Of all the challenges that come with getting older, making new friends is one of the most profound. As we advance in our careers, relationships, and lives, most of us tend to find that building new friendships becomes harder and harder — despite the fact that we only have more to offer other people as we age.
Why is that?
For one thing, because adulthood offers fewer mechanisms to bring new people into our lives.
Dorms and parties turn into offices and meetings. Happy hours and bar crawls give way to dinners and Netflix. Our worlds become smaller, they fragment, and we move through spheres that are more socially rigid. Where the first couple phases of life automatically filter new people in, adulthood has a funny way of filtering most people out.
At the same time, priorities shift.
We focus on our careers more, and go out less. We invest more in the people we already know, and find it harder to explore the people we don’t. We start to appreciate just how valuable our time really is, and tend to invest it primarily in ourselves, rather than sharing it with strangers who might or might not become lasting friends. And everyone else is doing the exact same thing, which only multiplies the barriers to meeting new people.
Finally, our social contract has transformed dramatically in the last 10 years.
Flaking on plans has become more acceptable, even de rigueur in early relationships. Commitment and consistency have become harder to expect, especially from people we’ve just met. And this isn’t always malicious or intentional — the sheer volume of connections we now enjoy are literally too big for our calendars or our brains to effectively manage. We want to build new connections, but we’re literally not equipped to service them all.
Does this mean it’s hopeless to make new friends as an adult?
Of course not. It just means that we need to recommit to the principles that create meaningful connections in the modern world. But before we talk about that, we have to ask an important question.
Why do adult friendships matter?
We know that this is an important problem. Still, very few people are talking about how to make friends as an adult, even though every person I know is struggling with it — especially people who are just a few years out of college, and suddenly realizing how tough it can be.
The problem seems to be especially hard for men, who are not as naturally oriented toward building meaningful platonic relationships with new people outside of the conventions of early adulthood. But women write me with this question too, and struggle just as often with loneliness, isolation and a hunger for new relationships as they settle into adulthood. The issue is universal.
Which makes sense. Meaningful friendships throughout adulthood, researchers are now showing, have a massive influence on our happiness, health and quality of life.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development — a landmark project that has followed more than 700 men for 80 years, one of the most significant in history — recently found that close, positive relationships literally transform our bodies and our experiences.
According to the researchers, people who are more socially connected live longer, enjoy stronger brain function, experience fewer health problems, and retain sharper memories for a longer period of time.
More isolated people, on the other hand, experience declines in brain function, report lower levels of happiness, and live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.
According to another meta-study on friendships and health, social support increases our survival by 50 percent — a benefit that turns out to be just as powerful as giving up 15 cigarettes a day. In fact, according to the researchers, social networks appear to be even more important to our health than exercising or beating obesity!
If we want to stick around as long as possible with our bodies and minds at their best, then we need to maintain meaningful relationships with other human beings. If we don’t, our lives will be shorter, more painful, and less fulfilling.
Of course, we can’t rely on family members and childhood relationships alone. We have to build new friendships throughout our lives, which means we have to learn how to make friends as adults. Because our health, happiness and longevity literally depend on it.
It all begins with an important first step.
Define the social life you want.
A quick confession.
These days, I love staying in, reading a book and hanging out with my wife most nights. At the same time, I work every single day to build a great social network, and I maintain close friendships with the people in my life. That’s a smaller circle, but it’s a really important one.
I’m telling you this because I want you to know that having a meaningful social life doesn’t mean you have to be out every night of the week. You don’t need to hit bars, parties and clubs on the regular to meet new people and maintain social connections. You don’t even need to talk to the people you know every single day.
What you do need to do is get a handle on the type of social life you’re really looking to build as an adult.
If you don’t have a grasp of what that looks like, then it becomes much harder to build, and you might end up pursuing lots of connections at the expense of meaningful relationships.
So what is the type of social life we should aim to build?
The particulars — quantity, range, location, purpose, frequency — will change for every person. That’s up to you. But in my experience, one principle will always remain true.
Great friendships are not about constantly seeing other people, but about being able to reach out when you need it, being available to discuss the full spectrum of human experience, and showing up in consistent and meaningful ways.
A lot of the adults who write me seem to think that they can’t have close friends now that they don’t live with their best friend slash roommate slash drinking buddy. But this constant contact and blurring of roles do not necessarily equate to deep relationships in adulthood. We don’t need to set the bar too high by expecting that kind of contact from our friends all of the time. That assumption often leads us to self-sabotage, or give up on the project of making new friends before it even begins.
So as you begin this process, define the social life you truly want as an adult. Some helpful questions to ask yourself here include:
- Do you want a vast constellation of moderate friendships, or a smaller tribe of deep ones?
- Do you want to have someone to drink with six nights a week, or do you want a couple people you can call when you need guidance?
- Do you want to find people who will help you meet other people, or do you want to find people who will make you want to get to know them?
- How much contact (frequency, mode, depth) would make your friendships significant?
- What topics, issues, values, and challenges would you like to be able to explore through your friendships?
- Which activities and experiences would you like to enjoy through your friendships?
There are no “correct” answers here. Each person is different, and each phase of life requires different types of connection.
But the one thing that is essential to remember is that quantity is far less important than quality when it comes to great relationships as an adult.
We don’t need more friends, but better friends; not more contact, but deeper contact. In short, we need quality — in connection, in values, in priority, and in meaning, depth, and mutual regard.
With that in mind, let’s talk more tactically about how to make new friends.
Take an interest in your world.
A common frustration from people struggling to make new friends is that they struggle to actually meet new people. They find it practically difficult, they don’t feel motivated enough to try, or they find that other adults are more interested in existing relationships than in forming new ones.
All of which might be true — but it doesn’t mean that we can’t overcome these obstacles.
The best way to make new friends is to actively engage with life by investing more deeply in your experiences while also pursuing new ones.
Many people assume that once they have new friends, then they’ll be able to participate more fully in life. But in fact, the exact opposite is true: we need to participate more fully in life in order to attract new friends. We can’t depend on other people to broaden our world. We need to broaden our world, which in turn will bring new people into our lives.
This means consciously choosing to take on new activities, goals and projects first for ourselves, and then using them secondarily as a way to filter new people into our lives. This means investing more in our current lives, as well as taking on new experiences. Either will work, and both will work wonders.
Mark, a listener of the show, recently discovered how important this principle was.
After struggling to make new friends after architecture school, he decided to double down on his expertise as a conceptual designer, and see how it would affect his social network.
First, he committed to pursuing his architect license, which requires a ton of studying and multiple exams. He also decided to get LEED certified, so he could expand his expertise in sustainable architecture. He also committed to writing two white papers on the industry per year, placing them in industry journals, and landing a couple speaking gigs at conferences around the country.
This became his mission: to become a true expert as an architect for himself, and find a way to meet new people on his journey to building out his career.
Almost instantly, Mark found himself coming into contact with people he would never have met, and sharing a common experience he wouldn’t have had.
These were people in his field, excited by the same ideas and committed to similar goals. A guy in his licensing prep course became a regular CrossFit partner. An editor at a trade publication became a sounding board and informal mentor. A panelist at a green building conference invited him backpacking through Spain. And as Mark rose up in his firm, his peers became more interested in him as a person, which helped Mark see them not just as colleagues but as true friends.
And all this from a guy who was convinced he was done making friends now that he was all grown up.
Mark’s story is a great example of the power of investing in your own life to expand your social network. It’s tempting to think that we need to become completely different people with completely different lives to attract new friends. But Mark discovered the opposite. He didn’t need to be a different person. He just needed to be even more of himself, by pursuing his goals more ambitiously.
Of course, you can also meet new people by exploring opportunities outside of your current life. For many of us, this is what we have to do.
Neda, an enterprise software consultant who had recently finished her MBA, was wrestling with the same problem Mark was. Out of grad school, she suddenly found herself meeting fewer people and struggling to make new connections.
She was already pretty deep in her career, and had already done the work to expand her professional life as much as possible. She needed something new.
So she started spending a couple hours at an animal shelter near her house. Those volunteer sessions led to a spot on the foundation’s board, where she helped the non-profit implement new technology to improve its placement rate and fundraising efforts. Suddenly, she was collaborating with people she would never have met, and bringing her expertise to an organization that desperately needed it. The relationships she made through the foundation were all informed by these values — generosity, curiosity, a real desire to do good — which made them flourish in a very cool way.
Neda now considers two people on the board her close friends, and has met dozens of donors, adopters and partners through her volunteer work. These are people Neda would never have met if she hadn’t explored an adjacent area outside of her existing job and social life.
Mark and Neda reminded me how important it is to actively participate in life and seek out new experiences in order to meet new people.
Paradoxically, however, they had to pursue those goals without the immediate expectation of making new friends. They had to suspend that goal, even though they knew it was part of their motivation. Why? Because they knew they would have to expand their worlds for their own benefit first, making them richer, more interesting, more dimensional people. Only then could they enjoy the secondary benefit of making new friends along the way.
When we actively participate in life, we increase our substance as human beings.
And that substance is the lifeblood of great friendships. People need to be able to lock onto something in us — our passion, our expertise, our skill, our commitment, our values — and those qualities only develop when we put them in action in pursuit of a goal.
That in turn sparks curiosity in other people — curiosity about who we are as people. That curiosity drives interest, and interest leads to the early interactions that build new friendships.
But without that substance, without that curiosity, it’s much harder to make new friends. When we don’t actively participate in life, we end up hoping to attract brilliant new people without doing the work of making us worthy of those new people. We have to reverse the order of that logic.
We have to become interesting people in order to meet interesting people — not the other way around.
So how do you know which goals and activities to pursue?
To get super tactical for a moment, some of the best include:
- Volunteering (at nonprofits, conferences or other events)
- Taking a class (at a college, an adult education center or a vocational school)
- Picking up a hobby (at a space that forms around that hobby, like a rock climbing gym, a knitting class, or a storytelling workshop)
- Taking on new roles and responsibilities at work (on office committees, adjacent projects, organizational networking or even informal socializing)
- Deepening and formalizing your professional expertise (by getting licensed, pursuing a degree, taking supplementary courses, becoming a thought leader, or teaching other people in your office/field)
- Traveling in any and all forms (whether it’s backpacking through Peru or taking a road trip through Texas)
The options, of course, are endless. There’s no correct way to expand your world; there are only more or less meaningful ones. So how do you know which activities or projects to pursue?
A few principles will guide you here.
Only choose an activity, hobby or goal if you actually find it enjoyable.
There’s no need to pursue something just because it “should” be interesting, or only because you’re hoping to meet people because of it. Volunteering is wonderful, but only if actually like volunteering. Becoming a teacher is fulfilling, but only if you actually enjoy teaching. If you don’t, then these activities might actually work against you, because they won’t truly be adding to your life, and they won’t be filtering in the people you want.
Remember that you don’t need to stick with this activity, hobby or goal forever.
You only need to pursue it as long as you find it interesting or stimulating. Sometimes these projects are only meant to last a short while. When you take up a new goal, you’re not necessarily committing to a 30-year career. You’re just exploring an activity that will expand your world in some way. Best-case scenario, you make a new friend. Worst-case scenario, you pick up a new skill, have a new story, or learn more about yourself. It’s a win-win, but you don’t need to be head-over-heels in love with your new project.
Finally, commit to participating primarily to expand your world.
Meeting new people might be the motivation, but it’s the secondary goal here. You might end up becoming friends with the person sitting next to you in a storytelling class. But you might also end up telling a story you worked on in that class at a dinner party months later, and that’s where you’ll make that new friend. The primary goal of taking on a new project isn’t to meet new people, but to become a richer human being who will attract new people. That might happen through the activity in question, but it could also happen much later and across your entire life. And if you’re doing it right, it should, because you’re really investing in yourself.
Cultivate your core values.
All relationships are built on values. With every word, gesture and choice, we communicate — sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly — what we believe, what we want, and what we feel is important.
For example, when we put up with a friend who subtly mocks us, we communicate that we don’t hold ourselves in high esteem. When we stick with a friend who regularly bails on us, we communicate that we don’t find ourselves worthy of respect and commitment. On the flipside, when we help a friend prepare for a job interview, we communicate that they are worth our time and deserve new opportunities. When we cultivate a friend who listens to us empathically, we communicate that our experiences matter.
The quality of our values and the quality of our relationships are deeply connected.
To build new friendships in adulthood, we need to ensure that our values are in line with our goals, so that those values bring people with similar interests into our lives.
Ashton, a longtime listener of the show, recently wrote me to share this discovery.
After years of feeling like she didn’t have a reliable, engaged friend group, she decided to look inward. For years she had subconsciously blamed her friends for being flakey and uninterested in her growth, despite the fact that she felt highly invested in them. Now she was curious to know what role she might have been playing in this dynamic.
With the help of a therapist, she realized how much of their behavior she had dismissed or justified over the years. She had ignored her frustration when they bailed on a weekend trip. She had suppressed her hurt when they didn’t seem to have time to help her through a rough break-up (all the more hurtful, she explained, because she had made it a priority to be there for them in similar moments). She could point to a dozen specific instances in which her friends had disappointed her, but she had failed to express that disappointment, out of fear of driving them away. She suddenly realized how much consistency, empathy and reciprocity mattered to her.
So Ashton tried something new. Armed with her new insight, she decided to own her values and bring them into her relationships. When one of her friends bailed on dinner plans at the last minute, she spoke up. When another friend phoned in a conversation over lunch about her job search, she asked her why she seemed so distant. She didn’t attack her friends, of course. She just took her own expectations more seriously, and gave her friends a chance to understand them.
Almost by magic, her friendships began to transform. She learned that her friends, while sometimes hurtful, were not trying to hurt her. They were just unconsciously responding to the needs and boundaries she had been subtly communicating. If she didn’t think she was worthy of respect and support, it was much harder for them to know that those qualities were important. Ashton was amazed by how quickly their dynamic shifted as soon as she took her own values more seriously.
But this didn’t happen with all of her relationships. Two of her friends didn’t respond quite as well. Unable to meet her in her new experience, they drifted away. It was painful for a short period of time, she explained. But it was ultimately empowering, because now she saw what a healthy friendship really looked like. That made it even easier for her to build new friendships, which she suddenly had more time to explore.
This is why understanding and enforcing your core values is important.
When we commit to what we believe is important in a friendship — honesty, consistency, kindness, generosity, and so on — we automatically know what we will and won’t put up with in a relationship. We know what we expect from others, and we know what we want to invest in them. We know what the friendship is really “about,” in the deepest sense of the term.
And the beauty of this principle is that it’s self-reinforcing. The more we spend time with people who share our values, the more those values enhance our relationships, and the more those relationships enhance those values.
That’s what Ashton discovered. The more she hung out with committed, curious, empathic people, the more present, interesting and connected she became. The less she hung out with flaky, complacent, indifferent people, the easier she found it to protect her passion and focus in life. But it all began with her values.
Embracing our values filters the right people into our lives. It also keeps the right people in our lives, and helps us invest in those friendships the right way.
This is why I find it interesting that so many adults feel that making friends gets harder as they age. The truth is that as we get older, values only become more important. Generosity, kindness, respect, empathy, commitment — all of these become more essential as we age, not less. A friendship between two 20 year-olds that centers on drinking and meeting new people might survive without a ton of generosity or consistency. But a friendship between two 35 year-olds who are mapping out their futures will probably struggle without them.
So the key is to commit to identifying, cultivating and sharing our values with other people. This is how we signal to other people what we expect in a friendship, and what we are interested in offering. New people might or might not reflect those values, and that’s okay — in fact, that’s an important part of the process. But if we don’t even have a grasp of those values, then we’ll never be able to invite the people we find truly meaningful into our lives, and we’ll definitely struggle to keep them there.
In a world of infinite choice and constant distraction, it’s never been easier to bail on plans. As a result, we’re now living in an age where commitment — good old-fashioned showing up — is a valuable commodity. As it happens, that commodity is also the glue of strong adult friendships.
When I moved to LA 10 years ago, one of the first people I met was Gabriel, who is now my writing partner and Deep Dive co-host on the show. Shortly after we met, we made plans to have dinner at a restaurant in Hollywood, where I was just starting to learn that the stereotype of LA flakiness was (unfortunately) very real. Three people had bailed on plans with me that week, which made me wonder if LA really was the place where friendships go to die. (It might be.)
The day before our dinner, Gabriel texted me to confirm our plans. It was a basic courtesy, but it sent a message, and it set the tone for our hang-out. Still, I half-expected him to cancel when I texted him a few hours before our dinner to re-confirm. Sure enough, he hit me back saying that he had made a reservation and was looking forward to hanging out. We had an awesome conversation that night, and that was the start of an incredible friendship.
Of course, we stayed friends because we had a lot in common, including all of the principles we’ve talked about so far. But if Gabriel and I hadn’t actively committed to hanging out the first time we made plans — when it would have been just as easy to bail for perfectly acceptable reasons — it’s very possible that our friendship would never have had the opportunity to develop.
To make friends as an adult, we have to be interested, we have to be interesting, we have to have something to offer, and we have to share common values.
But before any of those qualities can come into play, we have to commit.
We have to show up when we say we will, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Why? Because the bond that creates that obligation is new and tenuous. By truly committing, we say: I know we don’t know each other yet, I know we don’t “owe” each other anything, but I want to give this friendship a shot, and I’m not going to act in a way that suggests otherwise.
That’s how a potentially great friendship has the best possible shot at becoming actually great. When we act as if it will.
But showing up in the early stages is only half the equation.
We also need to continue to show up, especially as a friendship matures.
This is where adulthood can also get in the way of making new friends. Because as we get older, we tend to accumulate more and more responsibilities, which make it harder to be there consistently for other people. We bail more frequently, and other people “totally get it.” Which only reinforces the cycle.
But this is the difference between making a new friend and developing a friendship: the degree to which we commit to showing up, especially when we’re needed.
It’s this consistency of presence that determines the quality of a friendship, that keeps it alive. It might be a phone call on a tough night or a yearly road trip to bond and reflect. It could be swinging by the hospital after a surgery or picking up someone’s child from school. The needs of every friendship are different, but the principle remains: We have to be there consistently for a friendship to remain meaningful, valuable, and real.
So how do we ensure that we show up?
The answer to that question brings us to our next principle — one of the most important values we can hold in developing new friendships.
Commit to honesty.
As we saw earlier, social norms don’t value honesty as much as they used to. We break plans more easily, bail on promises without regret, and put up with similar treatment from other people. (As we’ve also seen in the Values section, when we expect and allow that treatment, we tend to invite people into our lives who will continue to disappoint.) Our word just doesn’t mean what it used to.
But that deficit of honesty is also the key to building strong friendships in today’s world.
When we are honest about what we want in our friendships, when we are realistic about what we can offer, and when we protect that honesty as a core value, then new relationships have a much higher probability of succeeding.
Because the less honest our society is, the more powerful our personal honesty becomes. We’re starving for authenticity and truth, even if we don’t realize it. So when we receive it in a relationship, especially these days, it means so much more. Because it’s rare.
When we struggle to maintain a relationship, it’s usually because we haven’t been honest with ourselves about our interests, priorities and feelings.
In general, we rarely try to hurt or disappoint people. More often, we commit to plans or expectations that we haven’t fully thought through. We haven’t honestly reflected on which relationships we find truly important, so we end up committing to all of them. We do this to preserve our options, or maybe because we like the idea of honoring our commitments. But we often do so without committing to the people and plans we find truly valuable. If we did, we wouldn’t bail, because those people and plans would be aligned with our values, desires and needs.
Dishonesty is the greatest barrier to meaningful and lasting friendships.
When we deceive ourselves about whom we want to be friends with, we create the perfect conditions for flaky behavior, superficial connection and emotional disappointment.
This pattern often comes from a benign place, but it has devastating consequences for our relationships. Especially when the other party believes that our flakiness or superficiality is a true reflection of our character (or, even worse, of theirs) — a classic example of how the fundamental attribution error can damage our relationships as we get older.
On the other hand, when we’re radically honest about whom we want to be friends with, we create the perfect conditions for meaningful connection and emotional fulfillment.
If we’re authentic about what we want, need and value, then that honesty will promote productive behavior — like showing up, being generous and leading with kindness — and avoid the need for dysfunctional behavior, like bailing, phoning it in, or keeping people at a distance.
So what does radical honesty mean in practice?
To get very tactical about this for a moment, it means a handful of practices and principles in our relationships, including:
- Accepting that we sometimes don’t feel strongly about certain people, including people we used to feel strongly about in the past.
- Starting and maintaining relationships with people based on our positive goals, values and needs, rather than on other concepts, such as hope, insecurity or history.
- Recognizing those moments when we do feel strongly about someone, and making the commitment to honor those feelings by following through on plans, communicating how we feel about them, and behaving in a way that reflects those feelings.
- Learning to be comfortable saying “no” to people and plans when they don’t align with our desires, values and needs.
- Deciding to show up and honor the commitments we’ve made to other people, and removing any clever justifications we’ve developed for acting contrary to our goals, values and needs (e.g., being “too tired,” avoiding social situations, creating false conflicts, and so on).
Honesty is a practice. It’s a value that we make real with every thought, feeling and action. It begins by saying: This is the kind of person I want to be. When we do, we invest in our friendships — especially new ones — with an intention that gives them the best possible chance of succeeding. And we empower the other person to do the same.
This principle is the difference between an adult friendship failing and succeeding. It really is that simple. But we have to truly commit to being honest first.
Of course, that isn’t always easy. In fact, for many of us, it’s harder than maintaining flawed relationships! This is because we’ve been taught to discount authenticity and to accept deceit in ourselves and in others. But once we really commit to authenticity, we find that the fear of honesty is so much smaller than the frustration of weak (or no) relationships. Because when you get down to it, honesty is the only way into truly great relationships.
Like honesty, vulnerability is in serious decline these days. There have never been more reasons or more ways to stop showing up and hide, in all sense of the term — behind text messages, with Facebook likes, or through humor, substances or beliefs. It’s hard enough to be vulnerable at any age, but adults tend to default to invulnerability as they get older, often without even realizing it.
Vulnerability is the state of being our authentic selves with another person. That could mean opening up about your feelings, sharing your goals, voicing your opinions, or expressing your needs. It’s what we commonly refer to as “opening up,” but in a way that creates intimacy and connection with other people.
Vulnerability is the lifeblood of great friendships.
Without the intimacy that vulnerability creates, true friendship is impossible. There’s nothing to connect to, and there’s nothing to connect with. Meaningful friendship depends on that availability and inner substance.
That said, it is possible to be too vulnerable. Vulnerability needs to be circumscribed by self-awareness, authenticity and the right intentions, or it can actually work against us when making new friends. This is where vulnerability can get tricky.
When we’re in the early stages of a friendship, we need to calibrate our vulnerability very carefully, so it doesn’t become inappropriate. While we need to be emotionally available to new people, we also need to recognize the limits of that availability, and how expectations and boundaries work in a new relationship.
For example, spilling your deepest fears to a person you just met at the gym might be “vulnerable,” but it’s also emotionally indulgent and contextually inappropriate. Regaling a stranger at a dinner party with stories from your worst breakups might count as “opening up,” but it’s probably self-indulgent over-sharing. True vulnerability is reciprocal. It has to allow the other person time and space to get to know you and share more of themselves.
Self-aware, calibrated vulnerability is another key to making new friends as an adult.
In practice, this means engaging in the right kind of vulnerability in your early interactions, including:
- Not pretending to be someone other than who you are — whether it’s smarter, more successful, less insecure or generally “cooler” (both in your life and in the moment of meeting another person).
- Sharing the right amount of your life from the beginning, and not hiding behind extreme interest or disinterest, humor, or other defenses.
- Openly expressing your interest in pursuing a friendship by making plans and owning your interest and excitement.
- Being willing to express any concerns or frustrations you have with the person in question (e.g., politely telling them that you didn’t appreciate being canceled on), especially in the early stages of the friendship, when these expectations are being formed. (This, by the way, is where vulnerability and values connect.)
When adults struggle to make friends, it’s often because they’ve forgotten how to be vulnerable.
Which is a shame, because like the other principles we’ve been talking about, vulnerability only gets more meaningful as we get older.
When we’re younger, we tend to operate in the shallows of relationships. Entire friendships can be built on adventure, in-jokes and shared experiences. We’re still figuring out who we are, and we’re still learning what we want from other people. Our needs our simpler. Our lives are less complicated. We usually haven’t discovered how deep a friendship can become, so we don’t know how much we really need it. Vulnerability is powerful at any age, of course. But in many ways, it’s less essential when we’re young.
But as we age, we need that vulnerability more and more, even if we don’t always realize it (or want to accept it). The joy and the struggle of life make us reach out for connection with other people, and that connection requires intimacy and openness. The surfaces no longer fulfill us; we can’t survive as easily on superficial conversation, easy solutions or inconsistent relationship. We know that we want to see other people for who they are, and we know that we want them to see us, too. And that can only happen when two people are vulnerable with each other.
Vulnerability, like honesty, is a practice. It doesn’t come easily to all of us, but it is available to everyone. We can start in phases, by sharing small pieces of ourselves with others, and then discover how much, how often and how quickly we should open up. The more we cultivate vulnerability, the more available we become to new friendships, and the more we discover we have to offer other people. There’s a great feedback loop here, too: The more vulnerable we are with other people, the more comfortable they feel being vulnerable with us. This feeds a virtuous cycle of connection, which gives new friendships the best possible chance at succeeding.
Here’s the key to adult friendships.
Making friends as an adult seems like an enormous challenge. And for many people, it is. Without the built-in social networks of youth, the responsibility to meet people and build relationships falls squarely on us. As our lives become more complex, that responsibility often become difficult — sometimes impossible — to maintain. And so we begin to believe that being an adult means being alone, which creates the isolation and hopelessness that seriously impair our physical and mental health.
What we don’t realize is that all of the challenges in making friends as an adult are also the keys to overcoming them. The fact that our worlds tend to shrink, that we lose sight of our core values, that we struggle to show up, that we forget the importance of honesty and vulnerability — all of these barriers to friendship also imply their solutions.
When we expand our worlds, when we recommit to our values, when we promise to show up, and when we embrace honesty and vulnerability, we create the substance that attracts new people into our lives and builds meaningful relationships. But we have to decide to work on ourselves first. The friendships are the byproduct of that work.
Which brings us to the underlying principle of this whole piece. If we’re going to make friends as adults, we have to become friends with ourselves first. That’s how we become the people we know we should be — the kind of people who build meaningful relationships throughout their lives — the kind of people we would want to be friends with in the first place.
[Featured image by Shawn Perez]