what will connect you to others.

What can you do? Share some things about yourself, get them involved and ask them about their life too. You don’t have to share everything from your personal life; you could share about your likes and dislikes or the challenges you are facing now — anything that could get you to talk to them and know them better.

Quick Takeaways:

  1. You cannot make friends without active participation. It requires deliberate efforts from both ends. You will have to involve yourself in further interactions with the people you want to be friends with. The easiest way to do this is by making plans to hang out together as often as possible.
  2. You already are likeable. Remember that. Own your likeability. Your uniqueness makes you more likeable, so don’t try to just fit in. Show up everywhere and be yourself.
  3. Introduce yourself as often as possible until your face doesn’t feel foreign anymore. Somebody has to talk first in a conversation, and that somebody can be you. This is where your elevator pitch can come in handy. You could practice a couple of lines beforehand.
  4. Sometimes being vulnerable is the hardest you may have to do. But nothing works like bonding over a shared interest or common anxiety. You could open about anything — big or small and then follow up with harmless questions for them to talk to. Don’t make everything about yourself.
Reach out. Show up. Be there.

Making new friends in adult life can be intimidating, and it requires you to put in the effort and open up. It’s a scary thing. But it’s equally rewarding too.

All you have to do is start with a ‘hello.’

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I mostly write about history and science.

Texas State

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