When we're kids and young adults, making friends comes somewhat naturally. School, sports, extracurricular activities, and the neighborhoods we live in all throw us together, and it's pretty easy to meet and connect with like-minded individuals.
As we age, different life circumstances—moving to a new city, changing jobs, partnering up (or not), having kids (or not)—can affect our ability to make and maintain bonds. Additional roadblocks might include shyness, social anxiety or simply lacking free time. Isolation during the pandemic has also added to the struggle, as some of us relearn how to socialize.
Yet, research shows that friendships are good for our wellbeing. However, knowing friendships are good for us, and wanting to have them, doesn't automatically mean they will happen. Making friends as adults is a challenge, and it's a topic I've seen come up over and over again in social media posts. I spoke with Jennifer and Mary from the local "Finding Female Friends Over Fifty Meetup" and Ashley and Christine from the #SquadBettie Facebook group to dig deeper. Here are some pointers and observations that came out of our conversations:
Identify what you're looking for in your friendships.
People often say they want friends, but they don't necessarily delve into what that means for them. To illustrate that, Jennifer shared an infographic she found, adapted from work by Dr. Myles Munroe, of the four levels of friendship: Intimate, Close, Casual and Acquaintances.
"People need to decide what kinds of friends they want and then commit to developing those relationships at that level," Jennifer said.
Mary added, "Consider why you want to socialize and what you hope to get out of it. You have to know what you're searching for first—and who you want to be friends with and how much engagement you want."
Figure out what interests you—and pursue it.
Beyond simply understanding what you want from friendships, you also have to understand yourself and know your passions.
"Take time to examine your own values, interests and needs, and let that lead you to the places, events and groups that align with those," Ashley said. "It's those activities that will help you meet people you have things in common with."
Join a group—or a few groups. And plan to work at it.
One of the big themes that kept coming back in our conversations was effort. Friendships, especially deeper ones, require effort.
"At first, I joined Meetups and attended events and thought that would be enough. It's not," Mary said. "You need to engage individuals. Get names and phone numbers. Reach out to see if they're attending an event. If you see an activity you think they'll enjoy, ask them to join you.
"Ultimately, you make time for what's important to you. If it's important enough for you to have friends, you'll take time to develop them or at least plan activities with people you enjoy spending time with."
Strive to achieve mutuality in your relationships.
This may be one of the more elusive aspects of finding and maintaining friendships.
"I see a lot of people who are willing to participate, but they never initiate; they aren't taking things beyond the outing or forming relationships outside of the event," Jennifer said.
In several of my conversations, people expressed a frustration in always being the one to reach out—and they have, at times, stepped back to gauge the other person's level of commitment. If you're always the passive one, the proverb "If you want a friend, be a friend" certainly applies here.
Finding someone who will reciprocate is key, but Jennifer added, "You have to be able to admit that not everyone is a good fit for you. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you or them—you're just not the right match, and that's OK."
So, now what?
Don't give up, if it's something you truly want.
For more insight on the subject, Ashley recommends the book "We Should Get Together" by Kat Vellos. There's also Bumble BFF for finding friends instead of romance. And, personal interest groups on Facebook and Meetup are also a solid option for finding people with similar hobbies.
Allison Kay Bannister has been a West Michigan resident since 1987 and a professional writer since 2002. A GVSU alumna, she launched her own freelance writing business in 2017. Allison is a cookie connoisseur, word nerd, aspiring gardener, and metastatic breast cancer thriver who loves traveling in Michigan and beyond, and enjoys art, world cuisine, wine, music, and making homemade preserves.
This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.