“Being alone in body and spirit begets loneliness, and loneliness begets more loneliness.” F Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night.
If you’ve ever started something new as an adult, I’m sure you’ve felt that “new kid” sting. It can send us right back to the days of braces, square pizza, and recess. We peddle around seeking and prodding to belong. To make matters worse, as an adult we’ve been taught that this “new kid” experience is just that; it’s for kids; that we’ll grow out of it as we become these awesome, accepted, belonging, valued individuals. And maybe we won’t even need friends because we are just so darn self-sufficient and independent. Right? I wish.
I am drawn to write about this right now because I’m going through it in my life. It’s uncomfortable and I feel a bit like I’m dating again. But the more I look at it, I’m finding that that makes perfect sense. We search for soul mates, boyfriends, spouses, like its our job. But since many of us have stumbled upon our besties at work, school, or elsewhere, it feels strange that we may have to go out in search of friends. But honestly, it’s not so different from seeking out your next special someone.
Why does making new friends become harder as we get older?
- We don’t meet herds of new people the way little kids do. New sports, new lessons, schools, etc, they are often around new people. Adults, unless we make the effort to be, usually are not.
- We make the requirements to be our friends increasingly difficult to meet. Are you…..Christian? Brunette? Stylish? Hindu? Where do you shop? Whats your job? What kind of stroller do you use? Are you married? We observe their body and makeup and jobs and connections in addition to how we feel around them. Kids do not. Do you like unicorns? I do too! Done and done. With children, if there’s fun, if there are good feelings, there is a friend. Simple.
- We don’t prioritize nurturing our friendships as other life responsibilities mount up. Most of us treat the coffee date with a friend, the girls night out, the guys weekend away, as a luxury. Reality? You need it. I need it.
- We’ve been taught and allowed to disguise our fears or distort our natural tendencies by labeling ourselves things like “loner,” “lone wolf,” “different,” “independent,” “better off alone,” or “introvert.” Reality? We may recharge differently and need different amounts of time with people versus time alone. But we all need human connection. People need people (Cue Barbra Streisand…”People…people who need people…“).
- Our fears are more set than our children’s. And its likely that we are either blissfully unaware that our “new people dealing habits” are steeped in fears. Or if we are aware of it, we staunchly defend our ways and stick to the beliefs we’ve created about new people.
Steps and Tips towards Making New Friends:
- Drop the shame for wanting it. The desire for human connection is the most natural thing in the world. At one point in history, our survival was hinged on our belonging to a group. Its natural. So instead of feeling immature, or silly, embrace that desire, lean in, and move on to tip # 2.
- Discover your preferences. This is a 2-fold exercise. First, list what you’d like your new friend to be like. Next, cross off anything that is not a character trait or value. Open yourself up to the possibility of connecting to someone who is totally different than you. The 2nd part of this exercise- make another list of friendships that did not pan out. I don’t mean ones that were and then fell apart. Perhaps you met, exchanged info., maybe you went for a coffee? But then what? Why did this relationship stop there? Is it because you felt something around them you didn’t like? Was the ending on their side? Did you have a great time together but it ended due to inactivity? Did this person meet your criteria listed in part 1? This leads me to #3.
- Recognize that they may not need a new friend (that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be happy to have one). But they don’t need it and you do. SO you may have to do more pursuing in the beginning. Those friendships that didn’t develop? Maybe they didn’t need a new friend but if you’d pursued it longer, would it have developed? Accept to walk that weird grey area, commit to pursue a friendship, understand that you may face rejection and agree that that’s ok. This doesn’t mean to invite them out every single day. It means to be willing to be more proactive for a while, to use your instincts, trust your gut, and to actually pay attention how you feel around this person. This is just like dating! Do you have fun together? Can you be yourself? Do get the sense they are also themselves with you? Do you share values? Can you appreciate the ways you’re discovering that you’re different? Can you disagree? When you’re together, are they checking their watch or phone the whole time? Or are they engaged? Pay attention and don’t cling to the prospective of a new friendship because you’re lonely. You deserve real, connected friendships, not ones you settle on because feeling alone sucks. Give it some time. Then let go of people and friendships that continue to be one-sided, or don’t feel good.
- Embrace fear and notice how you function in it. Meeting new people can be scary. Like many people, I am ok with the first impressions and superficial stuff. Weather. Family. Kids. Jobs. But then what? After this, I oscillate between pouring out information about my life and freezing up, stuck. Blank. It’s awkward and sadly, seems to just be the way I deal and get through encounters with new people. This awkward scene is how I function in my fear; fear of rejection, fear of never belonging, fear of being left out. Observe your ways. Give yourself some grace. Then embrace the fear, acknowledge it for what it is; an honorable attempt to keep you from pain. And then call up that friend and invite them to coffee, for a drink, on a play date, whatever. And if you go through your awkward dance, then so be it. Smile. It’s ok, we’re all kinda weird.
- Accept that there is a process. There is a “dating” period. They are still feeling you out. Being new and desiring a sense of belonging can be rough, but don’t just nuzzle up to someone because they are most welcoming (though we do appreciate these folks). Instead take the time to figure out what they’re all about. Pay attention. Spend time together doing normal things. Perhaps invite them on your Target run. If you can keep showing up, eventually that awkward fear-dance from step 4 will pass. Eventually you’ll see that you’re ok and that you’ll be ok, however this and any other friendship pans out. You’ll eventually manage to relax into it. Let them reveal themselves to you in their way and time. And you do the same. Don’t show up as someone you are not; it sounds juvenile, but us adults want to fit in it too, and sometimes we behave inauthentically to do so. Let the friendship grow, if it will, in an organic way. And remember, all good things take time.
Extra Thoughts & Tips:
- New place, new friendships, new you. Embrace the opportunity to find friends for the person you’re becoming now. Sometimes bffs from another life time, no matter how awesome they are, make it hard to move into something new. You can love someone and also recognize that their place in your life needs to change to make space for something or someone new.
- There is such a thing as too different. Our differences are amazing and make the world go round. That being said, it’s going to be hard to grow a real, deep friendship with someone with whom you share no interests and no values.
- The people your life naturally takes you around- Do you know your coworkers? Your neighbors? The people in your church? If not, make the effort to meet and get to know them. If life isn’t naturally taking you the places you need to find people, then make it happen. Find the groups, the communities, the playgroups, the book clubs, the coven, the nature walkers, whatever- find where your people may be and show up!
- Make notes. If you’re in a situation (new jobs, new churches, etc) where you’re meeting lots of new people, take notes. I keep a note in my phone. I jot down a new person’s name and something that may help me remember them. Martha, sat beside me at church. Short curly hair. Told me the President Lincoln letter story. I don’t study these notes or anything weird, but before I go into service on Sunday, I check my phone to see who I met last time. Can I find them? Recognize them? They may not remember me or know how I remember their name. But they appreciate it. And from these warm feelings, even if it’s not the roots of a deep friendship, can go a long way in lending to a sense of community and belonging. When I know them, I delete the note.
- Make a goal of it. Pencil in your planner that this week you are going to invite_____ for a play date at _____. Then do it. And set a little friendship-initiating goal for yourself for each week. Baby steps.
- It’s true that there are clingy people, toxic people, people who’s sole goal is to bring you into the fold at their church, to save your soul, to leech favors. These people do exist. But we “date” before we commit in order to learn who someone is and hopefully discern and separate from these folks. Beyond that, if you find yourself strapped to someone you don’t want to be…break up! Yes, I am talking about friendships here. Sometimes you need to break up. It’s not mean. It’s kind to you. The point in sharing this isn’t to make you hide-away to avoid this ever happing, but to point out that you are never really stuck. So don’t be afraid, take your time, embrace the process. 💜