How to make friends after your 20s
By Katy Ward
Let me start with an embarrassing confession: I’m in my mid-30s and I have very few friends. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that I could probably hold my next birthday party in a large loo cubicle, (social distancing rules permitting, of course).
Feeling at ease in social situations has never really been my style. On my first day of primary school, a girl called Donna came over to me and offered to play with me, since nobody else wanted to. Fast forward 30 years and little has changed. When I hear other people talking about their bestie, I can’t help but feel as though I’m missing something.
And I’m far from the only young(ish) person in this situation. A report from think tank Onward released in July found that 22% of those under the age of 35 have just one or no close friends – a figure that has trebled in the past 10 years.
So, why do we find it so difficult to make friends once we’ve hit the quarter-life stage? ‘As we age, we become more selective in whom we bring into our social circle, as we focus more on quality than quantity of relationships,’ says Dr Jonathan Pointer, online psychologist at TherapySanctuary.com.
‘Even by our late 20s and 30s, most of us have become more focused on wanting a settled life, with reduced social conflict. Therefore, it becomes harder to imagine wanting to share time with people whom we think are different to us.’
But, how can we overcome these issues and strike up conversations with new acquaintances? HLN speaks to a selection of experts to find out…
Consider your ideals of friendship
It may sound obvious, but before you can put in a concerted effort to make new friends, you’ll need to have a clear idea of exactly what you’re looking to achieve from these relationships.
‘Define what a “friend” is to you,’ says Kiran Singh, a lifestyle coach, author and podcast host. ‘No matter what your preferences, it pays to be conscious in your choice of friends.
‘This is true for a few reasons. First, and most obviously, when you know what kinds of friends you are looking for, you can choose to engage in activities that will give you an opportunity to meet new people of your choosing.’
That said, Kiran also recommends that those in their 20s and 30s shouldn’t be too rigid in setting these definitions of friendship. ‘Just because someone is years older or younger, or a different sex, it doesn’t mean the two of you cannot be spiritually compatible,’ she adds.
Embrace your virtual connections
It’s impossible to deny that advancements in tech have changed the way we interact with one another. According to software company TechJury, the average internet user spends an average of two hours and 24 minutes on social media per day.
I’m a prime example; although I have very few flesh-and-blood friends, I do have a large network of online acquaintances. I’ve never met these people in real life and probably never will, but some of them know more about me than my immediate family does.
But why do we automatically see the rise of tech as a bad thing? Okay, we’re all guilty of scrolling through our phones when we’re in a room full of actual humans we could be talking to in person. But on the other hand, the connectivity of tech has also given us innovations such as friendship apps, which allow you to search for people who share the same interests as you, or would be available to meet up for a macchiato every now again.
Although the best app for you will depend on your age and interests, some of the most popular include:
The art of conversation
For many of us, the idea of talking to people we don’t know can be terrifying. But you’ll need to put in the effort if you want to make new friends, says Claire Lyons, a writer and lecturer with more than 20 years’ experience in the field of relationships. ‘It’s unlikely a new person is going to knock on our door, so we need to put ourselves in places with a high opportunity for meeting people.’
Although the best conversations flow naturally, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared when you’re striking up a conversation with someone new. Before heading into a social situation, you might want to think of a few topics about yourself you’d be willing to share, as well as preparing a few questions to ask those you’ll be meeting.
And try not to be too hard of yourself if you don’t find a new best friend on your first attempt. ‘If you don’t “click” with someone, that’s fine – you can move on,’ says Claire. ‘There’s a difference between those we know socially and those we chose to share more of ourselves with in a deeper friendship. Learning that lesson can be hard, but is well worth the effort.
Psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Shelley Treacher echoes this sentiment. ‘We often have a voice in our heads that says we don’t belong, that people don’t like us, or that we look terrible,’ she says. ‘Often this is simply not true. It’s likely to be an assumption based on insecurity. Be kind to yourself. Nobody is perfect in social situations.’
We’d never want to discourage you in your quest to widen your social circle, but it’s always wise to take certain precautions when you’re meeting new people, including:
- Ensure you meet in a public place
- Do not leave your food unattended
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol
- Have an exit plan in case things don’t go well
So, do I now feel like the Rachel of my friendship group after speaking to the experts? Not quite. But I certainly feel like I have the tools to expand my social circle and get to know new people.
The major thing I have learned is that friendship isn’t so different from dating. Although most of us hope to find people we connect with through pure chance, these thunderbolt moments rarely happen in real life the way they do in US sitcoms.
If you want to find a new best friend, you’ll need to put yourself out there in social situations and think deeply about your ideals of friendship. And perhaps inevitably, you’ll need to kiss few frogs (well, go for pinot grigios with a few bores) before finding The One(s).