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Why is it so Much Harder to Make Friends

In my work with young adults, I often hear statements like “Making friends used to feel more natural” or “How do I make friends outside of work?”. As I thought about these statements, I was reminded of a study that was done years ago, which found that the single most important factor in making friends is proximity. I realized that many young adults are discovering, for the first time, that they are responsible for creating proximity to others.


Throughout childhood and adolescence, most of the effort in creating proximity was made by other people. Organized structures were created for us. For example, parents scheduled play dates for their children, schools organized students into classes, and leaders of extracurricular activities created practice, rehearsal, or meeting schedules. Even colleges put a significant amount of thought and effort into designing campuses and assigning roommates. If you think back to who your close friends were growing up, you likely became friends because you were frequently around each other. As we enter adulthood, most of those structures start to converge or disappear altogether. For the first time, we have to create that proximity for ourselves.


I think this is why making friends as an adult feels “harder” or “less natural”.  Making friends has always required intentional effort, but up until now, someone else has been responsible for the majority of that work. Now that it is up to us, it can feel like a heavier weight to carry and can often feel like you’re suddenly doing something wrong. But let me make this point as an encouragement: It’s not harder because you’re doing something wrong, it’s harder because you’re learning a new skill! Just like with any new skill, it will take some practice.


To make friends, you must first learn how and where you can be in close contact with others with whom you may have something in common. I often recommend starting with the things you already enjoy or value and looking for opportunities to meet others who share those interests.  This could be joining a run club or book club, frequenting a local dog park with your pup, regularly attending a religious service, seeking out social events at a nearby brewery, or even regularly walking in your neighborhood. There are even apps, similar to dating apps, that are dedicated to finding friends.


Again, I want to encourage you in this process: you’re not alone and like any new skill, it will feel like hard work at the beginning.  It will take intentional effort, but it is a skill that will continue to serve you throughout your life.  If getting started in this process feels anxiety-provoking or overwhelming, talking to a therapist may be helpful.  My colleagues and I would love to support you along the way.