MAKING AND KEEPING FRIENDS IN ADULTHOOD
Organizing meet-ups and hanging out with friends now can be a reminder of how significantly the world has changed. What once gave us joy, now can elicit guilt or even fear.
Before the pandemic began, I would often hear in my practice and my personal life complaints and worries about dwindling friendships in adulthood. We cannot deny that we need other people. The quality of our relationships is vital to both our physical and emotional health and is one of the single most influential factors in building a meaningful life.
Now, with COVID in full swing, making and keeping friends can be that much harder. We aren’t meeting co-workers at the espresso machine, starting in on a new community art class, or inviting new acquaintances over for game nights. This has required us to get creative with how we reach out and build connections or we may find ourselves isolating more. Paradoxically, choosing the latter can bring a short-lived sense of relief. It is no longer on our list of things to do, to see or call so and so to check-in. COVID or not, staying in this sense of relief can have long term effects.
We can be easily allured to avoid putting energy into our friendships because, frankly, when there’s little energy left, we might just want to chill out. In psychology, we call this experiential avoidance, when we avoid something emotionally difficult through distraction, often a short-lived pleasure. (For more about experiential avoidance, click here.) As humans, we will try just about everything to get rid of a painful thought, emotion, and memory. Experiential avoidance is human, inevitable, and mid-pandemic- very understandable. However, when engaging in avoidance behaviors we may wish to ask ourselves, “In this moment, is this [avoidance] helpful? Or is it harmful?”
Here are 7 tips to foster intentionality in creating and maintaining meaningful friendships:
- Learn about yourself. Ask yourself where do you tend to fall on the extroverted or introverted continuum (Link to the Myers-Briggs personality test here)? Do you feel more energetic while around others, or do you need some time to yourself to re-charge? How many friends feel like enough for you to manage all that is going on in your life? What types of friendships feel most nurturing? Most fun?
- Cut yourself a break. Managing the many facets of adulthood is challenging. Nourish yourself, too. If you have little energy to give, this may not be the moment to spark up a new friendship. Meet yourself where you are.
- Imagine or look for examples of friendships you want to have in your life. This requires a bit of a step back, and these examples can come from anywhere, siblings, existing friendships, and even TV shows and movies. We often have to imagine what a healthy friendship looks like before we can create one. What sorts of things do the friends do together? How do they speak to one another? What do you value about these friendships?
- Look for those people (and pets!) who are already there. Is there someone that reaches out to you already? You may not notice them or may think they will always be there for one reason or another. Think about the roadblocks. Can you reach out to someone from a different age group?
- Convenience is helpful but don’t make it everything. Relationships including friendships can’t withstand shortcut after shortcut. Let the other person know you are willing to help them out or to spend time with them even when it isn’t convenient for you.
- When you can, give your time and your ear.
- Create safety and then inch out and be vulnerable. What do you need to feel safe in a friendship? At what point are you comfortable being vulnerable with the other party? Being vulnerable with others helps us build deeper connections, but remember to keep your safety in mind, too.
Making and keeping friends in adulthood is made all the more challenging by systems and external forces out of our control. Demands on our time and energy can seem endless. And we know that friendships benefit us and make our lives richer. Recognize the things that get in the way of friendships in your life, acknowledge them, and choose to take action.
Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: a flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior, 51 Suppl(Suppl), S54–S66. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501