When you are growing up, its easy to make friends, because everyone you hang around is in a similar life stage; everyone is worried about passing their driver’s test, so your conversations can all stem around how to answer the questions on the test; everyone is applying for college, so your conversations can revolve around your anxieties, fears, and dreams of the ever so near future; everyone is graduating, so your conversations can include what flavor cake you want at your party. Because life is semi-standard and prescribed, you can bond with people your own age, because everyone is going through very similar events.
Then, you find yourself at my age, and realize you have no adult friends. Being a 20-Something is such an awkward age, because everyone seems to be at different, random stages; you have some very, very single friends that you predict to be a VERY long time until they feel like settling down; you have some half-single, half-in-a-serious-relationship friends, who are on the verge of engagement/are newly married, and are spending their time, investing in wedding stationary and colors; you have some way-past married friends who already have screaming children, and suddenly, life is not so standard or prescriptive anymore, and you find yourself at a loss for adult friends, because no one seems to be exactly where you are. So, how exactly does one make adult friends?…
1.Join a Bible study: Well, it does not have to necessarily be a Bible study, but some kind of structured activity where you meet people. I’ve met some great friends via Bible study, but I’ve also met some great friends playing adult softball, volunteering, at yoga, during grad school, etc. When my sister and I were younger, we once made a sign that said, “We need friends”, and walked around the neighborhood with it (for 6 year olds, I think we actually met a couple other lonely 6 year olds). It’s likely, as an adult, a “We need friends” sign is going to send off a completely different message to our adult counterparts, and because our schedules are so random and chaotic, the best way to meet people is to do it through structured activities–where there are rules, things to do, already topics of conversations you can draw from (such as, “what exactly does the ref mean when he yells, “Ball!”, “where did you purchase those super slick cleats?”, or, “what did you think of that last book we read?”), a likelihood that people of similar taste will congregate together.
2.Engage in conversation with strangers: I think what we are missing is connection, and we seek adult relationships because we want to know that we matter, our lives are valued, there is an intended purpose for our existence, and we gain this through communicating with other people. It might not happen that your conversation with a stranger will result in a life-long friendship, but it could certainly give you that brief human connection–and sense of validation–that you are seeking, and therefore, give you confidence to approach someone in a more familiar setting that will lead to a life-long friendship. I think another thing we fail at is how to have meaningful conversations with other people, one, because we are taught as a society that there are many topics that could be ‘offensive’, so we don’t ask, two, because we don’t know ourselves well enough and our preferences to have these conversations, and three, because we just haven’t been taught the Art of Conversation. If we want to have meaningful conversations, we just have to keep asking people questions (Where was the last place you traveled to? Why did you decide to go there? What was your favorite part? Why did you enjoy that? Would you go back?) There are people lurking all over the place: at gas pump, standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for their dog to finish at the dog park…
3.Get rid of friendships that no longer serve you: “If you build it, they will come” is the famous line in Field of Dreams–the same is true for friendships–if you build time for friendships, eventually they will come. Sure, you might have to stay home a few nights by yourself, but if you schedule your time with bad friendships, then you are limiting your ability to schedule time for good friendships. I always think the bar is an awful place to “meet people”, because the bar is often SO loud, and you can never actually hear what anyone is saying; everyone is putting on some kind of facade, from the clothes that they wear, to the people they trek with, to their stance they flex in, so spending my time at the bar, trying to “meet people” is going to also be superficial and unfulfilling, and spending all of my time at the bar prevents me from the opportunity to spend time in other quality establishments, with quality people, having quality conversations. Again, I might end up sitting at home for couple nights, but eventually, someone will come around, and because I’m not already scheduled to be at the bar, I have room in my schedule to hang out with them.
4.Don’t take it personally when people can’t come: I think what sometimes happens is, we spend all this time, trying to muster up the confidence to ask someone to hang out with us, and when they tell us they are “busy”, we feel personally rejected, hermit back into our shells, and spend another eternity trying to gain that confidence back. I always remember that I am super busy and that I have to reject people all the time, and because my friends are in all different life stages, they probably have all kinds of things and obligations going on, and there’s a possibility they have another more pressing social engagement to go to (such as a wedding or a funeral), and when people say they can’t be there, I can’t take it personally, especially since I have to reject everyone all the time too. I just have to try again, and eventually, the stars will align, and someone will have time for me.
5.Be a good friend: I’m listening to this awesome sermon series that talks about how, if I want to attract a certain kind of husband, then I have to BE that kind of woman that would attract THAT kind of husband. For example, say I am really into body builders–if I want to attract my own body builder, I probably have to be the kind of girl a body builder would be attracted to. I think the same thing is true with friendships–if I want to attract good friendships, then I have to be the kind of friend a good friend would want, which means that I invest in our relationship, I ask questions, I offer help and commit selfless deeds. When their tire blows out, they need an emergency babysitter, or just a girl to play on their football team, I show up. I send them cards of encouragement, compliment them, send them messages to say I’m thinking of them. I make their major life events, such as birthdays, baby showers, and graduations, a priority, and reach out in times of need–I have to BE the kind of friend I want people to be TO me.
6.Take initiative: One day, I was feeling a little lonely, so to make myself feel better, I did an exercise where I listed a variety of people in my life who served a variety of purposes for me, and I realized that I actually do know quite a few people to hang out with–if I take initiative. I think, so often, we expect people to ask us to hang out, and we wait around around Friday night, anticipating that social invitation that doesn’t come because they are lounging around their house too, doing the same thing, and no one is taking initiative, so nothing gets done. Of course, because all of our lives are so busy and chaotic, this might require us to plan in advanced, but if I notice that I’m not getting invited to go anywhere, then I need to start hosting dinner parties at my house, asking people to go see movies with me, reaching out for coffee, etc. When I lived in Elbert County, my roommates and I made an effort to hold one social event at our house per month, and we invited everyone we knew. Some of the time, no one came, and it was just us hanging out, watching the disco ball go ’round and ’round by ourselves, but eventually (once word got out about our strange yet laughable dancing habits), people started coming, and suddenly, we had created community and adult friends.
7.Make sacrifices: There will come a time when people invite you out and you’ve rejected them so many times that they just quit inviting you to do things. I just finished reading Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love, and one of her main points about community building is to find a way, no matter what the circumstances, to make it happen. She discusses a monthly Supper Club she attends, and one of the main rules is that they hold Supper Club, no matter what happens. According to Hatmaker, this means that Supper Club has been held at 2 AM in the morning, four hours away at an ailing family member’s house, ending in take out Chinese because the food was so bad, etc. But, her point is that we make time for things that are important to us, and if community is important to us, and having adult friends, sometimes we have to make sacrifices for it to happen. In my case, that might mean altering my yoga schedule, but in others’ cases, that might mean staying out a little past your bedtime, recording your TV show to watch another time, asking your friend to pick you up at the auto shop so that you can kill two birds with one stone.
So Adult Grasshopper, the force is with you. You have the power to make the friends.