It sucks to even say that we might need to make more friends as an adult, doesn’t it? Somehow it emits a ‘desperate’ kind of vibe if we acknowledge that our friendship community might need a little growth plan.

And surely we should have accumulated more friends as we’ve aged? That pool of buddies shouldn’t be dwindling.

Then there’s the whole figuring out how to do it, and the social anxiety of going out there to meet someone new. Where are these new friends hiding out? How would we approach them now? What would we say? Starting a, “You seem nice, wanna grab coffee and see if this thing has friendship legs?” conversation, feels even more daunting than asking someone out on a date. 

Life is generally more complicated and packed full of obligations in adulthood, so for most of us, the desire to seek new friendships sounds pretty exhausting when there’s so little free time we have spare. In the good old school days things were so much easier, we were kind of forced to hang out with a bunch of people and get to know one another. But is being open to new friendships important to wellbeing? I think so. Especially as we get older. 

The person we were at twenty has most definitely transitioned into someone new

And not everyone we met a decade or more ago is going to fit with that personal growth. We change all the time as people. sometimes that means our peers don’t align in the same ways they once did. And they too might have just changed in what they offer us. So as we get older, naturally some friendships grow distant or drift. Not always through anyone’s fault or for specific reasons, just because it happens sometimes. And so our friendship circle becomes a little smaller as the years pass.

That doesn’t mean our existing friendships are any less meaningful, or that they need to be ditched and long forgotten

It also doesn’t mean that we automatically love or cherish those existing friendships any less. For me, there is something deep and powerful about buddies that have been there for my entire life to date. They have stood the test of time. And that commitment and loyalty is something I highly value in my own friendships. The ones who have seen us through teenagerhood to adulthood and still exist are some of the best kinds of friendships I think we can have. But do we need more peeps we can connect with? Other friends who have similar interests, thoughts, lifestyles? Absolutely. 

For some reason, it doesn’t feel comfortable to say that out loud and admit it

It’s like we’re cheating on our current friends, or suggesting their friendship is unfulfilling in some ways. But the truth is, according to the journal Personal Relationships, friends are important to our health and happiness. And found to be crucial to wellbeing as we age, often, more impacting even than having great family connections.

Having close pals and good contributors to our wellbeing impacts our mental health

Dr Miriam Kirmayer has spent the past decade researching the science of friendships. On her website she states, “Our friendships are one of the most important predictors of our health and happiness, but it turns out we don’t actually know (or talk) much about how we can make, keep, and support friends, or even end our friendships, as adults.” She references that what really adds up to a full and fulfilling life, is feeling connected to other people, and within our self-made communities. Those connections are … “the most powerful predictors of our health, happiness, and success.”

Yet seeking out new friendships takes time and commitment, it isn’t instantaneous or actually an easy thing to do

Recently a friend told me about a situation with her friends partner. Most of his friends are lifelong school buddies who he sees maybe once every couple of months. The rest are work colleagues, who he sees at work and might occasionally and very rarely go for a beer with. So when he was at the playground with his son and another man was playing with his child nearby, and they got chatting and seemed to hit it off. My friend’s friend went over to her partner and suggested he ask the other guy for coffee, or a play date with the kids. It was met with shock. There was no way he was asking another guy for a ‘friendship date’. 

It got me thinking, Why? 

Why are we sometimes so against being open to the possibility of creating a new friendship? We all need human connection, that’s factual and a natural feeling. But being honest about that need, and then taking action, does often feel daunting for so many reasons.

I also wondered whether there is a gender difference that impacts too. As a woman, I think I benefit from less social pressures in admitting I need and then seeking out further friendships. Doing so, doesn’t feel as if people will view me as weaker, needy or less of a woman in the same ways that a man might experience. So do men have a different take when it comes to building friendships later on in life? 

Do men struggle with the pursuit of acquiring friendships more than women? 

I brought this up with some of my male friends and colleagues, and most of them could relate. More often than not, it just doesn’t feel right for a man to seek out new friendships, it seems. Crazy, right? Or maybe it seems this way to me. They said that because of this, it’s often their female partner who will introduce them to people who eventually become friends, such as their partners friends partner. And that they do feel a struggle as a man to display their emotions, which makes initially building a connection feel much harder.

Weakness of any form is considered less than ideal, even to the extent of showing they might need more friendships. Talking, getting to know someone, unless there was something in common, like sports, a partner etc, it wasn’t something they’d feel comfortable reaching out and doing unless it naturally came about from something that didn’t clearly lead to them expressing that friendship is what they were seeking. 

I also had this conversation with one of my single male friends

He was struggling, feeling isolated, his friends were all partnered and having kids, he was single and wanted to hang out more often than they did, so he had become a little lost in himself because of his lack of connected community. I suggested he consider some new friendships – not to replace his existing ones, just to give him a larger range of lifestyles within his circle of friends that he could relate too more – but it was an uncomfortable thought, and not one he was willing to approach or do anything further with.

He knew that he was feeling lonely from lack of social connection, yet the idea of increasing his friendship circle brought with it entirely new challenges of social anxiety and unwillingness to express his desire for a larger supportive network.

This particular situation also highlighted why many of my exes might have made a reappearance

Because often it was nothing to do with them wanting the romantic connection once again – although, they’d have taken the opportunity of casual sex within a heartbeat – but because they missed the connection aspect of our friendship. Instead of seeking new friendships to boost their social community, which was uncomfortable. They sought a rebound with an old romantic relationship, the more comfortable alternative, as a way for them to feel accepted, understood, and connected with another person. 

The masculine image men feel a need to uphold, is pretty toxic when you think about it

Especially when it creates a space of feeling less able to connect with people or seek out new friendships. Research already shows we struggle with this concept of expanding our circle of friends regardless of our gender, but that its also a need we all have as we age. So how does having an instant barrier up to new connections help our mental health or wellbeing? Well, it just doesn’t.

It’s true that creating new friendships doesn’t feel comfortable, however there is a big difference between being open to it, and entirely shut down to the concept or feeling unable too, because of gender or anything else. Woman, man, it doesn’t matter. Friendships are important to our lives. Community is necessary. Feeling lonely, and isolated, is a big contributor to mental health struggles. The solution? Maybe we should be open to new friendships.

Maybe we shouldn’t be closed off to new friendships?

I’ve learned that lesson many times throughout my life. When I re-located to Kent in my early twenties, I loved coming back to Lincolnshire every few months and hanging out with my ride or dies. But I also realized that I needed to build a community in my new location. It took years to forge new friendships. Most, did manifest from work colleague to friend. And my comfortableness in where I lived, my mental health, my overall wellbeing, was truly brightened when those friendships began to form. 

In my early thirties, back in my hometown of Lincolnshire, I was only around the corner from my lifelong buddies and that was awesome. But I also saw some of the ones I’d nurtured for over a decade disappear. Kent was a long way to travel, and it was hard to maintain those friendships I’d made there. And ironically, despite some of my longtime Lincolnshire friends having stuck with me throughout the location moves, they didn’t continue when I came to live much closer once again.

My lifestyle at that time was also very different to my peers

Post-divorce, freshly single, I had a lot more time to be social, and not everyone I knew had the same interests, or time to meet up frequently. Once again, I needed more friendships. Not because I didn’t value the ones I had, just that I began to recognize that if I didn’t replenish the community cup, I wouldn’t have enough social connection to keep my wellbeing and mental health in check, and I would likely feel more isolated as the years rolled on. 

Time is harder to come by as we get older, there often feels so little of it to spare

But finding the energy to go out there and meet new people feels like hard work. Yet whether its forming new friendships from being introduced to another person via an existing friend, attending a social gathering like a party or dinner and upping your social skills, travelling and packing a ‘open to meeting new people’ attitude.

Joining a class, or taking up a new hobby and heading into it solo, with the aim of nurturing your interests whilst connecting with likeminded people. Hanging out in community places, and casually chatting to someone who starts a conversation with you. Volunteering, as a great way to give back to your community and help boost your own. Or even trying our apps like Bumble, which has features like Bumble BFF for making new friends. There are so many ways to make new friends and do it in ways that don’t feel hugely time consuming.

Reaching out, saying, “Hey, I like you, let’s go for coffee some time and see if we hit it off in a friendship kinda way” should be a normalized conversation

Because it’s okay to admit that our friendship pool needs a boost. Or that our existing friendships are amazing, but aren’t giving us everything we need to feel truly socially connected. It’s perfectly fine to say that we need more people where there is common ground, or similar interests.

Friendships are important to our lives, and if we don’t invest in a community maintain or growth plan, they’re likely to dwindle over the years in a way that might leave us feeling lonely and isolated. It’s not about quantity over quality, it’s about maintaining a balance of meaningful relationships. And being open to the idea that friendships formed later in life, can be some of the best.

How do you feel about making new friends as an adult? Drop a comment below, I’d love to know.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.