• Wed, Jan 25 2012

How I Learned To Make Friends As An Adult

I often read comments on the internet about how hard it is to make friends as an adult, how hard it is to make female friends, etc. As someone who used to be incredibly lonely and is no longer so, I feel fairly qualified to comment on this topic.

Throughout most of elementary, middle and high school, I had 0-5 friends at my school at any given time. I loved the friends I had, but I always longed for a medium-to-large, tight knit group, and that never happened for me. This was not because I only hung out with boys; I didn’t lose my v-card or have any serious relationships until after high school. I was just a big, awkward weirdo who went to school with a bunch of people with whom I had little in common.

Next, I went to college in New York City, where I made a few more friends. These friends were awesome, but they were also independent people who weren’t always down to explore the city in the intense ways I wanted to. (In fairness, they also had a ton of schoolwork to do.) I ended up going to a lot of concerts alone. Do you know how long a subway ride from Bushwick to Harlem can be at 4am without anyone to talk to? So long. Probably kind of dangerous, too.

It was around this point in time that I began hanging out in the downtown club scene with people who were not my friends. They sure were fun, though! So fun they sometimes pretended not to recognize me if there was a tough door that night. So fun they didn’t help me pay for the morning after pill when I needed it to avoid having their abortions. So fun they…ugh, you get the point. Drugs are not necessarily tantamount to fun.

I began lamenting how I didn’t have more female friends, but what I was really lamenting was not having more friends, period, because guys who want to sleep with you don’t count. For about a year, I was in a codependent relationship where we literally only hung out with each other, which did not help things on the social front. But then I graduated and moved to Brooklyn, and, like the underpants gnomes, somehow jumped ahead to step three: profit! Now I’ve got a large crew of delightful folks whom I love so, so much (and who love me back, WTF!) and I’m still not sure how I got so lucky.

Like romantic love, the subconscious alchemy of platonic love can be mysterious, but here are some things that I think might have helped. I’m putting them in the imperative form so they can be more easily absorbed and acted upon.

1.) Learn social skills.

I know, I know. If this were easy, you would’ve done it by now. But it’s not impossible. My social skills used to be really, really terrible, to the point where I was convinced I had Asperger’s. But as I got older, I got a better idea of what was, and wasn’t, waaaay more than people wanted to know about me, and learned to control my nervous tic of talking about myself to fill the silence. (And to keep from being misunderstood, which kind of backfired sometimes.) And the more I forced myself to interact with people, the easier it got.

2.) Live somewhere hospitable.

If you want to make friends you have common interests with, move to a place where there are lots of people who like whatever it is that you like. This is not rocket science. For me, it meant moving to North Brooklyn, because I love rock shows, house parties, and being pretentious about my taste in everything.

3.) Don’t be afraid of the internet.

I know it’s super dorky, but online communities can introduce you to some really rad people. I met most of the friends I have now, directly or indirectly, through a Williamsburg-centric message board. Some of the people on it were kind of terrifying, but it was worth it to get to the good ones. I also met one of my best friends, and a ton of the people I’ve hung out with while traveling, via nudie site Suicidegirls. My roommate has met some interesting folks via turntable.fm.

4.) Realize other people are shy, too.

You see that tall, blonde girl in the Joy Division t-shirt who seems way too cool to ever want to hang out with short, bubbly, un-stylish you? She’s probably having the exact same anxieties. Go over and see how she’s liking the show. And don’t be intimidated by her because she’s pretty. You’re pretty too, and anyway, it’s not like you’re trying to have sex with her.

5.) Do things.

I know, I know, doing things sucks. But if you have even one interest or hobby that causes you to leave the house and interact with others, it will increase your chances of making friends one thousand-fold. Join that book club. Take that Spanish class. Worst case scenario, you’ll read some good books and learn a new language. [tagbox tag="friendship"]

6.) Reach out!

If you think someone is cool and want to get to know him or her better, it’s as easy as inviting them to dinner. Write an email if you’re too shy to ask them in person. I bet they’ll say yes, because you’re interesting and have obtained better social skills since high school.

7.) Offer to share.

In kindergarten, true friendship meant sharing the best crayons. Now it means offering someone a beer out of your six-pack that you brought to the party, a cigarette, a shot of whiskey, whatever.

8.) Summon some liquid courage.

Another fun thing about making friends as an adult is you can be drunk when you do it. But not too drunk! It’s hard to make friends when you’re busy hugging a lamp post/some strange dude’s penis/the toilet.

I think those are enough suggestions for now. I hope they aid you in your friendship-quest. And if you’re the type of person who cares more about finding a boyfriend than finding friends, a.) I feel sad for you, but b.) you should make some friends anyway, because you might not find a boyfriend right away, and also, one of your friends might introduce you to someone who turns into your boyfriend. That’s how I met mine! But I didn’t ditch my friends for him, because they are the best, and also because I learned my lesson in college. Friend-love forever.

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  • Jennifer Wright

    This whole post makes me happy. And I am glad we are friends. I feel like I went out on a really big emotional limb saying that. I’m going to drink a martini and play some tennis now.

    • Jamie Peck

      I’m glad too! <3 <3 <3

  • Elaine

    Cute! And I agree with all your points (though I’m more on the “never share” side of the spectrum).

    As for being friends with guys, I used to get distraught whenever I found out a guy friend had not so friend-zone feelings for me. Nowadays, I just take them being open to having sex with me as a given. But adults know that trying to do every person around you isn’t cool and probably causes you to miss out on a lot of higher level connections – and mature adults are able to get over that whole basic attraction thing pretty quickly.

    • Jamie Peck

      Hi Elaine! I agree. I was referring to guys who only hung around with me because they wanted to sleep with me, and then split when they realized it wasn’t going to happen. I think every friend is entitled to throw the idea out there once, but if he/she says no the first time, they need to respect that.

  • Jenny

    I loved that! Ive kinda grown apart or lost contact with friends from highschool over the years and always wished I had more friends. But I would always tell myself its almost impossible to make new friends as you get older other than at work, and i think i was kind of just using that as an excuse to make myself feel better and not try, but as this proves its soooo not true.Im gonna try to be alot more open to it now. I also sooo hear you on the last paragraph about girls who just want to find a boyfriend, that seems to be alot of my single female acquintances main goal so we never get to do much and kinda sad.

  • MR

    Yeah I like all your thoughts on this, Jamie. In my case, Hippie Bohemia, including its South American subsets – yeah it’s its own country – worked just fine for me as far friends and meeting women up to my late 20s. Then in my career also, a solid interconnection of old coworkers, cause of our workflow flow – who are all liberals, and who generously tolerate me ‘the FDR New Dealer’. I have good, married women friends (yes, only friends) in this circuit. And as it turns out, it was my old college buddy’s new wife who set me up with my current girlfriend, hmm and I never thought she really liked me that much. :) I think small and intimate is good. Some people like volume. I don’t get this.

    • Jamie Peck

      Re: volume, I’m pretty choosy about who I spend my limited free time with, but there’s always room for one more person in my life if said person is cool.

    • MR

      Yep, I agree with you. Last one in was a hippie contractor who did a lot of detail work on my brownstone. I also became friends with one of his brothers in his crew, and he later helped me set up a place in the Adirondacks to go hiking from two summers ago. We sometimes go fishing together.

  • Kari

    Great article and I can definitely relate. I’m barely in my 30s and realized I had no friends yet I was going out all the time. To have friends I had to glom onto someone else’s interests b/c nobody ever seems to be interested in what I am at the same time. I left DC and moved to Seattle and so far it’s improving. I feel like people here are more like I am but I’m trying to be more okay with spending time alone. I’m great at socializing but just tired of being the one to put in all the effort.

  • Lizzie

    I’m a very shy college freshman and I still haven’t made any friends. This article, though it didn’t offer any groundbreaking advice, was comforting. Thanks :)

    • Natalie

      I’m a college senior and if you’re living in dorms, it’s the best place to meet friends. Most likely, your dorm floor is full of other freshmen who are just as eager as you to have human contact and you just have to reach for it.
      Also, I met my college best friend when I entered a 300 person lecture hall, plopped down next to a hip looking girl, and said “Hi, my name is ___. What’s up?” She was slightly taken aback at first but appreciated it.

  • kat

    You can also try meetup.com! There are a ton of cool meet ups where you can find people with similar interests. Last month I started one to connect women in the city looking for new BFFs: http://www.meetup.com/SocialCircleNYC/

  • TSG

    I’m in my late 30s and married with 3 kids. Everyone is dazzled by my European husband upon first meeting. I have to admit, he is charming. But, the only “friends” we have are users. They want work done on their house and the wives tend to give me the cold shoulder while pouring on a heavy coat of interest in anything that comes out of my husband’s mouth (I’ve always assumed it was because of his accent).

    I moved around a lot as a kid and never really had good social skills. I always had trouble making friendships with other girls. I started a meetup group once and attracted a few women whom I didn’t have much in common with and all seemed to be 30 minutes apart from one another. Also, a lot are looking for men in their lives and not friendships.

    I long for a good friend. How does an adult learn social skills? I think I am just a social moron and perhaps I am annoying.

    Thanks for the great topic! I feel better seeing there are other adults out there with similar socia problems.