Why making friends as an adult is increasingly becoming difficult

11 July 2022
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Aameekul Singh Reviewed by Aameekul Singh
Aameekul Singh

Aameekul Singh

Aameekul Singh is a Counseling and Organizational Psychologist based in Chandigarh, India. She...

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Friendship – that intimate bond that nourishes us and provides us sustenance! Much has been written about romantic love, yet philosophers and writers have written reams about the complexities of friendship and that unique bond between two people who aren’t related by blood or societal contract. 

What is it about friendship that’s inimitable yet as natural as life itself? Is it simplicity? Is it camaraderie? Is it sharing? Or is it simply the feeling of being seen and heard? The crux of friendship is the connection between individuals – showing people that they belong and that they’re not alone. And this connection is invaluable. We all have had childhood friends – playmates from the neighborhood or classmates from school. 

The thing is friendship matters. Friendships have tangible, lasting positive effects on people’s day-to-day as well as long-term well-being. Good friendships reduce stress and anxiety. Friendships among children happen with great ease. School years often form the bedrock of lifelong friendships.

But even the best of friendships is challenged by adulthood. Most commonly, increased responsibilities, the comfort of a routine, and erratic energy levels chip away at what friendships need most – shared time and just that – more sharing.

What’s more, often, we “grow apart” into adults who actively choose not to relate with some of our existing acquaintances. New friendships are becoming harder to make and nurture in the increasingly crammed schedules of adult life.

Science and recent research confirm this. Adulthood brings with it myriad responsibilities. A study showed that it takes about 50 hours to make a casual friend and 200 hours to develop a close friendship. Those figures are probably the reason why adult friendships become harder to maintain. We are amid not just the Covid-19 pandemic but also a loneliness epidemic. Increased isolation and usage of digital time rather than ‘real-time’ conversations have led to more interactions but fewer connections. 

What happens to friendships in adulthood?

Earning a living takes center stage. Primary relationships take up the rest of the day. Add to this the “business of living” – cleaning, taking care of the self and the home, and getting meals in order – and before long, a typical day is done.

Which is why falling out of touch or running out of things to talk about – are the most common mumbled reasons when people are asked about their old friendships. Often, there aren’t deep-rooted, dark, shameful secrets behind friendships that were pushed aside. Instead, they’re the ones hardly worth mentioning:

“…we just stopped calling after a while…”

“…we’re too tired to make plans…” OR “… I am tired of the excuses, and I just stopped trying…”

But while time is a factor, trust is another. Researchers found that “low trust” was the most important factor in making new friends, followed by lack of time and introversion. As adults, it’s harder to trust someone new, especially if it requires investing more time. As children, we tend to have fewer boundaries – but as adults, previous experiences leave us vulnerable and hesitant to form new friendships or sustain existing ones. 

Building friendships again

There are plenty of things people can do to bring back old friendships or build new ones. Even in the most chaotic life arcs, friendships can be nurtured again.

When Vidya, a city-dwelling mother of two primary school-age boys, felt overwhelmed by her parenting struggles, she decided to do something together with a childhood friend. They began a podcast, narrating their experiences as parents. This was an easy way to spend time in a way that was nourishing and enriching. Both of them were using their early childhood experience to build something new. Not all of us can start a podcast to revive old friendships, but there are other ways to bring in the joy and warmth of friendships:

Pencil it in: As counterintuitive as it sounds, friendships need time to be scheduled in one’s days and weeks. If it means adults have to log times on their calendars to make it to social events or get-togethers.

Reconnect: Rekindling a friendship does not always need a physical meeting. Pick up the phone and make a call. These days, apps like Zoom and Google Meet make it easier for virtual connections to happen still. A chatty phone call while cooking or getting chores done around the house can be a great way to catch up.

Tie it back to shared interests: When life gets in the way, it’s a call to take a step back. It takes only a moment’s reflection to recall school and college mates who were good at a particular thing – a craft or hobby, perhaps. Out-of-touch friends can still touch base on shared passions, like Vidya, who found someone to co-host her podcast. 

Expand your circle: There are multiple ways to make new friends. You can attend comedy clubs, book fairs, or cooking classes – the list is practically endless – where you can meet new people. Having a few ideas ready to keep the conversational ball rolling cannot hurt.

Friendship in adulthood takes effort. Yet, strong friendships are important indicators of mental health. A great support system can help us, no matter the age.

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