How Do I Make Friends as an Adult?
And is it this hard for everybody?
I feel like a lot of the statements I make here are not necessarily pushing the boundaries of social commentary or personal essays or even worldly observations. I often state the obvious. However, the older I get, the more I learn how universal some experiences are and, yet, how suffocating and separating those experiences can make us feel.
So, today, I am once again going to state the glaringly obvious in the hopes of helping myself and others feel less hopeless: making friends as an adult — stripped of the safety nets and guarantees of adolescence and young adulthood — is hard, isolating, exhausting, confusing, and … yeah, just really hard.
Awhile back, as a freshman navigating dorm life in college, I wrote about managing social interaction expectations as an introvert and not feeling like a social failure just because your idea of fun doesn’t match up with your peers.
And, apparently, that is a lesson I am still learning.
I recently got a new job and moved across the country to a new city where I’ve been living alone for the past few months. The broad strokes are going well: I have a great apartment, I love my job, my coworkers are amazing, and I’m doing a pretty good job living as an adult person: managing money, cooking, keeping my place clean — if I do say so myself. But I have been having a lot of trouble making friends.
Friends were the least of my concerns when I first moved. Whenever the thought came to me, I’d think “I’ll figure it out,” and shove the thought back down. Unfortunately, I haven’t quite figured it out yet, and a lack of friends is one of those things you don’t notice until it’s the sixth night in a row you’re spending on your couch making comments to the TV by yourself.
When I used to think about how I would make friends as an adult, I always assumed I would just become besties with the people I worked with — that’s how it went when I worked on my school paper (and in like every rom-com set in New York City). I imagined going out for dinner as a group after transmit day or taking a long lunch at a nearby coffee shop to complain about the boss together. And, honestly, I hope I have that again one day. Having friends who do what you do is great — it means there’s always someone around to laugh at your grammar jokes and be just as upset as you are at finding punctuation and spelling errors in restaurant menus.
My current coworkers are fantastic, don’t get me wrong. I work on a team of four and we work well together. We all get along great, we all have something (or multiple somethings) in common, and work is super fun with them.
The problem is, I am at least 10 to 20 years younger than all my teammates. And not to be all “40-year-olds are ancient” and Gen Z, but it’s hard being the youngest person in the room sometimes.
As much as I love working with my coworkers (and/or talking about shows with them over the walls of our cubicles), it’s hard to connect with them on some levels. They are all married with a house and/or have children, and I am an untethered 22-year-old who can hardly keep her succulents alive. It’s hard to find true, hang-out-outside-the-office friendship with such a disparity in life differences and obligations.
And I just never really expected to have to figure my way around something like this.
So, I’ve been trying to look elsewhere for friendship, and it’s been tough.
Like I said in my article about dorm social life and my eternal introvert FOMO, I don’t really like to have fun the same way other people my age might. And I may just be making large, sweeping generalizations about the young professional community here, but I don’t like drinking in public or loud bars and restaurants. The idea of going into those social situations alone brings me a headache rivaled only by a viral YouTube video from the 2000s.
I would much rather watch and then thoroughly discuss a movie — taking apart themes, symbolism, and character development in the film (I’m just now realizing that my dream night is essentially English class). Or have a friend over to binge a true-crime documentary series while sharing popcorn and cheap Barefoot wine. Not that that makes me better than anyone else my age or makes people who go to loud bars and clubs worse than me, by the way. It’s just about the ways and places you have the most fun — and the place I have the most fun is my couch, apparently.
And, much like I did when I first went off to college, I’ve been beating myself up over that since I moved. It would be so much easier for me to make friends if I liked those things. Going to a brewery on a trivia night or to a bar during happy hour would probably be a great way to meet people, and it would mean I’d have friends in my life instead of spending most nights alone.
But, putting myself into those situations fills me with anxiety. I wouldn’t be having much fun or doing things I really enjoyed and the people I would meet might not even share interests with me. I am just a humble nerd looking for a friend to be a humble nerd with — but it’s difficult finding those same interests in the avenues I currently have available to me.
There are sites like MeetUp, where you can join groups that go do activities together based on common interests, but it was hard for me to find groups I was really interested in. I’m not sure if my city is too small for a wider range of groups or if COVID is still impacting who is comfortable leaving their house, but I couldn’t find anything worth checking out — all I found were bar crawls and breweries. Not really my style.
Then there are dating apps. Although typically used to find romantic relationships, there are some dating apps that allow you to find friendships. Bumble, for example, lets you choose whether you want to use traditional Bumble (for romance), Bumble BFF (for friendship), or Bumble Biz (for networking???) right upfront, so you can start finding people who are on the same page you are. It works about the same as it would for dating: you make a profile, fill it with some nice photos, answer some basics about what you do, where you live, where you’re from, etc., and then some apps will give you question prompts that you answer with interesting things about yourself.
And then you get to swipin’. You look at the profiles of people in your area, and if you think you would get along, you swipe right. If you get the sense they’re not your speed, you swipe left. If you both swipe right, you match and can start to chat with each other in the app.
I gave Bumble BFF a shot, but something I didn’t realize until I was already in the thick of it: meeting people online is scary. This, obviously, is something I’ve known since day one — I’m Gen Z: I grew up on the internet.
But, in practice, it all became much more intense and overwhelming.
When you meet someone you hit it off with at work or school, there are no expectations. Maybe you’ll go out for coffee every once in a while or maybe you’ll just have casual conversations in between stretching your legs and before meetings. Or maybe you’ll become great friends who hang outside of work and are in each others’ weddings. But there are no expectations from the get-go. You can gain trust and get to know each other gradually in a casual environment without any pressure.
That is not the case on apps like Bumble BFF. Whenever someone matched with me, I immediately got anxious. I suddenly felt all this pressure to be the best version of myself and to not let this match go because this person could be a lifetime best friend for me. There wasn’t any opportunity to start slowly and get to know each other with no pressure. I always felt like I was being thrust right into the deep end.
I also experienced something that I’ve heard online daters complaining about: FOMO. Every time I began a conversation with someone, I couldn’t help but think: “This person is cool, but what if the next person is better? What if the next person I match with would be the better friend?” No matter what I did, I always felt like I was missing out on the next person — which is not a great way to begin a friendship.
And you can’t really invite a stranger from the internet over to your house right away — there should hopefully be a lengthy getting-to-know-you-and-make-sure-you’re-not-a-serial-killer period long before then. Which unfortunately means my movie nights may still be a ways away.
Outside of the internet, I even looked into joining a local choir — I used to be in one in middle school and loved it — but the only choirs I could find were for children or for professional singers. Coworkers have given me suggestions for social clubs to check out, which I am so grateful for, but going to something like that — especially going by myself — sounds like it may be tough for me.
So, in some ways, I’m finding myself back to square one.
Making friends in adulthood is hard. You don’t realize how helpful certain institutions are for making friends until they’re gone. Friends growing up were made by sharing similar classes or extracurricular activities or riding the same bus. College friends were made in class over comments about neurotic professors or by being paired up as roommates by the dorm gods or by working at the school paper together. And the nice thing in all those situations was that everyone was more or less in the same life stage. You were all just stupid college kids trying desperately to figure it all out while desperately trying to look like you had it figured out already.
And despite not having anything figured out, the friendship part was so much easier — at least for me. What do you do when you still feel like that college kid figuring things out, but your peers aren’t?
As I rarely do when I write about stuff like this, I don’t really have any answers. I desperately want to have friends who I work with — I loved being able to use journalism jargon and make grammar jokes with my newspaper friends in college. We’d discuss the oxford comma and make fun of bad headlines we saw online. Having those people who would laugh and enjoy it just as much as I did was always so wonderful. Friends in other circles would usually just roll their eyes.
But until I can have that again, I must figure out friendship on my own.
I have since enrolled in a book club at a local bookstore in the hope that maybe I’ll meet some people more my speed and my age, but it really feels like a stab in the dark. Making friends as an adult is hard. Especially in and after a pandemic.
But maybe it gets easier. Just like you figure out your major in college or learn to cook by burning each dish one at a time, maybe one day it just clicks and you find your people — but only after some searching.