Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? It seems like it’s impossible to make actual relationships because everyone is so busy. Maybe people just don’t like me. Maybe my expectations are too high.
This article is for anyone who struggles to make friends as an adult. It’s a comprehensive guide explaining some of the common barriers that impact friendship. It will also give you some practical solutions for working through those barriers.
Why is it so hard to make friends?
Common reasons why it is hard making friends are social anxiety, introversion, trust issues, lack of opportunity, and relocation. As we grow older, people are busy with work, family, or children.
Why are some people better at making friends?
Some people are better at making friends simply because they’ve spent more time socializing and therefore have more training. Some have an extroverted personality. For others, it’s because they aren’t held back by shyness, social anxiety, or past trauma.
Reasons why it can be so hard to make friends
Even though many people value friendship, other priorities often become more important.
People have to balance multiple responsibilities: work, home, families, and their health. They also have to account for running errands, getting enough sleep, and making sure they have some of their own downtime!
And as we get older, we have to actually make time for friends. Hanging out isn’t naturally built into our days like it is for young children playing recess together. Making time takes effort, and that’s what makes forming real friendships so challenging. Read more on how to make friends after 50.
Here are some tips for making friends despite a jam-packed schedule:
- Think about where you waste time: If you want to have more time to prioritize friendships, you need to reevaluate your downtime. Think about your greatest offenders. Do you scroll aimlessly through social media when you get home from work? Zone out in front of the TV? If you cut back 25-50% of these “time wasters,” you’ll probably notice that you have significantly more energy.
- Outsource tasks: When you think about it, we spend a lot of time cleaning, organizing, running errands, and completing other household tasks. Of course, we all need to get certain things done on time. But if your budget permits, it might be worth outsourcing some of the more tedious tasks to free up your schedule. Today, you can outsource almost anything. This guide by Kiplinger provides some ideas for getting started.
- Run errands with a friend: There isn’t a rule that says you need to do these things alone. Since everyone needs to run errands, see if one of your friends wants to join you the next time you fold laundry or go to the grocery store.
- Make a standing date: If possible, agree to a standing commitment once a month with people. Write this date on your calendar. Writing it down makes it real, and you’ll be less likely to forget it or skip out. Get in the habit of prioritizing these commitments like you would prioritize any essential appointment.
If you identify as introverted, you might find it harder to make friends.
Introverts often find large groups of people draining, and they need alone time to emotionally recharge. However, it’s a misconception that introverts don’t value social connections. Instead, they just tend to prefer smaller and more intimate conversations.
If you’re introverted, you can still make meaningful friendships. Here are some tips:
- Focus on one person at a time: Quality is more important than quantity. If you find someone that seems interesting, initiate plans to spend time with them.
- Say yes to social invitations, but set parameters for yourself: Introverts can still enjoy parties and large gatherings. In fact, these events can be important for finding new friends. But it’s a good idea to give yourself a time limit. Knowing you can leave after one hour will usually make it easier to enjoy the moment (rather than focusing on when you should leave).
- Embrace who you are: It’s okay to be an introvert! You don’t need to be a super chatty, outgoing, bubble of energy to make friends. The more confident you are with yourself, the more likely you are to attract friends. This simple guide on Lifehack offers some great tips on embracing your introverted self.
Here’s our guide on how to make friends as an introvert.
Lack of social skills
Lacking certain social skills can make it much harder to make close friends. Here are some examples:
- Not being a good listener. If you don’t listen closely, people won’t feel comfortable opening up to you. If you find yourself thinking about what to say next when someone is talking, move your full attention over to what they say.
- Not knowing how to make small talk.
- Mainly talking about yourself or your problems or not sharing anything about yourself.
- Being too negative.
Getting stuck in small talk
You have to make small talk when you first meet someone. But if we get stuck in small talk, our relationship usually can’t go beyond the acquaintance-stage.
For two people who feel like they know each other, they need to know personal things about each other.
You can move from small talk to actually getting to know someone by asking them a personal question about the small talk topic.
For example, if you make small talk with a colleague about work, you might share that you’re feeling a bit stressed over an upcoming project and ask if they ever get stressed. You’ve now made it natural for you to talk about something personal rather than just work-related topics.
Research shows that gradually sharing more personal information makes people bond significantly faster.
Start small about topics that aren’t sensitive. It doesn’t have to be more personal than asking what type of music someone is into.
Romantic relationships & marriage
During your teens, in college, and early 20s, many people turn to their friends for emotional support. From a developmental standpoint, this makes sense, as peers help shape your identity and independence. They also help you transition from childhood to adulthood.
But in your 30s, things start changing. More and more people begin focusing on serious, intimate relationships and marriage.
As people enter these relationships, their priorities naturally shift. They want to spend their weekends with their partners. When they go through a tough time, they turn to them for guidance and validation.
There can be even more complications. For example, you might not like your friend’s spouse. If that happens, you may naturally drift apart. In other cases, you might be dating someone who doesn’t like one of your friends. You may feel like you need to pick between both people, and that can be stressful.
No matter how happy someone feels in a relationship, friendships are still important. However, you may have to adjust your expectations. For example, you might not spend as much time together after one of you enters a serious relationship.
But if you truly value a friendship, consider telling them how you feel. Don’t expect other people to read your mind! Even expressing that you really hanging out with them can remind them of how important your friendship is to you.
Becoming a parent is one of the most significant changes someone can experience. Having children fundamentally transforms people, and it can also transform friendships.
If you’re the one with children, you already know how busy life feels. The daily grind may consist of work, errands, parenting duties, housework, etc. It can be draining, and the thought of spending time with friends may feel like more of a chore than anything.
That said, research shows that over half of parents with children under five years old report feeling lonely some of the time. Friendships are one of the best antidotes for loneliness. Here are some tips for making friends after having children:
- Commit to leaving the house regularly: If you are a stay-at-home parent, you need to dedicate yourself to getting out and about. Get in the habit of taking walks, going to the library, or running errands with your child- becoming more comfortable with the outside world makes it easier to make new friends.
- Join parent classes and playgroups: These offer great ways to connect with new parents. Make an effort to connect with other parents after the large group meetings. You can send a quick text like, do you want to grab a coffee after group next week? This is usually how friendships are formed.
- Meet your kid’s friends’ parents: This is beneficial because the kids already like spending time together. It’s also easy to get the relationship started- you two can talk about your children.
People around you having children
If everyone else around you seems to be having children, it can also be difficult. After a friend has a baby, you might try to maintain the friendship, but things feel strained. You may feel left out when they choose to spend time with other parents.
When this happens, you may feel lonely or resentful towards them. These feelings are normal — it’s hard to experience these changes! Here are some tips to consider:
- Offer to help your friend out: Do they need a babysitter one night? What about dropping off dinner? Parents don’t intentionally neglect their friends— they often just get so busy with other things. You offering your practical support reminds them of the importance of friendship.
- Hang out with them and their children: If a friend has young kids, it can feel like tremendous work to get out of the house and spend time with another adult. Instead, ask if you can tag along to their next trip to the zoo or beach. If their kids like spending time with you, it makes it that much easier to socialize.
- Remember it’s not personal: Life gets busy, and parents have to juggle multiple responsibilities. They’re usually doing the best they can to meet everyone’s needs. Remember that the next time you start jumping to conclusions.
Social anxiety can make daily interactions seem incredibly daunting. If you have social anxiety, you might feel overly concerned about how others perceive you. Instead of enjoying connecting with others, you may spend most of the time obsessing on what you did or didn’t do right.
No doubt, social anxiety can interfere with making friends. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation when you feel worried about being judged.
An effective way to overcome social anxiety is to take small steps doing the things that make you uncomfortable. For example, you can try asking someone if they want to keep in touch even if it makes you anxious.
See our guide on making friends when you have social anxiety.
Not daring to be friendly or open up
As children, we tend to give trust easily. Have you ever observed one child call another child her “best friend” after just five minutes of playing together?
Meeting new people can be scary and to protect ourselves against rejection, it’s common to be standoffish until we know that we can trust someone.
When we feel betrayed by others, we tend to be more cautious with who we let into our lives.
However, to make friends with someone we have to show that we are friendly and like them. We also have to be able to open up and share about ourselves to create trust.
All friendship requires some vulnerability. If you are completely closed off, you may come across as unapproachable.
Sometimes, it comes down to acknowledging there is always a possibility of being hurt. However, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It just means accepting there’s a chance, and that you have to come to terms with it.
Being betrayed can be damaging. But not trusting up out of fear of being betrayed again can be even more damaging.
When you interact with people, try being friendly even if it’s scary:
- Greet them with a warm smile.
- Make small talk.
- Ask them questions to get to know them and share relevant things about yourself in between asking questions.
- Compliment them when you think they’ve done something good.
- Ask them how they’ve been since last you saw them.
- If you enjoyed talking to someone, tell them so.
The book Beyond Boundaries offers more practical guidance on learning how to trust again after being hurt in a relationship. (This is not an affiliate link)
Lack of natural opportunity
When you’re a child, you often have no choice but to socialize with other people. School, sports, extracurricular activities, playing in the neighborhood- you’re surrounded by instant friends.
But as we get older, we settle into predictable routines. There are not nearly as many natural opportunities for meeting new people or unplanned social events. Instead, you have to make a conscious effort to get to know other people.
Here are some tips:
- Try Meetup: You may need to try several groups to find one that connects with you. Commit to trying 5-10 activities over the next 3 months. You might find it easier to find like-minded individuals in a hobby or niche-based Meetup compared to a general group. After attending the Meetup, reach out to at least one person. A simple text like, I enjoyed our conversation tonight! Want to grab lunch sometime next week? I’m free on Tuesday,” shows initiation to start a friendship.
- Join an adult sports league: Organized team sports allow you to make friends. Consider how you can free up your schedule before and after games. Ask if anyone wants to have drinks.
- Go online to make friends: See our detailed guide on the best apps and websites for making friends.
Research shows that the average American moves eleven times in their lifetime. Moving is stressful for so many reasons, but it can impact friendships.
Here are some tips to consider:
- Make an effort to reach out regularly: Try to send a text or photo at least once a week. Make sure you send a question with each one to keep the conversation going. Thinking of you! How was your weekend?
- Try a virtual activity together: See if your friend wants to play a video game or join a Netflix party with you. While this kind of communication isn’t nearly the same as face-to-face interactions, it does allow for the opportunity to bond.
- Concretize plans to see each other: Even if it feels tedious (and expensive), good friendships are worth the effort. Commit to visiting your friend on a regular basis. Make an itinerary together. You can both look forward to the time ahead.
Lack of effort
Adult friendships require work. They are no longer as organic and effortless as they are when we’re young with limitless time.
Effort means many things, including:
- Regularly reaching out and checking in on your friends.
- Taking the initiative to make plans.
- Being generous with your time and resources.
- Actively listening to people when they talk.
- Helping people out without expecting anything in return.
- Actively trying to make new friends on a regular basis.
- Being willing to let your friends know how you feel if their actions hurt you.
- Seeking opportunities where you can connect with other people.
All of these items take time and practice. You need to be in a growth mindset to want to make an effort into strengthening your relationships.
You might also like to see our guide on how to make close friends.