Forming Adult Friendships
I frequently hear from adults in their 30’s and 40’s how difficult it is to form close friendships at this stage in their lives. Despite having scores of Facebook friends, work acquaintances, or adults met through their children’s play dates, it’s hard to develop the kind of bonds they formed in adolescence or in college.
Let’s face it; there are no friends like old friends.
I have two buddies from college who I am still in touch with over the last 40 years. We grew up together (so to speak) and we know each other in a way that is different than more recent friends. But they live 3000 miles away! With email, social media, and cell phones it is easier to stay in touch. But we may only see each once a year at most. When we do get together, it is as if I saw them last week. Our conversation picks up where we left off a year ago. That is a great feeling!
But with geographic job moves, it is increasingly common for adults to find themselves in new locales with old friends living far away. Modern life is so busy! Between the growing demands of work, household responsibilities, and kid’s activities, it’s harder to develop close friends. So adults find themselves having more acquaintances or “situational fiends”, but these contacts lack the depth they seek. And, if they experience a major life event such as divorce or illness, they realize that their support system is too small. And it is difficult to develop new friendships when one is going through a life crisis.
Cited in an article in the New York times, “Friends of a certain age” (July 13th, 2012), Rebecca Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina notes that there are three conditions that are necessary for establishing close friendships—“proximity, repeated, unplanned interactions, and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other”.
These occur frequently in late adolescence and young adulthood, but start to diminish in later years. How do adults meet each other? The venues of adult life don’t always lead to these three necessary conditions. We have proximity with co-workers, repeated interactions, but work doesn’t encourage letting your hair down. And, as work demands have increased in the last 10 years, who has time to chat and socialize at work? Sometimes, my work day is like a steam engine that keeps accelerating as they day goes on. I have to keep my focus on my work in order to get home at a reasonable hour!
I can think of several people with whom my wife and periodic dates with over the years. We had a pleasant time, and there was the possibility of a deeper connection. But we didn’t run into each other in the course of our everyday lives (no proximity). Occasional meals together are rarely enough to make a close friend, even when there is good chemistry.
As adults form couples, finding other couples with whom both partners connect with can be a hurdle. Joe likes Bill, but his wife, Sarah doesn’t like Bill—the end. It can be like a series of blind dates. Some adults connect through their kid’s friends (proximity and repeated contact) but if their children change friends, and they do, the adult friendships may peter out.
So, what are some good ways to develop closer friendships?
Get involved in some activity. Join a committee at your religious institution. Volunteer in a community program. Participate in a volleyball league. Go to a gym. Join a yoga class. Join a club or civic organization. Join a book group (book clubs have exploded in popularity over recent years). Get involved in something you enjoy. These kinds of involvements meet the three criteria for developing close friendships. I have been a student and now a teacher in my Aikido (martial art) school for almost 15 years. Over the course of these years, I practice regularly with a small group of students. Many of us have become good friends as a result of the close contact we have doing something we enjoy.
I developed a friendship with a colleague with whom I exercised next to over a 10 year period! We worked out in the same small exercise room four times a week during lunch for years. We got to know each other slowly but surely. We have become close friends even though we don’t exercise together anymore.
How have you developed close friends in your adulthood?