Do You Struggle to Make New Friends as an Adult? Here's How to Do It and Why It's Key to Your Overall Health
Maintaining the friendships you formed in preschool, high school, or college can keep you feeling grounded and secure throughout your life, but it's just as critical to expand your circle of friends as you get older. "Making friends when you're younger is important for development and moving through life stages, but making friends as an adult is really important, as well," says psychologist Jessica B. Stern with NYU Langone Health. "When we are adults, we have a better sense of who we are and we are more firmly rooted in our values. When making friends, we're more likely to find someone similar to us in life choices and values, and form a real, strong, meaningful connection."
Ahead, how to establish new friendships as an adult—and why these relationships are so important to your mental and physical well-being.
The Benefits of Connection
Relational connections have wide-ranging benefits for our physical and mental health. "Consistently, social support is one of the things that is most predictive of health," says Stern. "There are physiological changes that come from strong positive relationships in general, as your brain releases chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, which are really important in terms of mental health and promoting positive mood."
Finding friends who share your values and interests also gives you more opportunities to do the things that make you happy—whether it's taking tennis lessons with your neighbor, starting a book club with a few fellow readers, or bonding over religious discussions at your place of worship. Larger lifestyle changes that improve your health, like quitting smoking or starting an exercise routine, are also easier to keep up with when you have a partner. "When you have supporting, validating relationships, it bolsters self-esteem, mood, and connectedness," says Stern. "It keeps people sharp and living life more fully."
And as adults move from city to city—often putting some distance between themselves and their parents—their social circle plays a key role. "Making new friends as an adult is especially important given that most of us are no longer living close to our families, yet still benefit from the connections that close communities can provide, such as socioemotional support and practical support," says therapist Hope Kelaher, the author of Here to Make Friends: How to Make Friends as an Adult ($14.78, amazon.com).
The Different Types of Adult Friends
Your adult life will bring you into contact with dozens of people who fall into different friendship categories, says Kelaher: those of utility, like the neighbor you share carpooling duties with; friendships of pleasure (these are your book club friends); and "friendships of the good," which she describes as "soulmate friendships." Every relationship contributes to your feelings of connection and positive well-being, but the closer you are, the better it is for your brain. "More multidimensional relationships show more pervasive brain changes, and tend to have a more robust impact, but that doesn't mean these other friendships are not important," says Stern. "There might be one person you play video games with that you don't consult with when you have major life stressor—you're not going to have every need met by every type of person. Having variety is important to mental and physical health."
How to Find New Friends
Kelaher works with many of her patients on socializing as they move to new cities alone or start new jobs. "A primary reason why it is hard to form friendships as adults is the absence of formal institutions that serve as arenas for connection, such as schools," she says. She encourages adults to look for new friends when joining a gym, hobby club, or amateur sports league, and to try social media friend-finders like Bumble BFF or Meetup.com. "Put yourself out there—try to be in the flow," she says. "Do your best to say yes to as many social activities as possible and practice your socialization skills by talking to the bartender, the barista, or someone else who is friendly and is likely to engage with you."
Her other best tips for making new friends include taking your virtual social media connections into the real world with in-person meet-ups; finding a mantra that reminds you to keep trying (she likes, "Insecurity kills more dreams than failure ever will"); and not giving up. "Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up with those people you want to get to know more," she says. "Like an intimate partner relationship, friendships take work, too! Not all friendships are created equal and not all of them work out—it is okay. You will find your people."