It is significantly more intimidating to make friends as an adult now that we’re out of school. Back then, we had recess. We had extracurriculars. We had dining halls and dorms where other people our age congregated. But now we have… jobs? Spouses? Kids with recess of their own?
How are we supposed to form meaningful connections with new people? When we’re grocery shopping? In the school pickup line? DMing that one mom you follow on Instagram? Setting up your own play dates with people you know from work? (Btw, if the only people you hang out with are people you have to tolerate professionally, you’re in the right spot — let’s talk about making new friends!)
Friendship is the secret sauce of adult life. So how does someone in their 20s or 30s identify and cultivate a meaningful, supportive, platonic relationship? Here are four things to keep in mind.
A new friend doesn’t have to be as close as your college roommate
Whether or not you’re married, you probably have one or two folks who are already your people – friends from your hometown, or roommates you spent years with in college. These folks were with you during the most formative experiences of your life. That was great for high school, but as an adult it’s an unrealistic expectation to think that a friend has to know you that deeply.
Now you need someone who can make you laugh over drinks about daily minutiae, or make a great guacamole for a game watch. This is why parents of similarly aged children gravitate toward one another — they are sharing an experience. It’s okay to lower your threshold of entry for new friends.
Seen another way: you have everything you need to make friends right now. You don’t have to meet someone who lived on the block you grew up on — you just need to find someone whose life or interests overlap in one or two ways with yours. There might be 98 ways in which your lives are different, but the two commonalities are enough to light a spark.
Your peer group is everyone
When I started teaching high school right after graduation, my peers were in their 30s. I was 22, and I felt like a child when we went out to the bar. They had a decade of experience, marriages, children and adventures as an adult, and I had … college?
My colleagues didn’t treat me like I was any younger, even though my stories were mostly about pranks my roommates and I played on each other. In my mind, there was a very clear power dynamic: they were older and wiser, and I was the kid. But they never treated me that way. They valued my opinions, they accepted my contributions. My money was worth the same when I offered to pay. The people who would have been in college when I was in middle school were suddenly my closest friends in the city. And they still remain close.
I live in Europe now, and two of my closest friends now are women a decade older than me with school-aged children. I go over to their homes and hang with their children, and then we get to have girl-talk once the kids go to bed. Though these women are older and have had experiences I haven’t, we have rich, valuable conversations about life abroad, balancing children and career, national identity as a foreigner, and being a woman. Our relationships are not based on shared experience. They are based on location and availability.
Time spent together is less urgent
When I studied abroad my junior year of college, my dad told me something that’s stuck with me ever since: When you’re young, you have time and no money. When you’re old, you have money and no time.
It was easy to make space to hang out with people when I was in my 20s. I’d even fly across the country to meet babies and spend spring break with friends from college. Now I have more obligations and more responsibility. This means less time to steward my friendships. But that doesn’t mean they have to shrivel up!
If you only see a friend once a month, or once every three months, your friendship can still be lifegiving and supportive. Even if it’s a phone call once every few months, that’s a moment for you to share your life with someone who knows you.
Don’t fret about losing touch with people because you’re caught up in your daily obligations. Friendships that have lasted this long will be able to weather frantic seasons, or seasons of silence. You don’t need to text with someone every week to have a full, supportive friendship whenever you do have time to connect.
Your friends don’t have to be just like you
When you’re young, you want people who share your tastes and values. Now that you’re establishing yourself in a neighborhood or a career, you can expand your criteria a bit to encompass the community you’re in. A friend is simply someone whose company you can enjoy.
People don’t have to check all of your boxes to be included in your circle. Friends you make as an adult can have different values and come from different backgrounds. In fact, that diversity is an advantage in this stage of your life because of the new perspectives and insights that people bring. The variety of friendships you can have as an adult is phenomenal.
Adult life is about playing the long game, and making time to cultivate a friendship with someone who has lived a radically different life from yours can be exciting and fulfilling. Maybe you wouldn’t have been friends with a particular person if you’d met a decade earlier, but now that you’re both older, there’s space to appreciate different roads taken to arrive where you are.