This Is Why It's So Hard To Make Friends As An Adult

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Nicky J Sims / Stringer / Getty Images

Remember when we were kids and our parents told us if we were lonely, we should go “make a friend”? Like, just hop on your banana seat and ride your hot pink Huffy bike on over to the park and play with whoever was there. Or go knock on the neighbor’s door and see if anyone wants to start up a game of kickball. And as a parent, I say the same to my kids if they don’t have anyone to play with and we see another child nearby. It’s as simple as asking, “Want to play with me?” And boom. They’re friends.

RELATED: How To Make Friends In College (Because Freshman Year Is Better With BFFs)

Ah, childhood. So simple. So pure. Unfortunately, adulting interferes with friendships now—between work, marriage, and kids’ activities, plus adding a healthy dose of social anxiety in there… and, well, that’s not really Grandma’s recipe for making a buddy. But having friends is just as important for adults as it is for kids.

The Mayo Clinic even agrees, saying that true friendships will “increase your sense of belonging and purpose; boost your happiness and reduce your stress; improve your self-confidence and self-worth; and help you cope with traumas, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the death of a loved one.” Friends are important, even when you’re a boring old grownup.

No one wants to be lonely. And most people do have an innate desire to feel like they belong. Yet many adults still struggle in the friend department. Here’s why.

1. Kids.

We have three—ages 9, 7, and 5. We recently moved to a new state and have been on the prowl for some fun grownups whose kids aren’t assholes and can rival mine in a good nerf war. We’ve made a few connections, gone out for drinks, hosted a BBQ or two, etc. But it’s been slow-going. And that’s probably because we’re running from baseball fields to horseback riding lessons to Cub Scouts to soccer to church and to Target for poster board, applesauce pouches, and a yellow shirt for Field Day.

Throughout May, June, and July, we were at one of our son’s baseball games 4-5 nights a week. If we finally had a night with no plans, we had zero desire to people. With anyone. We wanted nothing more than to veg out on our own couch, let our kids gorge on popcorn and Cheetos, and watch a movie.

So when friends asked to get together, 90% of the time, we truly were unavailable, but once in a while, we just didn’t have the energy.

2. Other adult shit.

Like work. Or financial issues. We were asked to go out for dinner and drinks minutes after writing out a monstrous check for a new air conditioner. Dinner + drinks + a babysitter isn’t always in the cards. Other times, my husband is traveling. Or has to work late. Or I’m facing a looming deadline and am committed to parking my butt at the computer for three straight hours as soon as my kids are asleep. Or we promised we’d finally sit down and choose a paint color that night since we’d decided to repaint the kitchen like six months ago. Sometimes you just have to adult, and that leaves little time for friends.

3. Peopling can be stressful.

Everyone knows how it feels to be completely geared up for an event, then the night comes, and you’re like nooooo I don’t wanna to go. Why? Because it takes work. It may be anxiety about social situations. Will you say the wrong thing? Forget someone’s name? Be cornered into a conversation with someone from Team MAGA? Is it a dressy event? Casual? Um, you have nothing but 5-year-old jeans that don’t fit and yoga pants. Or it’s totally casual, but the girl running it is one of those super upbeat, life-is-a-rainbow people and you just can’t even tonight. It doesn’t mean you don’t want her as a friend. Just on a different day, maybe?

With all of these factors (and the billions of others not included on this list), making and keeping real friends can be damn near impossible. It’s not just flakiness and “Shit! I forgot we had plans!” that makes you look like you don’t care about a friendship. Sometimes you really do care, but life gets in the way. A recent article on Vox, however, offers some helpful tips to those of us who do care and want other grownups in our lives that we can be real with.

First of all, if you really are “flaky” and notoriously cancel pretty much every time you make plans, friendships will be hard. This article says that flakiness isn’t malicious, but rather just a result of seeing our lives in a variety of ways and making commitments we won’t really keep in the end. But if you truly want good friends in your lives, you need to make them a priority.

For example, we have the kindest neighbors ever. The day we moved in they popped over with fried cheese curds to welcome us (which is pretty much the best housewarming gift ever). They’ve invited us an umpteen number of times to come over, swim in their pool, have dinner, go sledding, etc. And we’ve had to say no far more often than yes (because of the list above). But we truly like them and want to be friends, so we’ve reached out repeatedly to tell them that. We’ve explained our circumstances during the months of May and July. And we solicited get togethers with them once we were free so our relationship isn’t one-sided.

“Don’t be chill when it comes to making friends,” the Vox article suggests. “Tell people you like or respect or value that they’re great and you want to hang out with them.” Communication goes a long way.

Another important point (and this was a tough one for me in those early SAHM days when I didn’t see another grownup for 10 hours a day) is to have genuine, personal conversations. Ask about the other person and listen to their answers. It’s easy to ramble on about your baby’s first tooth or constipation issues—I get it. I’ve been there. But at some point, you’ve got to take a breath and let the other person then ramble on about HER baby’s teeth and poop. Or maybe she’s at a totally different place in life and her “baby” just left for college. Sometimes friendship is just making some hot coffee, being there, and listening. Because, as this article reminds, us, “Friendships aren’t static. They require work from both people.”

And finally, it’s okay to commit to the few friendships you can see lasting. “It’s not a kindness to ‘perform’ friendship without genuine support and commitment, and both of you have limited time to spend,” the article says.

With three kids, a husband, and a career, I don’t have time for 30 friends. But if I find someone I can truly relate to, be myself with, and who accepts and loves my family for who we are, I am going to prioritize them. But we can’t do that for everyone in our lives. If you’re not feeling it, it’s fine to let that friendship go—which is the kindest, most fair thing you can do. No one wants a fake friend who forces a relationship she’s not that into, right?

So as I continue to seek out grownup friendships in my new town, I’ll keep a few things in mind. It’s about finding a couple real friends. It’s about going to the big stuff, like baby showers and a surprise 40th birthday bash. It’s about holding their babies and playing with their toddlers so they can get break. It’s about being my genuine self while also listening to their stories.

It’s about showing up for them, and if they are true friends, they will do the same for me.

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