Are you finding it harder and harder meeting new people and widening your network as the years go by? You are not alone. Plenty of research and evidence shows that as we age, our circle of friends becomes smaller and smaller. This is true for introverts and extroverts alike.
On the other hand, scientific findings also show that strong social ties contribute to greater happiness, increased satisfaction with life, and even better health. If you are looking for a potential partner, making new friends outside of your usual tribe can yield excellent results too.
Growing your connections in your 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond might be challenging, but with the right approach, you can indeed build a thriving and authentic social circle.
Why Is It So Hard To Make New Friends As an Adult?
As we age, two things usually happen. We either stop making new friends and stick to our usual circle of besties, colleagues, and acquaintances. Alternatively, we progressively lose touch with our once close friends due to life circumstances such as getting married, becoming parents or moving neighbourhoods, cities or countries. Life gets busy, and we tend to have less and less time and resources to dedicate to meeting new people.
Also, ‘adulting’ can be isolating. In your late 30s and beyond, there tends to be fewer and fewer group-oriented opportunities where you can meet a lot of new people all at once or be introduced to friends of friends. In high school and college, most of your time was spent in a structured group setting where classmates, club mates, and their friends could quickly become your friends too. Working in an office setting also offers you significant opportunities to make new friends through existing acquaintances or your interactions with clients and other professionals in your field.
Meeting New People: A Biological Explanation?
Besides the social reasons why making friends as an adult is difficult, there is also a biological explanation. Research shows that as children, the prefrontal cortex is underdeveloped. This part of the brain is responsible for formulating judgment, planning, and logical thinking, and it also influences our personality.
As we get older, the development of our prefrontal cortex means an increased capacity to judge others and to become sensitive to others’ judgment of us. This makes us more opposed to situations where others might judge us negatively and even reject us. In other words, as adults, we are more scared of rejection than we were as children. Reaching out to new people means potentially exposing yourself to judgment and rejection, and this is why most adults would rather stick to their old circle of friends.
If you are keen on growing your connections and meeting new people, and possibly even a new partner as an adult, you must be willing to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. Doing the same thing, i.e. hanging out with your usual gang or more accurately spending all your free time at home will not bring new people into your life.
Here are a few practical tips to get you started:
Start Your Own Group
Popular wisdom tells us to join offline and online communities of like-minded people to make new connections. This is a great idea, and a lot of people testify to forging long-term friendships with people they met at the local gym, running club, cycling team, or Facebook group.
However, if you aren’t finding any suitable groups to join or you would like to meet and form connections with a particular type, why not start your own niche group? There are plenty of advantages to starting your own group, but most importantly, you can filter the type of people you want to hang out with. That’s the benefit of being an adult trying to make new friends—you can prune your circle as much you need to without worrying too much about not belonging to the popular clique.
Even if your group starts as an online forum, ensure that at some point, members can transition to meeting in real life. Of course, you do not have to hang out every day but make it a point to set up regular meetings. Going for long stretches without meeting with your newfound friends puts you back in the position you were in before—an atrophying social circle.
To meet as many people as possible, allow members to bring along friends to your events or activities. You might not forge long-lasting relationships with everyone in the group, but you will meet plenty of people, increasing your chances of meeting your ideal partner if this is something you are looking for.
Try Something New
Centering your efforts of making new friends around your hobbies and interests is a true and tried method. But, if you want to expand your social circle, try doing something new other than your usual hobbies. This can be something you have always wanted to do but never got around to doing. Of course, it should be something you are comfortable doing but outside of your usual scope of hobbies and activities. The goal is to meet people outside your regular circle but whose social activities are something you would enjoy engaging in.
For example, if you are not a voracious outdoors type but the idea of a weekend hike appeals to you, find out about local hiking groups you can join. These will be a fresh bunch of people, but you might end up forming a meaningful connection with them. Get into the habit of stepping out of your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind and engaging in unsafe activities or something that doesn’t align with your values. It means trying your hand at things you haven’t before and seeing where this leads you. If you find that a new activity doesn’t suit you, you can move on to another one. That is the beauty of it all!
If you do not have significant commitments tying you down, why not travel to a different city or country and live there for a while. Other than the financial obligation, traveling alone sounds daunting, but for most people who do it, it can be one of the most daring and liberating experiences. You not only gain a new kind of independence, but it also forces you to make new friends to survive and thrive in the new city or country.
Before you set out, try using social media to connect with people in your target city or country. Let them know that you are looking to visit and you would like to hang out and ask if they would be willing to show you around. Facebook and Instagram are particularly useful places to start if you want to find people with specific interests living in a particular city or country. Of course, you want to connect with people whose interests suit yours whether that is photography, academia, outdoor exploration, etc. so you can have enough talking points.
Local Courses & Volunteering
Another idea is to apply for local courses in your target city or country, ideally before traveling there. Colleges, universities, seminars, and other learning centers are great hubs for meeting new people. It is easier to strike a conversation with a bunch of people given that you are all assembled there with a common purpose.
If you opt to travel internationally, you could also look for volunteering opportunities that align with your interest. You will not only connect with fellow expats; you will also form meaningful connections with the locals who could introduce you to their friends and friends of friends—talk about growing your circle! The expat community in a foreign country can be an excellent resource for helping you get around and introducing you to new places, people, and opportunities that weren’t available to you before.
Use Technology To Your Advantage
As you grow your circle, strive to meet your new connections in real life. There is no point in having thousands of new virtual friends whom you only keep in touch with once in a while. If you have ever been in a long-distance friendship or relationship, you know just how vital face to face interaction is in cementing your relationship.
Social media can be an excellent resource for identifying new people to connect with based on specific interests. For example, if you belong in a particular group, you could locate and reach out to people whose thoughts or sentiments align with yours, who live in your locality, or who show interest in the same things as you. Ask if they would be willing to meet in real life and then go ahead and arrange for your upcoming meeting. Many long-term friendships started online and successfully transitioned to offline companionships.
Say Yes More Often
It goes without saying that to meet new people, you have to put yourself out there. If you are used to sheltering in place at home during your free time, now is the time to step out and open yourself to new connections. If you are not motivated enough to go out alone, rely on your current group of friends to help you step out.
Accept invitations to parties, weddings, and other festivities. Yes, you will meet plenty of people all at once, but these can also be fantastic setups to establish that first contact with people who could become life-long friends or potential partners in the future.
Make it a habit to jump onto opportunities to get you out of the house. Look out for volunteer opportunities, retreats, solo vacation packages, as well as seminars and conferences that interest you and make plans to attend the ones you can. If you have been turning down these opportunities, now is your time to say yes, especially if you are on the lookout for a potential partner—you never know where he/she might be waiting for you.
Commit To Keeping In Touch With New Friends
Building new friendships takes time. The measure of a friendship can be determined by how much time the parties are willing to set aside to nurture their connection. A significant reason why many adult friendships dwindle progressively is neglect, i.e. not dedicating enough time for each other.
If you are serious about growing your connections, keep in mind that you have to create time in your busy schedule. The best way to show others that you value them is by making time for them. It is not always easy to coordinate diverse schedules, but you must commit to showing up when you say you will. You will eventually lose momentum if you cancel or postpone too many dates with people with whom you are trying to build a friendship.
Be Ready To Be Vulnerable
Making new friends as an adult is a pure act of vulnerability. Over the years, we put up barriers to protect ourselves based on past experiences. Unlike children, who can be trusting of anyone, we are more closed and reluctant to give others the benefit of the doubt. Yet, if you want to grow your connections and even possibly meet a new partner, you have to be willing to let down your guard a little bit. Authentic friendships are built progressively on soul connection. To let others in, you have to open yourself up. You will find that some of the most meaningful friendships you build will be based on the ability of everyone involved to be vulnerable enough to share their deepest thoughts and feelings.