When I moved to New York in my late twenties, my biggest worry (after finding an apartment) was whether I’d be able to make friends. I was leaving behind an extensive network in Portland, OR, where I had gone to college and lived for several years after. In hindsight, I needn’t have worried: I got a service industry job I loved, found a gaggle of new friends to go out with after work, and within a year was dating my now-husband.
Fast forward a decade or so. Now in our early forties, my husband and I recently moved to Vermont, where I grew up, with our toddler son. We’ve been here for almost a year and we’re just beginning to get invites to neighborhood barbecues. There are people I’m friendly with here, but no one I would text to go get a glass of rosé or come over to watch Game of Thrones. What gives?
Our worlds become less about where to hang on Thursday night and more about keeping all the balls in the air at once.
It turns out, it’s harder to make friends as you get older. In some ways, this is a no-brainer: We get busier, our jobs get more intense, we get married, have kids, and before we know it, our worlds become less about where to hang on Thursday night and more about keeping all the balls in the air at once. That’s natural. But friendships, unlike those platform heels you used to be able to wear all day, are not something you should grow out of. Research shows that having a strong network of relationships is vital to our health.
I spoke with Tereasa Jones, who has a master’s degree in counseling and is a certified life coach who specializes in friendship coaching, about how to make new friends as an adult.
Assess your friend network
According to Jones, we all move through a variety of interpersonal relationships on a daily basis. “Intimates” are the lifelines you can call at 3 a.m. with an emergency. “Friends” you spend time with, but maybe don’t share every detail of your life, while “friendly acquaintances” are people you know you like and whom you see on a regular basis in a particular setting, like work or the yoga studio. They’re the ones you’ve considered inviting out for coffee, but never have. Finally, “acquaintances” are people you’re friendly with in passing, at the store, the gym, in the elevator.
Which of these categories are you missing in your life? Chances are you can fill some of these gaps with people who are already in your network. Maybe you have a steady set of intimate friends, but they all live in different states and you don’t have a squad to go to brunch or head out on a hike with. You need that. Are there any friendly acquaintances you could invite out?
When picking someone for a friend date, Jones goes by the rule of three. “On the third visit, if you still think this woman could be a friend, ask her to get coffee or lunch or something like that,” she says. Save the five-hour hike for at least date four. She also recommends taking care of long-term friendships that are long-distance by texting, marking your calendar to remind yourself to call, or by planning an annual trip together and formally committing to keeping touch. “People feel really uncomfortable with these strategies,” says Jones. “They think that relationships of all sorts should come about organically, and they just don’t.”
Accept it might be awkward at first
Those lifelong friendships from high school and college? Chances are, they were forged in a set of circumstances very different from your current life. You probably had endless amounts of time to hang out and just ran into people in class, around campus, at the bar, in your dorm.
I met one of my closest friends in the world, one of my intimates, in college, but we only became friends after actively disliking each other for an entire semester. If I hadn’t continued to see her and actually talk to her the following semester, we would have never become close. Right now, there’s a family who lives near us who we’ve gone out for ice cream with and seen at picnics a couple times. Conversation doesn’t quite flow naturally yet, but it’s getting there, and my husband and I have made a pact to keep trying.
Look for like-minded folks
Jones notes that many parents tend to look for new friends by hanging out with other parents. But just because your kids are friends doesn’t mean you’re compatible. (And if you don’t have kids, you obviously can’t rely on this tactic anyway.)
Instead, look for friends in places that make you happy—the yoga studio, church, an art class. “That’s a better way to find a friendship that will stand the test of time,” says Jones. “Your kids will get older, they’ll go through different activities, but if you find someone who likes to do the same things [as you], then regardless of what else is going on in your life you will have those things in common.” Plus, it never hurts to explore something new by yourself, even if your ultimate motive is looking for potential friends.
Commit to saying yes
There have been a few invites that have come my way over the past few months: to a yoga class at the home of a teacher I have a major girl crush on, a neighborhood block party, dinner at a friendly acquaintance’s house. In every instance, my first instinct is to make up an excuse for why I can’t go. According to Jones, this is common. “Dig inside of yourself to find out, What’s up with that?” she says.
She adds that this can apply to going somewhere by yourself that is intimidating, too. “What am I afraid of, to go to that yoga class where I don’t know anybody? What’s the worst thing that could happen? If that happens, can I deal with it? I give myself permission to feel all those feelings and do it anyway.” You can always joke about it later when you become besties with the woman you fell on when your tree pose went awry.
If swiping can work for dates, why not for BFFs? Try the “Tinder of female friendships” to meet your future coffee buddy. And remember to keep your old friends when you make new ones: They could be the reason you’re mentally healthy today.