Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

Shy adult can't make friends(Okay, a brief pause from poetry appreciation to address this confusing and overwhelming topic of friendship).

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Okay, well, maybe it isn’t hard for most adults. Maybe many adults make acquaintances and friends easily, thanks to adept social skills, more outgoing personalities, etc. And certainly for many adults, it is less devastating when friendships end, because it is not so difficult to move on to the next friendship. I wish that I knew how to be that way.

But here I am, 38 years old and feeling once again like the misfit kid on the school playground, reading a book instead of playing tetherball – not because I don’t love to play tetherball, but because no one has invited me. Or because I asked to join the game and was told, no way, not you. So what do you do? You sit on the bench and read a book, and pretend that that is what you really wanted to do all along. You watch the other kids run and laugh and play together, and you study them, trying to absorb their happiness and companionship as your own. You listen to their conversations, trying to figure out the “right” way to talk and the “right” way to be, so that you will be accepted.

Because we all just want to be accepted.

So I decided to ask Google. “Google, how do adults make friends?” Well, Google had all kinds of ideas.

  1. Join a Club

Okay, great idea. After all, in the past, I made friends by being part of college Christian clubs and young married couple church clubs and new mommy clubs. And so I have been attending (almost) monthly Meetups for around a year for people learning Spanish. Unfortunately, the faces often change and many of the people are retired seniors. Recently, I joined a group for single parents. My kids and I attended one event. I had a lot of fun, thanks to my kids. But after the initial introductions, most of the other adults engaged in conversation while I hung back, observing and listening, not sure how to break into the other people’s conversations. (Blame it on extreme shyness. I hate being shy).

  1. Invite a co-worker out for lunch or drinks

This would be so great if I had that kind of job. The truth is, I work in isolation in a cubicle jungle, surrounded by empty cubicles. I get most of my job assignments via email and often go days without saying much more than hello and goodbye to my supervisor. Not conducive to one’s social life.

  1. Plan a party and invite all of your acquaintances

The last time I threw a party was four years ago, during the last World Cup. I invited more than a dozen people. Three came (not counting children). It is very hard to throw a party when you don’t know people well, and very disappointing when no one shows up.

  1. Ask your friends for recommendations

Hahaha! Good one.

  1. Seek out friends of friends

This makes so much sense, as friends of friends may also share your common interests. But practically speaking, this doesn’t work when you don’t already have friends.

  1. Take a class

As a college student, I take many classes. But most of these are online, and the others are mostly filled with teens and young adults.

  1. Join an adult recreational sports league

I have been playing recreational indoor soccer for a few years. I love it, and it is a great stress release. But my teammates and I never get past the acquaintance, small-talk stage. Maybe we just lack that certain vibe, who knows?

 

Some of the advice I’ve read online is simply ridiculous. For example, on the site http://www.adultsocialskills.com/howtomakefriends.htm, written for loners like me, the authors give the advice that other people prefer those whom they perceive to be social. Therefore, it is better to pretend as though you have other friends. It is also better to pretend that you are interested in those things which other people are interested in, to make yourself appear to be more like them. In other words, fake it. Is this really how other people build friendships, based on insincerity? No thanks.

The Help Guide had this suggestion:

Attachment and relationships

How you bonded with a parent or caretaker as an infant will determine how you relate to others as an adult. Those who experienced confusing emotional communications during infancy often grow into adults who have difficulty understanding their own emotions and the feelings of others. This limits your ability to build or maintain successful friendships. Read Attachment & Adult Relationships.

Of course, I followed the link and read all about attachment – a topic which I studied intensely my first time through university as a Child Development major. And yes, I recognize within myself my own insecure attachment issues, which probably continue to make it difficult to form meaningful attachments, or to detach from them once I have bonded with others. It also explains why I feel so mistrustful of other people, and fear a bandonment, and have trouble reading social cues, and blah, blah, blah. But knowing and knowing what to do about it are two separate issues.

So thanks, Google, but I am now back to square one, stuck in a constant loop of loneliness. And so I retreat to my cave, where I will bury my nose in a book, occasionally looking up to observe the rest of the world, and try to absorb the contentment they must feel from being so connected and accepted. And I will tell the world and tell myself (because it is less painful to convince myself), that this is all I really need.

 

how to make friends

 

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6 responses to “Why Don’t I Know How to Make Friends? (aka: Adult Friendships)

  1. I agree, I find it very tough to find good friends, and I don’t think it’s just me, I talk to other colleagues who have a tough time also. In addition to personal issues like shyness or introversion, I notice that a lot of adults are incredibly busy and overextended, racing around to take care of kids, job, groceries, endless errands, cleaning, commuting, etc. And most people don’t live in the same neighborhood as the people they work with or do other things with, like playing indoor soccer. At indoor soccer, it’s like we all drive in from separate places and then go back to our separate neighborhoods and separate lives. It might be easier if we played soccer with people, and then saw the same people on the weekend in our neighborhood, mowing their lawn or walking their dog or getting their mail. At the same time, it’s also true that my indoor soccer team does go out for beers occasionally after a game or at the end of the season. The problem is that I don’t particularly enjoy that activity. At all.

    It does feel to me like our social arrangements – housing, work, play, commute, and community structure – lead us all to be more isolated. And that, in turn, leads us to feel more frequently depressed (and erodes our civic life & democracy as well, as the political scientist Putnam pointed out in Bowling Alone)
    (http://www.hks.harvard.edu/ocpa/pdf/still%20bowling%20alone.pdf)(http://www.saddleback.edu/faculty/agordon/documents/Bowling_Alone.pdf)
    (http://archive.realtor.org/sites/default/files/BowlingAlone.pdf).

    I also agree that faking it is not the answer. But it does seem like there might be groups that do things you like to do – on Saturday morning, for example, I noticed a large group of people going on a bike ride. And there might be other things, like the Sierra Club or a local hiking group, whose activities resonate with you.

    The other factor that I think is sometimes overlooked is simply being nice. I don’t mean faking it. I mean genuinely being kind to people, being considerate, being helpful, giving people a smile at the grocery store, holding the door for an elderly person, saying hello to someone in the parking lot and adding a little smile. I know work isn’t a particularly fertile area for you, but I notice that at work and soccer and other relatively impresonal settings, people regard me as nice, friendly, easy to work with, easty to get along with, not difficult, not argumentative. As a result they tend to invite me to lunch when a group is going, or similar social functions.

    That fact that I usually decline or try to find an excuse not to go is another issue entirely LOL 🙂

    • Ah, you have pointed out so many other good reasons as to why it’s so hard to make good friends as an adult — lack of proximity, busy work/parenting/activity schedules, etc. I nearly brought those up in my post, but it was already so long. 🙂 Must be nice to have an indoor soccer team who at least occasionally hangs out outside of the gym. I’ve been with my team for a long time (recently quit my second team to save money); but the faces evolve, and though everyone is nice, there just isn’t that level of group closeness. (I wouldn’t mind going out for beers with my team, although I’ve never had a beer in my life, nor even been in a bar). You’re probably right that it would be different if we saw each other in our communities or workplaces in addition to just during game time.

      I enjoyed that article Bowling Alone. (Broken link above, but I managed to find it). There really is a startling social disconnect within our culture (ironic, when you consider the increase in social networking among so many Americans), and quite a staggering decline in civic engagement. Less club involvement, more electronic entertainment, less in-home entertaining, suburban sprawl, changes in family structure, increase in diverse communities — that one surprised me, but after giving it more thought, I could understand why. People feel more comfortable being around people who are more like themselves. I’ve read studies that show that within more diverse schools, for example, students tend to cluster into their own little homogeneous social groups, often based on ethnicity and socioeconomics. (Of course, this leaves out people like me, who do not fall neatly into one group or another). I was particularly interested in Putnam’s positive assessment of the low-entry/honeycomb structure that makes today’s mega-churches so popular. I used to attend a mega-church, and was drawn in by the casualness, easy entry, and clubs galore. Our family got involved in a bi-monthly small group, and those pretty much became the only faces we recognized in a gigantic church. Sadly, it was just as easy to leave as to show up, and we never really developed strong ties with the people in our small group, even after 3 years of involvement.

      There are groups that do things that I enjoy. Meetup is how I found the Spanish language practice group and the single parenting group. I have also been a part of a hiking group for a long time, but I have yet to find the time or money to join in on an activity. It can be so expensive! Family movie night at the cinema? Well, that’s $50, if you include popcorn. A get-together at Six Flags? Wow…$200 just to get inside the park. The activities also tend to require a lot of driving, and my poor car is getting old, so most longer trips require a rental vehicle. 🙂 I noticed a couple of reading groups, too, but one was a women’s group who reads mostly sentimental women’s books that I am not at all into, and the other wasn’t very local. I wish I could find groups and activities closer to home, you know? That’s suburban sprawl for you — there’s plenty to do if you don’t mind driving 30-40 minutes to do it, and then you meet people who live outside of your community.

      I’m so glad that you agree that being fake isn’t the answer. Those suggestions really disturbed me. As for being genuinely friendly and nice — well, that’s me. Being Miss Smiley-Sweet-Nice Girl is pretty much my natural social personality. That’s what made me such a good teacher of young kids. 🙂 Despite my shyness, I smile at people, use good manners, and really try to make eye contact and actively listen when people speak. I make it a point to try and be caring, and to remember what people tell me about their lives and interests, so that I can make it a point to inquire at these things when I see them again. I have been called friendly, nice, sweet, kind, easy-going — and none of that is fake. But still, that doesn’t seem to lead to much. I feel like I could just walk away and disappear and no longer play soccer or attend any meetup events, and either no one would notice, or maybe people would say, “I wonder whatever happened to her? She was so nice.” Then they would shrug and move on with their lives.

  2. Very nice summary – it’s so weird that these massive cities and suburbs have inadvertently created such a lonely world, and all these advances in productivity, which allow us to have such a high standard of living, leave us without the geographic closeness and emotional ties that bind small villages, nomadic tribes, and similar groups of our human ancestors, and ultimately leave us with vast oceans of material wealth but much less emotional satisfaction in life.

    And I also completely agree with you that going to the movies is ridiculously expensive! I don’t feel like I’m that old, but going to the movies for $3 seems reasonable, while spending $60 or $100 for kids and friends seems incredibly outrageous!!

    • Have you ever heard of cohousing? A few years ago, I was in love with the idea of living in a cohousing community, like this one: http://sharingwood.org . To me, that is like a dream community to live in, raise children, and age. Everyone has their own home and property, but there is also shared land, community gardens where neighbors garden together, a common house where neighbors can plan social events and shared meals together, campgrounds and a playground…all available for the residents of the community. The introvert in me loves the private property aspect, but the part of me that so craves a sense of social connection and belonging idealizes the common property aspect. (Really, this could be an entire blog post, because I find the concept so fascinating.)

      >

  3. It sounds very cool … it actually sounds nearly identical to the way the commune in Takilma works. Each couple has their own house to retreat to, but they share a garden and orchard, and have the river to swim in. What a great way to live!

    • It sure sounds like a great way to live. 🙂 But remember that I live a terribly isolated life, and the more isolated I feel, the more appealing the cohousing life soynds. Never thought of it like being similar to a commune, haha!

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