Though I was born just outside of Pittsburgh, I consider myself a Franklin native. My family moved to the city just south of Nashville when I was in third grade, and I vividly remember being introduced to two other recent transplants when I went to meet my teacher, Mrs. Williams. Quickly and easily, they became my first friends.
It wasn’t until much later, after packing my bags and heading off to my first post-college adventure – a year in Birmingham – that I realized how much I wished life was as easy as third grade.
I had just graduated college a semester early, was starting an awesome internship, and felt especially grown up, like I was taking a risk, moving to a new city and starting fresh. I was excited, positive and ready to kick off my amazing post-grad life. Because this was supposed to be it, right? The golden years to try new things, travel, get a new haircut, learn a skill, do something different. I was ready to take that push from Dr. Seuss and have my own Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Moment.
But there was just one problem. I had moved to Birmingham, and knew absolutely no one.
At first, this was nothing but a speedbump. I’m an introvert, and fine with being by myself. Plus, I was going into an internship program where there were other recent graduates. One of them was my new roommate. Making friends would be a piece of cake.
But as the year went on, I can’t tell you how many times I prayed for Mrs. Williams to pop in and introduce me to a couple people who would immediately become my BFFs.
I did make a few friends in Birmingham, but none of them stuck around once the internship was over as we all returned to our respective hometowns. When I moved back to Franklin, and eventually into Nashville, I thought I’d have a few more options since I grew up in the area. I quickly found that many of my friends from high school had either moved away or we drifted apart. My best friends from college were spread across the country. Sitting in my apartment one night, I tried to think of someone I could ask to grab dinner, and came up empty. I’m not telling you this for pity or sympathy, but it led me to a simple conclusion: making friends as an adult is hard.
I think I’ve narrowed down some of the reasons for this:
- A lot of people seem to be set in their friend groups. When you don’t have the convenience of living literally across the hall from people in a dorm who are most likely also looking for friends, it’s tough to break in. I can’t speak for guys here, but I’ve sometimes experienced animosity, or almost a sense of suspicion from girls when trying to break into a group of friends, especially if it’s coed.
- Remember the real world? Post-grad life is tiring! I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an 80-year-old in a 26-year-old body. After getting up at the crack of dawn, working an 8-hour day, hitting the gym, and trying to cook a somewhat decent dinner, I’m exhausted. Who has time to make friends?
- Adult friendships with the opposite sex are confusing. When I was 10, and met a boy, that’s all he was – another friend. As a 26-year-old, it becomes much more complicated. There have been a couple guys whose company I really enjoyed and genuinely wanted to be friends with, but wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship. As much as I tried to keep it platonic, it got to be confusing and a bit awkward when I expressed I was only interested in friendship. In some cases, they lost interest completely, leaving me disappointed back at square one. In your 20’s, the age-old question of whether guys and girls can just be friends becomes much more prominent.
So now that I’ve sufficiently ruined your day with my lonely life realizations, let me share the good news. Making friends as an adult is hard, BUT it’s possible! I know, because I’ve done it–even if it came with lots of solo wine-and-Netflix nights. And the biggest thing I’ve learned? There are a lot of people in the same boat.
If I had to do it over again, here’s what I’d tell myself:
Be patient. Be persistent. Making friends and dating are essentially the same, just without the romance. You don’t know someone in two hours over a couple glasses of wine. If you think someone is cool, keep asking them to do things. Over time, either your friendship will flourish or it won’t. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. Don’t force it. Other opportunities will come along.
Put yourself out there. At first, I felt really weird (and a little lame) randomly asking strangers to hang out. I would strike up small talk with someone at the gym, but felt awkward ending the hour-long sweat sesh with “So, do you want to grab coffee sometime?” From me to you – get over it. I’ve been surprised at how many people warmly accept a random invitation, with some even expressing how nice it made them feel.
Be prepared for rejection. There may be some people that, as hard as you try, you just don’t jive with. It can sting at first, but there are just as many who you will connect with.
Give people a chance. A big flaw that I’m trying to work on is that I’m quick to dismiss. Obviously, when trying to make friends, this is pretty counterintuitive. A couple of my good friends weren’t my favorite people when I first met them. But after getting to know them more and realizing everyone has their quirks, they grew on me.
I could keep going, but I’m only allowed so many words. Just remember that if you feel alone, you’re not. There are lots of us 20-somethings craving connection and friendships, afraid to show it in fear of looking like a loser. In fact…anyone wanna grab coffee this weekend?