If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve got kids. Even if you don’t, you’re at the very least in your late 20’s and possibly you’re my mother. Either way, you know how difficult it is to make friends as an adult. Maybe you meet a few people at a job who you hang with for a while, but then you lose touch. Or you have the friends you “used” to be friends with that are still your friends, but you don’t see them as much. Then there are the other parents at your kid’s school who you see the most and are friendly with, but aren’t really friends with. So what gives?
Here are the three things it takes to make friendships grow, and why these new friend ingredients are so hard to come by:
- repeated, unplanned interactions
- a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other
That’s according to this New York Times piece on why it’s so difficult to make friends over 30. And the reason why you have trouble making new friends once you’re over 30 is because if you’ve got 1, you probably don’t have 2 or 3. (Example: Work provides proximity, but it’s not a setting that screams, “TELL ME ALL YOUR SECRETS, LARRY.”) If you’ve got 3, you might not have 1. (Example: I’m having a blast next to you on the dance floor of this bar! Oh, you’re just visiting from Chicago? NEVER MIND.) The ideal setting to achieve all three of these things is, of course, college, which is why so many adults strain to keep their college friendships intact for the long haul.
We may all have tons of Facebook friends, but the Times piece is about why, as adults, we don’t have the kind of friends who can really help in a pinch (and not a Facebook poke). One of the reasons, they say, is because “Work friendships often take on a transactional feel; it is difficult to say where networking ends and real friendship begins.” Another theory is that if you’re coupled off, finding friends can feel like “matchmaking for two.” Regarding friendships that center around children, Louis CK said, “I spend whole days with people, I’m like, I never would have hung out with you, I didn’t choose you. Our children chose each other. Based on no criteria, by the way. They’re the same size.”
I still have four close friends from college, and I’m Facebook friendly with many more, but I only share proximity with two, and I don’t share all three friendship builders with either of them. We have to find time to be together, and it is always very planned. It seems the most important reason adults have trouble making new friends, though, is not because of how difficult it is to find the time, but because we won’t give our time away to just anyone anymore. The Times notes, “Manipulators, drama queens, egomaniacs: a lot of them just no longer make the cut.” (Can I get an amen?!)
Screenwriter Brian Koppelman notes that after you turn 30, “You’re more keenly aware of the downside” of friendship. “You’re also more keenly aware of your own capacity to disappoint.” As a result, Lisa Degliantoni, a fundraising executive, says, “I take an extremely efficient approach and seek out like-minded folks to fill very specific needs. I have a cocktail friend and a book friend and a parenting friend and several basketball friends and a neighbor friend and a workout friend.” Sound familiar?