How Does a Grown-up Make Friends?
Tips for those who are shy, awkward, and introverted like me
Have you seen some of the articles talking about the friendship crisis? One story in The Telegraph highlighted research that 2.5 million men across the UK have no close friends they could turn to with worries about money, work, or their health.
I read another one that was titled, “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.” It referenced a decades-long study by Brigham Young University, which found that loneliness raises the risk of premature death by 26 to 32 percent.
I get it. I’m a middle-aged man and have been caught up with work and family for decades. It doesn’t leave much time for activities with friends.
At first, I thought that this friendship issue was unique to older folks, like myself. But, this summer, I read about a YouGov survey that found that Millennials are “the loneliest generation.” 30% of Millennials say they always or often feel lonely.
By contrast, 20% of Gen-X said the same. Only 15% of Baby Boomers reported feeling that lonely. Those party animals.
It looks like many of us are struggling with making friends and staying in touch over the years. However, friendship is more than a nice-to-have. It is a necessity for your wellbeing and living your best life.
Beyond the apparent benefits of friendship, you might be surprised that it can impact your health. Having a bigger circle of friends and close buddies keeps us alive.
- A 10-year Australian study found that people with a larger circle of friends were 22% less likely to die than those with a smaller circle of friends.
- Another study of almost 3,000 women with breast cancer found that those without any close friends were 4x more likely to die from cancer as the women who had at least ten friends.
- A six-year study of 736 middle-aged Swedish men found that having a life partner did not affect a person’s risk of heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did.
If you want to live a longer, healthier life, spend time with good friends.
I’m a bit of an introverted loner
It’s not like I was ever great at making new friends, though. I watch in amazement as my wife and children seem to effortlessly introduce themselves to new people and have friends within minutes. They are pros.
I, on the other hand, have never been good at this.
As a youngster, I had a school environment that forced me into proximity with other children for hours every day. Sooner or later, another awkward child would recognize my awkwardness, and we would awkwardly bond.
Of course, we were now a larger target for the bullies, but that’s another story for a different time.
As you grow older, you transition from school to work. Now, many of your new friends are your colleagues.
Again, it’s not surprising. You spend 40–80 hours a week with these people. Sooner or later, you will bond over your shared misery.
I’m joking. I’m sure that many of you are bonding over your shared enthusiasm and joy at work.
But, it is a bit harder to extend these friendships beyond the walls of the office, if you’re introverted. There are plenty of relevant things to discuss at work, but what do you talk about outside of the work environment?
“In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends — the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis — those are in shorter supply.” — source
If you are a solopreneur, like I am now, good luck with making friends of any sort. I spend most of my time working in my home office.
Occasionally I will venture out into the world to work in a coffee shop (like I am today). But, I don’t wear a t-shirt that asks, “Will you be my friend?”
So, this whole friend-making thing remains a challenge. What is one to do?
Well, I have a few suggestions that have worked for me. If I can make friends and be social, anyone can!
A social significant other
Find a significant other who is excellent at making friends. Awkwardly hover near their elbow during events, and you can become friends with others through osmosis.
My wife and her friends occasionally set up awkward playdates between their spouses. This strategy helped me make friends with other introverted men.
We would venture out into the world for food and drink, action and adventure movies, and standing at the park watching our children play. One comedian referred to the experience as being his wife’s pet, who she occasionally took to the dog park to play with the other dogs.
Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
The results can be hit or miss. Sometimes you connect with this other person and become friends. Sometimes it just leads to awkward encounters where you end up asking yourself, “Is this friends?”
Join a gym of some sort
Now that I no longer live in the corporate world, my workplace friendships have dropped off considerably. I still get together with some of my old friends from IBM, Apple, eBay, and Yahoo. But, we only see each other a few times a year.
Instead, my wife and I have developed great friendships at our CrossFit boxes. Crossfitters love to eat, drink, and party. They get together and socialize more than any other group I’ve joined.
Most of my friendships over the past few years have been due to working out with people. I should be clear; my wife attends CrossFit (I lift alone). So, I guess I’m blending these first two strategies.
I’ve found that working out in a typical gym isn’t nearly as effective. Many people tend to drop in, do their workout, and get out. Or, they bring an existing friend with them. It isn’t as social as a CrossFit box.
Perhaps places like Orangetheory, yoga studios, Zumba classes, etc. are similarly useful? I don’t know, you tell me. I haven’t tried them.
Join a club
Is there something that you enjoy doing? It could be running, comedy, chess, card games, etc. I’ve tended to do these things solo or in tiny groups. But, there are clubs dedicated to these extracurricular activities.
When you join a local club that is aligned with a personal passion, you immediately have something in common with the members. That shared love is a decent basis for establishing a new friendship.
Where do you find potential clubs of interest? Unfortunately, information tends to be scattered.
- The local library and community center will have information posted on bulletin boards.
- Coffee shops usually have information on bulletin boards too.
- Local restaurants and bars tend to have flyers and posters on their windows and doors.
- If your town has a website, you can usually find events listed.
- The local newspaper and alternative papers — yes, they still exist — will have listings for activities and events.
- The downtown association for my town has a Facebook page that they regularly update with upcoming events, some hosted by clubs.
- Pay attention to the leather jackets worn by local motorcycle gangs.
Will you love everyone you meet in the club? Of course not. But, it does give you a starting point.
Join a meet-up group
Similar to the previous tip, there are tons of meet-up groups that you can explore. When we moved to our new hometown a few years ago, I browsed Meetup.com to find people with similar interests.
I found groups for entrepreneurs, small business owners, writers, trail runners, etc. I attended a few meetings and met some cool people.
I set up my own career group to bring together people who are specifically interested in leadership, career development, and entrepreneurship.
Just be aware that — for some reason — a few meet-ups have a dating vibe. You’ll attend an event and discover that it is full of singles looking for someone who shares a common interest.
“Hey, I thought we were here to talk about books. What’s going on right now?” 😧
I guess it makes sense. But, it can throw a wrench in your plans to “just be friends.” You may have to experiment with a few groups to find the right atmosphere.
Find a cause
Finally, a great way to locate like-minded souls is to find a cause that you care about and attend local meetings. It’s essential to choose a cause that means a lot to you if you want to meet people you will connect with on a deeper level.
It’s also critical to choose an organization that meets on a reasonably frequent basis. Otherwise, it will be difficult to establish friendships.
Charity Navigator is a great place to start since so much information is available about each organization. You can make sure that a charity is legitimate and scores well on Financial Health, Accountability, and Transparency.
You can specifically search for local organizations, which is how you’ll meet people near you. For example, you could locate all of the charities in Sacramento, CA, and decide to get involved in the local Habitat for Humanity.
Is this all just networking?
These recommendations do start to sound suspiciously similar to networking. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising. Our earlier friendship circles tended to center around school and work, so why wouldn’t our later circles center around our professions and passions?
But, I think a crucial difference is that there is no agenda here. If a business relationship comes about from this interaction, so be it. However, that isn’t the goal.
If you treat it like such, don’t expect many people to want to be your friend. No one wants a thinly veiled attempt to get “friends” to sign up for some MLM scheme.
The end game here is simply relationship development. You know, friendships. Fun, social, and recreational activities.
All of those things that you should be doing for your mental and emotional health, instead of working 24/7.
If you have other great strategies for making friends as a grown-up, please share them in the comments so that everyone can benefit. Thanks!
Larry Cornett is a Leadership Coach and Career Advisor. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, a Great Dane, a chicken, and a stubborn old cat. He shares advice that helps you become an opportunity magnet, so the best things in life come to you! You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram @cornett.