Adults need friends
But it gets harder as you get older, according to science. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
A few weeks ago a friend that I got to know long ago, while writing my book about West Point, made an observation about how he's stayed close with his own friends from the academy: "My parents gave me one brother, but the Army gave me thousands."
I thought of this myself when I realized how disappointed I was that a long-planned trip I had with college friends this weekend fell through.
We'll make that trip up in the spring, but the point is that adults need friends—doubly so given what the pandemic did to many relationships, and what politics and other disagreements continue to do to them now. And yet, it seems to get a lot harder to make new friendships as we grow older.
My friend and colleague Jessica Stillman wrote about exactly this phenomenon not too long ago. I like the idea of sharing this on a Friday, because I have a sense many of you will either agree, or you’ll share good advice in the comments on how to make real friendships as an adult.
How to make friends
by Jessica Stillman
America is in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and the forced physical separation of the pandemic certainly didn't help. Surveys show that many Americans lost friends thanks to two years of shutdowns and restrictions, with older Americans most likely to have lost touch with friends.
Some see this as a positive change; a matter of pruning back our social lives to fewer but stronger ties. But for lots of folks, the pandemic has simply been lonely. If you've moved into or beyond middle age, what are your prospects for growing your circle of friendships again?
Here's the bad news first: You're not just crazy. If it feels much harder to make friends as an adult than it was when you were younger, you're on to something. The difficulty isn't that you're uncool or awkward. It's that the essential building blocks of friendship are harder to come by when you're older.
"Sociologists have kind of identified the ingredients that need to be in place for us to make friends organically, and they are continuous unplanned interaction and shared vulnerability," says University of Maryland psychologist Marisa Franco. "As we become adults, we have less and less environments where those ingredients are at play."
Research shows making a casual friend takes 50 hours on average, while close friendships take 200 hours. Adults with jobs, kids, and a collection of other responsibilities simply have less time available.
However, Franco insists that while making friends later in life largely doesn't happen organically like it did back when you were in school, it's far from impossible. The key, she said in an interview, is not to rely on chance.
Instead, organize regularly scheduled group activities: a book club, rotating potluck, or biweekly Saturday hike. (Strangely, singing together has been scientifically shown to be a particularly effective way to cement friendships, so maybe search out a local choir if you're musical.)
Not only does this nudge the time-strapped to find time in their schedules for friends; it also shifts friendship from a one-to-one tie to a group endeavor, making it easier to sustain in the face of adulthood's inevitable stresses.
"Researchers also find that when we develop groups, our friendships are more sustainable than they are with individuals. Because there's multiple touch points now, right? Someone else in the group could reach out to all of us, and then we all keep in touch," Franco explains.
It's also essential to get over any initial shyness and actually ask for new people's contact information. "We all have this tendency to think we're more likely to be rejected than we actually are," she says.
All of this might seem like useful information for anyone feeling isolated after a couple of years of COVID mayhem, but friendships aren't just a nice "extra." Friends are a potent mood booster and stress buster (while loneliness can be as bad for your body as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day).
Friends also help us stay resilient, open minded, and effectively smarter as we age. So don't give up on making new friends to replace any you may have lost the last two years.
It won't happen effortlessly like it did when you were seven (or 17). But with a little planning and courage, it's more than possible.
Call for comments: Does this ring true? If so, does it bother you? And if not, how do you find yourself making friends as an adult—and what advice do you have for others who have a harder time?
7 other things worth knowing today
Elon Musk completed his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter, after months of dramatic attempts to renege. The deal gives Musk sole control of one of the most important global platforms for political speech and social discourse. Immediately fired: CEO Parag Agrawal, along with CFO Ned Segal, general counsel Sean Edgett, and Vijaya Gadde, who had been in charge of major user account decisions like the one to permanently ban former President Trump. (Axios)
Worth knowing: Today is the 100th anniversary of the date of the March on Rome that brought totalitarian dictator Benito Mussolini to power, one year before the failed Beer Hall Putsch in Germany. (ABC News)
New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday appointed acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh to lead the department on a permanent basis, making her the first female commissioner in the 157-year history of the Fire Department of New York. Kavanagh, 40, has served as acting commissioner since the retirement of Commissioner Daniel Nigro in February. She will oversee a department of 17,000, including firefighters and emergency medical workers. (AP)
After more than a year of anticipation, Prince Harry has announced a title and release date for his memoir. The book, which will be released on January 10, will be called Spare. It will discuss the moment he and his brother Prince William walked behind Princess Diana’s coffin in her 1997 funeral procession. It will be published simultaneously in Spanish with the subtitle In the Shadow, and will ultimately be released in 16 languages. (Vanity Fair)
Maine is enforcing new rules to eliminate f-bombs and other obscenities that appeared on vanity license plates after the state effectively eliminated its review process. The laissez-faire approach allowed a “wild wild West” in which motorists ordered vanity license plates with blushing references to sex acts or genitalia. One notorious license plate used a profanity that starts with the letter F, followed by the word “you.” (Yahoo News)
Dress for the job you wish you had: Josh Nalley, 42, has posted hundreds of videos of himself playing dead in different locations on TikTok; now he's been hired as an extra to play a dead body on CSI Vegas. "I was spending a lot of time on TikTok and trying to figure out what I could do to get on TikTok and maybe get in a movie with as little effort as I thought would be possible," Nalley told the NYT. (Entrepreneur)
Quick story on how inflation in Argentina is now close to 100%, and American tourists are benefiting. "In New York City, this meal is $3,000," said a New Jersey tourist who had just paid about $50 each for a top-shelf meal for nine. (Bloomberg)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. A version of Jessica’s essay appeared previously at Inc.com. See you in the comments!
If you want to make friends, get a dog. We got one in January 2020 and not only was she an excellent little companion in her own right during the early lockdown days and a great reason to get outside for some exercise, she, like most dogs, is a natural conversation starter.
We moved into our current neighbourhood in 2017 and hardly knew a soul other than our immediate neighbours. With our little Westie we've met people up and down the street, and not just other dog owners. Now, you'd classify most of those as acquaintances rather than friends, but we've made a couple of actual friends as well and it took way less than 50 hours.
Kevin is right! A dog goes a long way to make friends. But retaining them takes effort. I have a friend who has taught me this. She calls every few weeks, though we live about 3 hours from each other. We have discussed what topics are uncomfortable for her, so I avoid them until she brings them up. But mostly we celebrate good times and commiserate on tough times and laugh a lot. Then I do that with others. Long time friends are cherished, and new friends are welcomed. I think women may do friendships more easily than men, but what do I know....