Making Friends Is About Building Something With Another Person
Patients sometimes come into my NYC therapy practice asking about how to make friends as an adult. It is, of course, much, much harder than when you’re younger. When you’re in college, high school or even, still new to the workplace, the opportunities to meet people organically are fairly plentiful. School and the lifestyle right after school provide such a fertile ground for friendship–lots of people of roughly the same age and interest, as well as less family and intimate partner demands. The older you get, the more outgoing you need to be in order to make friends.
But, making friends isn’t primarily a quantitative phenomenon. Friendship is about building something with another person. Sure, if you’re going to make new friends, you need to meet new people, but it’s very likely that you know a good deal of people and meet a good number of people already. It’s not always about looking for new people, but seeking to get closer to the people who are already in your life. The question is: How are you engaging with these people?
Be Open To Different Kinds Of Friendships–Even The Quirky Ones
It’s important to make room for different kinds of friendships. Not every friend needs to be terribly close. Be open to diverse friends too–friends who are much older or younger, who are at different places in their lives and who are perhaps demographically similar, but just different.
With friends, the perfect is often the enemy of the good. You often have to ignore or even, embrace friends’ individual quirkiness. Quirkiness tends to hang out more as people get older. This may also just be a matter of perception–the older we get, the more fixed in our worldview we are and so when someone’s worldview contrasts with ours, we are more likely to be bothered by it. Some behavior we shouldn’t tolerate with friends such as unkindness or complete self-obsession, but it’s nearly impossible to build something with someone when you’re focused on what’s a turn-off about them.
People, in general, are weird. People have strange obsessions and worries, are fussy over routines, have quirks in their relationships with their spouses or partners, work too much, are lazy, are always late, etc. What if you decided to let these things go and maybe even, appreciate them–finding a way to ignore the quirks and cultivate friendships that aren’t so contingent on people having it all together or not acting odd sometimes. Go out for a beer, go for a run, play golf, and figure out what you can do well together and celebrate.
Resistance To Getting Close With Friends Is Sometimes Obscured
Making friends is also a question of how open you are to getting closer. There are often emotional reasons for a kind of resistance to getting closer and making friends. This can include worry that people won’t like you, being judgmental (which is really just self-protection around a fear of not being liked) or being shy (and many adults feel embarrassed about this, as if they should have figured it out by now).
This resistance to getting close is often obscured from view and can express itself in ways that aren’t always necessarily obvious. All the time in my therapy groups, for example, someone has the experience hearing from someone else in the group or the group as a whole that they come across in a particular way that surprises them. Frequently, we discover that not wanting to bother anyone, assuming people won’t like you, or being interested and not wanting to be pushy comes across as standoffish or intimidating.
Embracing Awkwardness When Making Friends
When talking in therapy about a desire to make more friends, a lot of adults tell me that when they think about asking someone if they want to grab a drink, whether they’re at an after-school pickup, hanging out at a kid’s birthday party, or chatting with a neighbor in an elevator, they feel similar to approaching a girl or boy at a junior high dance. There’s often a desire in therapy to figure out how to change that. Patients will ask me, “What’s a good way to invite someone to get closer and to not have it feel so awkward?”
While there are a few guidelines, at the end of the day, it might just be awkward. But, guess what? You have to do it anyway. At some point, maybe without skill and maybe risking rejection, you’ve got to invite someone for coffee. Awkwardness becomes less overwhelming when we stop trying to make it go away. Ironically, it often, then, becomes less awkward.