One thing that I wish I had known about adulthood before I, y’know, actually became an adult, is how lonely it can be. For a lot of younger Millennials, starting your first job often means moving to a new city where, often, you don’t know anyone, and without the structure of school or college, it can be downright difficult to find your people. When you’re just starting out and getting your bearings in your identity as an adult and a working person, cultivating meaningful relationships can fall by the wayside.
No matter how misanthropic or introverted we are, humans are social animals, and we crave meaningful connections with the people around us. Yet, in some ways, we’re more disconnected from each other than we ever were, and widespread loneliness is fast becoming a public health concern.
The good news is, it’s not as difficult as it seems to make new friends as an adult. It’s not as easy as it was when you were a kid, but with a few helpful tips and mindset changes, it’s not impossible – I mean, I did it, and I’m basically April Ludgate when it comes to these things, so I promise you can too.
Here are my tips on how to make new friends as an adult:
Accept That Some of Your Friends Will Be from Work
You will hear a lot of ‘advice’ online telling you not to make friends with the people you work with, but here’s the real real: you spend 40+ hours with them and you probably have a lot of common interests and shared experiences. I’ve met some of my best adult friends through work, and as long as you take it slow and steady, you can develop some really rich and valuable friendships.
Try inviting them out for a drink after work or a coffee/brunch date on the weekend. If all goes well (and you don’t just talk about work), step it up a little and invite them to a party or group hang. All goes well? Get them on the group chat.
A word of caution: when you’re friends with the people you work with, it can be important to establish some boundaries up front. One of my friends and I have an unspoken agreement that we don’t talk about work when we’re not at work. And just don’t tell anyone anything that you wouldn’t want to say in front of your leader, no matter how much you trust that person.
Say Hi to Your Neighbors
We live in a weird time where we don’t have relationships with our neighbors the way we used to. In fact, studies have shown that Millennials feel disconnected from their communities and neighborhoods and are more likely to feel connected to online communities than IRL communities (what up, CF!).
The good news is, this is pretty easy to remedy: introduce yourself to your neighbors. If you live in an apartment, bake a whole mess of cookies and knock on some doors – everyone loves cookies. If you see new people moving in, welcome them with a small gift (a bottle of wine is great, a pie or a plate of cookies is even better) and introduce yourself.
If you know your neighbors, invite them to your parties. Make a block- or floor-wide event, like a game night or movie night. Of course, you don’t have to be friends with all your neighbors, and depending on where you live, you may not have a ton in common with them. But it’s always good try – at the very least, you have someone you can trust to feed your cat or water your plants when you’re on vacay.
Find Folks with Common Interests
I would have felt very lonely my first few years out of college if it hadn’t been for my book club ladies. Of course, we knew each other from college and ended up in the same area, but our shared interests in literature and movies helped us to grow closer and meet new people as we expanded our book club.
Look for local sports teams, knitting circles, book clubs, tabletop gaming groups, improve troupes, whatever it is that you’re into – not do you have a common interest with these people, but often you live in the same area so you’ll have shared experiences. You could maybe even find these things through your workplace or a community Facebook page.
Even if you don’t become friends with these people outside the context of the group, belonging to a small community will help you feel more socially connected and open doors for you to try new things, which may lead you to meeting new people and more chances at finding those meaningful friendships.
Your Friends Probably Have Cool Friends
Think about this – if you have five best friends, and they each have five best friends, chances are that some of those people don’t overlap. And yet, you clearly have awesome people in common, and therefore some shared interests or lifestyle preferences. If you feel like you vibe with someone in your friend’s friend circle, why not try to cultivate a more personal relationship with them that doesn’t exist in the context of your mutual friend?
The nice thing about these friendships is that they’re pretty easy to grow organically – invite your potential friend and your mutual friend to hang out a few times, and then hang out with them one on one. Try going a concert or local festival together where you’ll have a little structure around what you’ll be doing, or invite them over to bake cookies or try to DIY something together.
Be open-minded when it comes to friendships as an adult. You may not think that you have a lot in common with one of your coworkers who is 15 years your senior, and yet you might have some fascinating and perspective-shifting conversations with them. You may have a chance to reconnect with someone you didn’t have a connection with in high school or college, and find you had way more in common than you think. Heck, you may find you have more in common with your elderly neighbor next door than the two millennial guys who live across the hall.
Of course, you won’t start any new friendship if you don’t open yourself up and make yourself vulnerable. Trust me – I’m still pretty shy and introverted, even at 26, and it can feel awkward and a little scary to introduce yourself to someone that you don’t know. And yet, more often than not, you reap rewards from that openness rather than rejection.
More Help on Friend-Making:
If you want more tips and ideas to help you break out of your shell and make friends after college, see our post on How to Make Friends Post-Graduation. We go even deeper into this subject. And remember: You got this!
What do you think?
Have you tried any of these suggestions? What are your tried-and-true tips for making new friends? Let me know in the comments below!