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Against the odds, how to make new friends as an adult (hint: it’s possible)

We humans are social beings and we need and crave connection to a community. Studies [1] have shown that our life expectancy is reduced if we are lonely and lack social contact. In our modern world, true social connection is declining for many people. Social media are a great tool. However, they cannot replace social contact face to face. Being physically close to others (and not 1.5 metres apart) is what we need. Therefore, it’s important to either, have and maintain, or, build a good social network.

From living in tribes to living in mansions

From an evolutionary point of view, it would be best, if we still lived in tribes, as this form of community is the one, we’ve evolved to thrive in. In today’s day and age, only a few of us still live in tribes. The rest of us must make do with the social structures we have today. What do you do, when there’s tribes no more, and even extended families living close together becomes a rarity? Our living arrangements are getting less and less ideal in a social sense, and it’s no wonder that more and more people are feeling lonely.

We live in big houses, where every family member has their own room. Because the blocks of land available get smaller, we lose our big backyards in favour of our big houses. Of course, these comfortable, safe, and luxurious homes have garages with internal access to the house and electric garage doors, so we don’t have to anymore, stop our cars, get out on our driveways, and greet our neighbours.

We could see those homes as a great achievement, for example considering the safety of our or the demonstration of affluence to our peers. However, they do fail miserably when it comes to building a community. Whilst this physical separation from others may have been good during lockdown, it secretly gives us more stress.

That’s right, it is stressful for humans to be physically separated from others, and this is the case regardless of the comfort levels of the confinement. We already have enough stress and stressors in our lives, we didn’t need to add the self-induced loneliness to the pile. So, what can we do about this?

Why kids do it so easily

The advice to go out and make friends is not as easily followed as it sounds. Adults typically have a harder time in making new friends or even meet like-minded people. Why is it easier for kids?

Kids tend to be more open, and more trusting towards new friends than adults. It’s possibly because they haven’t yet experienced a lot of rejection, fizzling away of former friendships, or exhaustion after a long day at work. They usually bounce with energy, openly accept a total stranger as their new, best friend, and trust in themselves and others.

Over the years, we develop our negative attitudes due to disappointments, hurt or even bullying. We learn how not to trust others. This makes it harder to connect with people, we don’t know well or at all. Unfortunately, we also learn how not to trust ourselves. This happens through, feeling embarrassed in front of others, fearing criticism and judgement, and a whole host of negative self-beliefs, such as not being good enough.

This is a toxic combination that works against us and our happiness. On top, it does not help us one bit to connect with others and build a supportive community. Just as a side note, when people manage to be part of a supportive community, the kindness and fulfillment they experience can be almost overwhelming. Think of stories, where the kids of parents who ended up in hospital, were cared for by the neighbours, or the outpouring of help for an elderly neighbour, or the caring for plants and pets for friends who went on extended holidays. It’s there, we only need to tap into this spirit of kindness.

Three steps to develop self-trust

So, how do we do this? Well, let’s start with developing self-trust first. I promise, it’s going to be a lot easier when we learn how to trust ourselves first. I know, it’s the topic, I’ve been on about for a while. However, self-trust seems to be a tricky one. Let’s explore it again.

The first step is to practice courage. We may not be entirely happy with a certain aspect of ourselves, but if we manage to muster up the courage to be a little bit more ourselves in the company of others, it’s a step in the right direction. Key is not to think too much about what others may think of us. Usually, they are equally involved in making themselves appear cool in front of us. Just try it and before you know it, you’ll have fun, and that makes everything easier.

Once we allowed ourselves this courage, we can make it a habit. When we use more and more bits of courage, experience something positive every time as a reward, we’ll go into the world a little more authentically, and it becomes second nature to feel okay in being ourselves.

Then we can tackle the second step: Self-Acceptance. Now, this is a little more challenging. Self-Acceptance involves every aspect of ourselves. Not only the things we like about ourselves. We need to be able to accept stuff we either dislike or feel ashamed about in ourselves. Writing about this in your journal is a good trick to work through these things. We all have areas in our lives that we are not particularly proud of. However, if we keep hating ourselves for them, or simply repressing anything that has to do with it, we won’t be able to accept ourselves entirely.

Every culture has ancient stories about the less desirable aspects of human existence. That should give us the idea, that human nature is not all good. There are slip-ups and less desirable behaviours within the community. It’s normal to feel the negative feelings about those parts of us that we don’t like. Maybe it’s an old memory of what we did at a younger age, or we are unhappy with a certain part of our body. It doesn’t matter what it is exactly, it matters more how we deal with the feelings associated with the issue.

Accepting the truth that nobody is perfect, may help us twofold. First, we can take this knowledge and accept ourselves, and second, we can more easily feel compassion for others who are also not perfect. 

Let’s assume that the self-accepting task is going well, and we are ready for the third step. This next step would be self-love. Read more about self-love here. Practicing self-love is very rewarding as it aids personal development greatly. Being able to trust ourselves builds on a solid practice of courage, self-acceptance, and self-love.

Trusting others and setting boundaries

Equipped with a good dose of self-trust, developing trust in others will be a breeze. We tend to be more critical of ourselves than of others. But, seeing others and being able to detect their struggles, we often feel empathy and compassion instead of negative judgement or criticism. I know, I know, I know, there are always those people who are openly and relentlessly critical of others. However, if we can perceive even those people with compassion, and truly understand how miserable they are in their own hearts, it may get a little easier to let them be (or let them go).

Here’s an important note: Trusting others doesn’t mean that we need to put up with uninvited opinions, constant criticism, or abusive behaviour. Trusting ourselves should give us enough confidence to stand up for ourselves and create healthy boundaries.

Alright, now that we have developed self-trust and learnt how to trust others, we are ready for building or re-building our social network.

We could start with re-kindling some old friendships. Make some contact, chat on the phone, connect on Facebook, and find out what happened during the last five years you haven’t spoken to each other. Some of these attempts may feel a little awkward at first, but you’ll get better. Maybe you’ll get on like a house on fire, or maybe, you discover that you’ve moved on. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is. The main idea is to flex your social muscles.

After you’ve exhausted your old friends’ list, you can continue with making new friends. Go out. It’s unlikely that your potential new friends come to your house unless you’ll invite them. There are numerous groups to join such as meet-up groups, clubs (almost every interest has some sort of gathering mechanism), churches, or volunteer groups.

You don’t have to see these activities as the be-all and end-all of your social life. They are just exercises to get you into the swing of things. Awesome, if you’ll find some friends through just getting out there. But, if you don’t, at least it gets you used to chatting with people and simply socialising.

Ah yes, and we’ll need to practice and make time (sigh 😉)

Remember, almost everything in life gets better with practice. And, most of us know, that it can be hard to come back to something after not doing it for a while. This rule applies to making friends the same way as it applies to going to the gym. We just gotta do it.

If you have noticed that this will take time, you are right. You will need to make time for your social life, even if you think you are super busy or are an introvert. Social connections are equally important for introverts as for extroverts. Just how it’s done differs from person to person. In the end though, you may feel happier, because you are more social. A recent study[2] found that people who spend more time with friends and foster their social lives feel happier than those who don’t.

There you have it, make new friends and be happier. Plus, get better at trusting yourself and others. Sounds great 🥰

Let me know how you go with this 💜

With love,

Eva


[1] Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., & Berntson, G. G. (2003). The anatomy of loneliness. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12(3), 71–74. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.01232;

[1] Rico-Uribe, L. A., Caballero, F. F., Martín-María, N., Cabello, M., Ayuso-Mateos, J. L., & Miret, M. (2018). Association of loneliness with all-cause mortality: A meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, 13(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190033

[2] Rohrer, J. M., Richter, D., Brümmer, M., Wagner, G. G., & Schmukle, S. C. (2018). Successfully Striving for Happiness: Socially Engaged Pursuits Predict Increases in Life Satisfaction. Psychological Science, 29(8), 1291–1298. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618761660

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