Monday, April 9, 2018

Finding Friends as an Adult

Today I'm going to a Steven Universe party with other adults who like Steven Universe. We're gonna watch cartoons and eat food inspired by the show.

I'm bringing Fire Salt Donuts!

I've mentioned my plans to others and many of them are like "UGH I WISH I HAD FRIENDS WHO DID THIS KIND OF THING." And less specifically, some of them say they wish they had groups of friends at all.

How do you make friends as an adult?

I get this question a lot from other people my age. Many of my contemporaries complain about not really having any friends outside their romantic partner and their workplace (and the workplace friends are often just kind of friends of convenience that you get a drink with after work rather than hang out with over common interests). Unless you still have friends you kept in touch with from when you were in school, many adults just pretty much lose the ability to make new friends, and they become sort of lonely or frustrated.

I don't have this problem at all.

My response to this question of how to make friends as an adult is in two parts.

Part One: Some have noticed that I tend to keep friends for a long time. My oldest close friends are from 1994, 1996, and 2000 respectively. Two of them were not local for the majority of our friendship. What makes it work?

The obvious: communication.

What is a friend, to you? Is it someone to do things with, or is it a person you maintain a connection with? Ideally it's both, but some of my closest friends are people I don't see often. If long-distance friendships aren't giving you what you want out of a friendship, I'm kinda sorry to hear that since mine are so fulfilling, but you've got to figure out what you want out of a friendship if you want to learn from there how to maintain them. Maintaining friendships often requires a person to take initiative; you can't just keep expecting to automatically see the person at church or expecting them to invite you. Decide what your ideal is when it comes to that friendship, and then engage the person you want to keep in contact with. Find out what kind of communication they like and then use that--text them sometimes even if you don't want to do anything, give them a call to chat, invite them to things you're doing, ask them if they want to go eat or see a movie. Keep in touch--don't just let months go by without talking to someone and then expect them to be ready to jump in with friend activities whenever you want that.

This is obviously easier said than done because most of us have busy lives, and sometimes that's difficult to coordinate with other people who have busy lives. It's especially difficult if, say, the other person has a demanding career, relationships and/or children, or is always involved in time-consuming projects that preclude regular contact. But if the person's schedule just doesn't have room for you--or you're feeling like they're pushing you away--then that's not going to be a good friend for you. It's okay if your relationship gets sort of downgraded--that's valuable too, even if it isn't what you ideally want--but when the other person can't accommodate how you want to friend, or doesn't want to, then you can't force it.

So if you want that longstanding connection to stay a friend, reach out, and make yourself available too.

Part Two: Common interests.

In addition to keeping old friends, you'll want to meet new friends. If no one in your existing network is inviting you to things you want to do and you just feel like nobody interesting is talking to you, focus on one of your interests and see what's out there.

This is easier than you think. You can meet people at activist meetings you hear about from joining Facebook groups about causes you support. You can meet people taking a class (even free ones!) at a local art store or cooking school or gardening club. You can meet people at a book club or writing workshop. See what's on the library's event list. Look at the posted events at a cafe and see if anyone's doing open mic nights or live music you might be into. Check out signs at the gym or the YMCA or a yoga group to see if anyone's organizing a just-for-fun kickball league or a hiking club. See if there's a knitting group posted at your craft store; look at what's available at the music store for groups of people to learn an instrument together; see if there's a local event surrounding theater or movies that you might be into. Maybe you want to find other people into tabletop games or video games you like; sometimes game stores have tournaments or events. If you have kids, you can sometimes meet other parents at your kids' lessons or preschools or just in a park. If you're part of an identity group that's less common and you want to connect with others like yourself, find out if that demographic has a local group and a website; you'd be surprised what's out there. And if it seems like one of your friends is going to a lot of stuff you wish you were invited to, ask to be included or find out if your area has something similar. actually has some great options for if you sign up with your own interests, and it's free to be a member. (It's not free to start a group, but you can do that too if you feel it's worth spending the money.) Listen to local-interest podcasts to find stuff you might not know about. Internet-searching an interest and your city can come back with an amazing list of groups or events you can try.

This might seem kinda cheesy at first glance, because some people turn their noses up at intentionally joining a group or taking a class to find friends. But how did you find friends when you were younger? Well, you kinda got forced together through an accident of proximity, didn't you. And if you made college friends, you probably made friends with them at least in the context of being in the same major or educational focus. You had something in common but it might not have been much, and if you're in a situation where nobody's left from those days, maybe it's because there was nothing to do together or talk about anymore. Joining an interest-based club can fix this.

My best friend since high school is someone I've kept in my life since then and we do have common interests. My friend that I met in 1996 was an Internet friend who has some overlapping interests. My 2000 friend was initially an Internet friend too, and we initially connected over common interests. All of them have a rapport with me beyond that, but it started with us having something to talk about.

My wider friend group consists of people I met through anime interests, OKCupid meetups, writing connections, and activism. The party I'm going to today is being thrown by someone I don't know very well whom I met through attendance at Queer Brunch, and I found out about Queer Brunch because I got invited by a friend I initially met online through Facebook. My Drink and Draw group is run by a guy I met at an OKCupid meetup. Many of my friends there are people from that group or friends of friends. Some of my connections have been accidents, but some of them are also pretty intentional.

The important part of this is to not just sit back and expect friends to find you. That can happen, but you can also find them--and when you do the looking and choosing, sometimes the results are worth it.

We have this cultural myth in our society that all we need is our romantic partner and our family to be happy; that you're supposed to be satisfied with that and your work, and that any other relationships you have are just kind of . . . fluffy, unnecessary, peripheral. If you're happy that way, okay, great! But many people are not, and they also don't know what the problem is because they're taught they shouldn't have those needs. But friendships are great, and they also make romantic partnership more satisfying because you're not sitting there expecting to have all your social needs fulfilled by your partner(s). If it makes you feel kinda nostalgic for your high school or college days whenever you see your peers enjoying activities with their friends, it's probably because you have a need that isn't being met. 

That said? Not everyone needs a ton of friends or "people to do stuff with." Especially when we're younger, we get pressured to be VERY social, and we also get shamed for being "pathetic" if we don't have, like, pals to go get trashed with on the weekend. It's weird how the expectation changes as we become mature adults, but I'm not writing this to say all adults need active social lives to be happy. I actually wish I had less of a social life even though the people I connect with make me very happy and are important to me. I'm not a "people person" and I'd rather spend MORE time alone than I do. But it really is nice to know those people are there if I do want or need a distraction or a connection or a fun time. And I'm happy to be there for them too.

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