Anyone Else Think It’s Hard to Make Friends as Adults? Be Brave!

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Why are kids so good at this?

A 6 year old can walk into an indoor playland full of strangers and make four friends within thirty seconds.

A 3 year old does one better. She pre-makes friends. The family pulls up to a beach full of kids she doesn’t know at a state park, and she yells out, “Look Mom, my fwends are here!”

She’s already chosen her playmates for the day before she gets within 100 feet of them.

It’s almost unfair how quickly kids form connections. Same age? Same general height? Instant friends.

Why doesn’t friendship work that way anymore?

The process for making friends as adults is admittedly more difficult. For some reason, twenty years later, it’s no longer the norm to just waltz up to someone who-is-about-as-tall-as-you and exclaim, “Hi! Wanna play together?”

Even if you, by some stroke of goodness, end up really “clicking” with another stranger as you wait for your oil changes in the mechanic’s lobby, it’s 8 zillion times harder (approximately) to take it to the next level. For some reason, “So…er…uh…do you want to stay in touch? Be friends?” feels insanely awkward once you’re past 20.

So what happened?

In some ways, nothing.

We didn’t change. Our environment did.

Think about it. When we’re young, our lives are organized in a way that naturally fosters friendship.

We’re sent to school where we sit, eat, learn, and play among other same-age peers for seven hours a day.

Seven hours.

When’s the last time you spent seven hours with your adult friends?

In childhood, we’re also naturally grouped with people who share things in common with us. You’re seven and you’re seven too? Wait, all of us are seven!! You watch cartoons? Me too. You like kickball. Whoa. The similarities are crazy!

As we get into junior high and high school, we group off and specialize a little more. We spend endless after school hours with our fellow athletic teammates, band geeks, or drama club members. But we’re still able to spend nearly all of our waking hours with people with whom we have things in common.

And don’t even get me started on college. Now we’re not just hanging out with same age peers during the day, but we’re living with hundreds of them in our dorm. Bored? Just wander out in the lounge at any given moment and you’re likely to find other same-aged people willing to pick up and go do something immediately.

Let’s think about what else has changed.

The number of people we see on a daily basis.

As we hit adult milestones–careers, maybe getting married or having kids–new responsibilities begin to demand our time. They siphon our time away from hanging out with masses of our peers and push us into community with a much smaller group of people. Our co-workers. Our spouse. Our kids. Maybe a neighbor.

When our social circles shrink, life can feel isolating. Especially when compared to the droves of people we had access to in our teenage and early adult years.

The level of effort we have to put in has changed too.

As a kid, nearly everything to do with community is done for us. We hang out at school with hundreds of other children every day. And we don’t have to do anything at all to make this happen. We don’t have to call anyone. We don’t have to coordinate calendars. We don’t even have to arrange transportation. We are literally dropped off to be with our peers.

Adults, on the other hand, have to take initiative.

Not to mention, our responsibilities are probably different.

As a kid, we had time to sit and discuss the intricacies of super heroes. To pretend to be fictional characters. To create imaginary friends. But now? Our greatest worry isn’t building a sand track for our matchbox cars or a stage for our Barbie fashion show, it’s getting a sick four year old his antibiotic. It’s getting those squeaky brakes looked at before we go through a highway guardrail.

We actually have to do certain things on your to do list.

The result? Suddenly we no longer spend seven hours a day with potential playmates.

But is it really THAT different?

Another thing that may seem different about adulthood? The number of unknown people you encounter. As adults, many of us moved away from our childhood stomping grounds to new neighborhoods where there are whole different schools, churches, and hang out spots than the ones we frequented as kids.

This means nearly everyone we see is a stranger.

Unlike elementary school…where we knew everyone.

But wait.

When we stop to think about it, we didn’t instant-know people as a kid either. We didn’t enter the world with a gaggle of babies passing us notes in the maternity ward. We didn’t arrive at preschool or kindergarten knowing the names of all the other 5 year olds.

All those kids we grew up with? The ones who witnessed our first crush, who know our inside jokes, who tried the exact same terrible-but-trendy-at-the-time hairstyles? They were strangers once too.

All of them.

We weren’t even born knowing our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, or our now familiar family friends.

Each stage was full of “new” back then too, but we faced new differently.

When reading commentary like this, it’s easy to get swept away and to concede the earlier point. That, as adults, we can’t just strike up friendship on the fly like toddlers in a playland.

But maybe we shouldn’t have signed off on that conclusion so fast.

What if life’s not as complicated as adults make it? Maybe we’ve just forgotten some super simple life skills like being hopeful about the people we meet and being vulnerable enough to make the first move.

Maybe we’ve forgotten how to project friendship onto the strangers, rather than fear.

Maybe the biggest difference is we’ve lost our faith. We’ve lost our bravery.

So next time you meet a friendly stranger, channel your inner kindergartener and remember Kenny Rogers’ song that says, “You don’t make old friends.” Friends don’t come to you old. They don’t come to you with years of shared memories. You have to make those.

You have to start at the beginning. With a friendly wave and a bashful smile that add up to a first impression. With a willingness to talk to a stranger. Take initiative, be intentional about spending time together, and get lost in the moment like our five year old selves and watch your friendships grow.

There are 5 comments

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  1. JuliaGirl90

    I’ve always thought adulting was hard especially socially but I always thought it was me. LOL. Hopefully this article is right and its not.

  2. Monica D.C.

    I think we’re onto something here!!!! Hahaha.

    Can I just add that maybe social tutoring should be mandatory for some people????

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