If I ever wanted to make a friend in primary school, all I needed to do was ask to play and that was usually that.
As a kid, I spent most summer holidays camping with my family at our favourite caravan park a few hours south of Sydney. My sister and I would spend hours each day riding our bikes around the campgrounds, getting up to mischief and making lots of friends along the way. We’d ride straight up to random kids building forts or climbing trees, and we’d simply ask if we could play. Sometimes a kid would find us and we’d give them a role in our adventures. On those holidays we had more friends to play with than we had BBQ snags.
But as an adult…
With a business to run, a baby to raise, and hardly enough time for my weekly yoga classes, the opportunities to form new friendships don’t present themselves quite as often – or as easily. I know it sounds anti-social, but with each new year, and all the commitments that come with adulting, I’ve found myself increasingly reluctant to form new friendships or create new social networks.
It’s not because I’m shy or don’t like meeting new people – far from it. It’s just that with each new life transition, like moving house, starting a new job, or leaving work to have a baby, finding friends has become a little more challenging (and a lot more tiring).
For some people, it happens when…
All their friends start having babies and they’re the only ‘single’ one left in the group, for others, it can be that they just want to live a healthier lifestyle when all their friends want to do is drink and party every weekend.
The good news is that even if you do find yourself in a friendship drought in adulthood, it’s definitely not something to be ashamed of, it’s actually common and normal. Sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst of Utrecht University in the Netherlands did a study and found that we lose around half our friends every seven years or so and replace them with new ones.
Making new friends is just a fact of life.
The tricky part can be finding ways to make it happen. You have to be proactive.
Surrounding ourselves with friends is key to our wellbeing and feeling more fulfilled. There’s even research to suggest that the number of friends we have and the closeness we feel towards them are two of the five main factors that determine how happy we are in life.
I think this is especially true for women.
Women love to talk about emotional experiences. We eagerly swap tales of our children’s births, we gush about our wedding day, we confide in each other all the secrets from a first date, to the end of a marriage, and every little detail in between.
It’s one thing to keep old friendships alive, but what happens when we have to physically leave our friends behind and move interstate, or we have a baby and they don’t, so it becomes too hard to catch up? How do we build new meaningful friendships as an adult?
If we’re open to them…
Friendships can form with anyone we cross paths with on a regular basis. Co-workers, fellow yoga devotees, mum’s group or even someone you regularly bump into at the dog park. Interacting with the people who come across your path in a genuine and friendly way will create opportunities and open doors for further connection.
But it’s the extent of mutual disclosure that really shifts a relationship from friendly acquaintances into firm friendship territory. Being vulnerable with one another will deepen and strengthen the friendship.
There are three stages we have to move through to go from the friendly handshake of an acquaintance to the warm embrace of a good friend.
Stage 1: similarities
First, we look for any similarities we share with the other person. Do we like the same TV shows, have we travelled to the same places, have we got the same sense of humour? If we find we have enough in common we’ll more than likely move on to stage two.
Stage 2: vulnerability
As the trust and respect grows, we can slowly start to reveal more personal information about ourselves. When it feels safe to be vulnerable with the other person we enjoy sharing more about our lives than simply what happened on the weekend. We tend to go more in-depth, sharing stories about our families and our history.
Stage 3: connection
Finally, we reach a healthy level of emotional connection, support, acceptance and trust. We start to feel a deep sense of connection with that person. We can confide in them and they understand us. We can empathise with one another without explanation.
Regardless of how long two people have known each other, once the third stage is reached, trust has already taken root. That’s when two people know they’ve got each other’s back.
But sometimes the hardest part is finding the emotional and mental capacity for new friends.
It takes a certain amount of effort and commitment, not to mention vulnerability. You have to allow new people and experiences into your life, and be willing to make space in your head and heart to be able to form new friendships.
It’s important when you’re making new friends not to hang all of your efforts (and hopes) on just one person. It’s better to spread your time across a few friendships. It’s true that quality is better than quantity, and with friendships this is especially true, but in the beginning, it’s a good idea to hedge your bets until you get to know people a little better.
Finally, when a potential friend gives you an invitation, say yes – even if it means pushing yourself a little out of your comfort zone. If the person inviting you out is someone you think you could be friends with, trust your gut, push past your desire to curl up in your sweatpants with your latest Netflix binge, and head out instead. A single outing can lead to other great discoveries and further opportunities to meet more people.
Remember, even as a kid your friendships didn’t just happen. You actively sought out other kids to play with or accepted their invitations to play or attend parties. So go on – introduce yourself, make an effort, take a chance – trust me, it’ll be worth the effort.