Let’s face it—it was soooooo much easier to make friends when we were little. Our friendships back then were usually based on convenience. For example, your friends were probably in your class at school, lived in your neighborhood, or went to your church. We had instant access to our friends every day at school or at home. We didn’t have to seek friends out.
Even if you didn’t have a friend close by, all you had to do was say “hi” to someone on the playground, and you were instantly friends, even if only for the next 20 minutes. Children approach friendships with innocence. They haven’t been hurt, back-stabbed, or betrayed by friends. They don’t understand quite yet that friendships are complicated.
When we become adults, something shifts with friendships. They become hard, complicated, and sometimes impossible to find. If you are an adult struggling with loneliness, you are not alone. I hear in therapy sessions multiple times a week from clients who are struggling with lack of friendships. It seems we’ve forgotten some of the child-like innocence that we used to approach other children with. If you went up to a random person at a coffee shop now and struck up a conversation, they’d probably think you were a weirdo. We don’t put ourselves out there anymore.
I find this is especially true in certain stages of life. When you leave college, for example, and everyone scatters, it can be hard to make friends. When you are in college, everyone is in a pretty confined space (same with High School). Once college is over, it can be hard to maintain friendships, and also make new ones. People just aren’t as accessible or confined as they used to be. It only gets harder the older we get. According to Psychology Today, friendships tend to peak in our 20’s, and then slowly decline as we get older.
Social Media Impact
Social media has had a humongous impact on what being “friends” with people means. Just look at the people you are “friends” with on your accounts. How many hundreds of friends do you have? How many of them do you actually spend time with and know really well? Social media creates a façade of being surrounded by all these people. And yet so many people feel incredibly lonely and isolated.
Social media also stirs up jealousy and FOMO (fear of missing out). Have you ever scrolled through and saw a picture of your friends together somewhere, and they didn’t invite you? It creates pain and hurt that you otherwise would not have experienced. I’m not saying to avoid social media altogether, but if you are struggling with friendships, it’s probably not helping you.
Mental Health Impact
There is definitely a piece to this where mental health does impact your ability to create and maintain friendships. There is an increase in depression when people feel isolated and alone. But, when you are depressed, many people isolate and want to be alone. See the problem? How do you put yourself out there when you are struggling to put yourself out there?
Anxiety can also impact one’s ability to create and maintain friendships. If you get nervous around new social settings or new people, it can be hard to commit to things.
When you don’t feel good enough (also known as shame), it can be hard to put yourself out there. Shame convinces you that you are not as good as other people, that people are judging you, and that you are going to disappoint the people around you. Talk about a lot of pressure! Shame can also convince you that everyone else already has an established friend group and won’t accept you (which is often not the case!).
People who have a lot of shame may struggle to be vulnerable in relationships. Shame is activated by intimacy. When someone gets to know you and sees the good, the bad, and the ugly, that is intimacy. Therefore, people with large amounts of shame are going to keep people at an arm’s length in order to protect themselves. It is hard to get close to anyone when you feel inherently flawed. Eventually, people may stop trying to be friends with you, because they feel that distance.
Steps to Take to Make Friends
In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping”, Dr. Cloud talks about increasing your number of “eligibles” in order to try to find someone worth dating. I’m going to apply this same thought process to friendships. First of all, an “eligible” is someone in the correct age span, stage of life, and someone you might see yourself hanging out with. Second of all, Dr. Cloud recommends you keep track of all of the eligibles you encounter in a week’s span. If the answer is zero or pretty small, you have to widen your pool. That means you need to put yourself in situations where you can meet people. Find a new hobby, join a group at church, go on a work outing, volunteer, etc.
Speaking of hobbies, have you ever heard of Meet-Up Groups? They are really great ways to meet new people. Meet-Up Groups are local groups based around an interest or hobby. For example, locally in Indianapolis, there are hundreds of Meet-Up Groups for many different types of interests. There are hiking groups, poetry groups, single groups, Dungeons and Dragons groups, kayaking groups, beer tasting groups, computer programming groups, and yoga groups, just to name a few. Hop on the website and see if you can find a few you might be interested in!
The bottom line is this: You have to put yourself out there when you become an adult, especially if you want to make friends. If you are reading this, and are struggling with any of the above-listed roadblocks to making friends, please reach out for help. Therapy can help you process through any depression, anxiety, shame, or insecurities you may have, and give you support and tools for your toolbox.
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling in Carmel, Indiana. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.