How to Make Friends As an Adult (Without Feeling Like a Weirdo)
A friend and I regularly play a game, where I read a Tinder profile aloud and she has to decide whether to swipe right or left (so say “yes” or “no” to that person) based solely on the person’s condensed-into-90-ish-characters personality. It gives me a glimpse into the world of online dating — a land, having met my boyfriend before the age of Tinder, where I have never ventured — and makes online dating slightly more fun and less miserable for her. Slightly.
As anyone who has ever braved the new world that is Tinder knows, Tinder profiles can get weird. I won’t even get into the story about the one where the guy used, and I quote, “I’m really good at helping people pick out Halloween costumes,” as a pick-up line. But the weirdest Tinder profiles, in my opinion, aren’t the ones like that or the ones where the person aggressively lists off hobbies with periods in between — “Lifting. Gardening. Craft Beer. My Dog.” and so on; the weirdest Tinder profiles are the ones that say anything along the lines of “Just looking for friends.” Like, don’t you know you’re in the wrong place?
To me, these friendship-seeking Tinder profiles give off a strong scent of loneliness and desperation — because you have to be really desperate if you’re looking for friends on Tinder, right? But the thing is, I also totally get it! Making friends as an adult is hard, and if all else fails, why not try Tinder? I get it.
Seeing all of these Tinder profiles along the lines of “seeking platonic adult friendships” — there are plenty of them — got me thinking about how grown-ups actually make friends. Then I realized: I honestly do not know. I mean, I have work friends, but the majority of my good friends were made when I was in high school or college and had time to, well, make friends. And a recent piece in The Atlantic, “How Friendships Change Over Time,” suggests that this makes sense. As we grow older, the ground for growing and keeping up friendships just isn’t as fertile. For one, people are busy. And if they happen to have significant others (which I’m guessing the people searching for friends on Tinder probably don’t, because that seems like it could get messy), Bae comes first. And when you mix kids into the equation, friends, new and old, just aren’t that high on the totem pole anymore. So no wonder adults don’t know how to make friends. Considering friendships become less and less of a priority as we get older, why would we?
But the thing is, friends are necessary for both mental and physical survival. On the physical end, studies show having friends keeps our hearts healthy, helps us live longer, and even ups our chances when it comes to battling cancer. And on the mental end, as anyone who’s ever been dumped via text message knows, drowning your sorrows at happy hour alone is no way to live. So friends: We need ‘em, but obviously many of us don’t know how to go about getting ‘em when we’re past the age of sandboxes and spin the bottle.
So to get to the bottom of why so many people are seeking friends — and why we don’t know how to actually make them — I reached out to Bryn Mawr-based psychologist (and sometimes Be Well Philly contributor!) Lauren Napolitano. Spoiler alert: She thinks all those friendship-seeking Tinder profiles are BS.
As Napolitano tells me, she thinks the friendship-seekers on Tinder are really just being proactive in avoiding any sort of romantic rejection in the case they reach out and get turned down. If you’re not interested in them, it’s right there in their profile: They just wanted to be friends anyway. Interesting take, huh? But still, she does agree that many adults “tend to get very isolated” and don’t know how to make friends. Why? Well, first off, there’s the fear of rejection. “You’re stepping out of your comfort zone, and we’ve all been burned by trying to initiate friendships with other people. It brings up a sort of high-school anxiety,” she says. Word. This fear of rejection can stop us from ever reaching out in the first place. Aaaaand cue weird (maybe genuine, maybe not) friend-seeking Tinder profile.
So, what’s one to do to get over the fear of getting burned? One, Napolitano says, is don’t take it personally. People are busy. You know this, because you are likely very busy yourself. So their blowing you off probably has more to do with the bazillion things going on in their life than it does with you. Then, Napolitano says, you should also be aiming for quantity over quality, so choose five people you’d like to be friends with rather than just one, then work to make that happen. It’s simple math: Playing the friendship game this way ups your odds of having one stick.
When I told Napolitano that making friends this way sounds like a second job, she replied “Well, yeah. But if something is bothering you, it has to be a priority.” Understandable, I guess, although I’m not totally on board with her quantity over quality method; I would rather hang out with myself and Christina Yang — albeit on a screen — than with someone I maybe, sort of, kind of am interested in being friends with. But hey, that’s just me. (And maybe that’s why I don’t know how to make friends.)
So now that we know how to get over our initial anxiety — don’t take rejection personally, give yourself options — where does an adult actually go to meet friends? After all, kickball leagues and the like do exist, but if you know you’re going to be miserable putting on a pair of workout shorts and kicking a rubber ball with a group of strangers for a few hours a week, it’s probably not going to be the ideal situation for making friends, right? Right.
Napolitano says, when trying to make friends, the key is to just do more of what you already like doing. (This does not include watching Netflix alone in your living room, for obvious reasons.) As she suggests, “Get more involved in any domain you feel comfortable in: your kids’ school, the gym, your neighborhood. Just push yourself to get a little more involved in what you enjoy, instead of going home the minute you get off of work.” The idea is, when you force yourself to get more involved in things you’re actually interested in, you end up surrounding yourself with like-minded people, and those people just might become your new BFFs.
So, let’s say you meet someone who is totally friend material at an event for your neighborhood’s urban garden — because you like your neighborhood and you like eating locally, so you were diving into things you already enjoy. What do you do next? Napolitano, who somewhat frighteningly claims dating and making friends really aren’t all that different, says the first thing you should do is try to get their cell phone number. (This is the exact kind of move that would normally make me feel like a creep but, again, I don’t know how to make friends.) She says, “Just come up with a reason — maybe you want to send them a link to something you both thought was funny, whatever.” Then, she says, “Once you’ve texted that person, there’s a bit of an entryway to text them a joke or something later, and to let go of some of the formalities.” And this, my friends, is where friendship begins. And again, if they burn you, don’t be crushed.
Yep, sounds like dating.
The most important takeaway that I got from my conversation with Napolitano, when it comes to making friends as an adult, was this: You really just have to push yourself to do more of what you already like to do, in a social setting. And once you do that, you’re putting yourself in a position to make real-life adult friends. So there you have it, people. I say we all embrace the idea of getting out into the worlds we’re interested in — because one can only watch every episode of Grey’s Anatomy so many times — and see what happens. And whatever you do, when looking to make friends as an adult, don’t do it on Tinder. The fact remains: You’re in the wrong place.
And pssst: If you are one of those people who has countless adult friends that you made when you were actually an adult, feel free to leave your friend-making wisdom in the comments section below! I’m sure plenty of people would love to hear it.
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