If you’ve ever tried to make new friends in your adult life, you’ve probably understood why loneliness is at an all-time high. Making new friends feels like something just complicated.
At school, making friends can be as simple as playing on the playground railing together. But as adults, making, developing, and maintaining friendships can be much more difficult.
And this is important because we need friends. Although old friends are gold, nothing stays the same forever. Old friends move away or spend their time raising children or their careers.
Loneliness can quietly grow around you and is worth taking seriously. Evidence today suggests that the chronic loneliness it can be lethal – an impact equivalent to 15 cigarettes a day, based on mortality rates.
But it’s not just you, either. In many countries, loneliness is of epidemic proportions. And that was before covid-19 made it difficult for us to see our friends.
The challenge of trust
Before the pandemic, around a third of Australians reported experiencing at least one episode of loneliness.
Since covid brought widespread disruption to our work and social lives, loneliness has skyrocketed.
Polls now find that more than half (54%) of Australians report experiencing increased loneliness since the start of the pandemic.
So as we approach a new post-Covid normal, it’s worth taking stock of your friendships and assessing whether you feel like your social life is okay or if it needs a little help.
In a recent study, when researchers interviewed adults about making friends, they cited a lack of trust as the biggest challenge.
That is, people found it more difficult to trust someone new and fully invest in them as friends compared to when they were younger.
Perhaps that is why many people try to maintain their circle of old friends as long as possible, as well as the trust that they may have built up over many years.
But for whom was it more difficult? Women were more likely than men to say they didn’t make new friends easily because they had a hard time trusting others.
So what about adulthood? Well, as adults, we have a greater self-awareness than when we are children.
While this is usually positive, it also means that we are more aware of the risks of being judged by others, being disliked, rejected, and hurt. Or maybe it just means we’ve been through high school and are 20 years old.
If we have had previous rejections as friends or experienced a breach of trust, we may find it more difficult to trust others in the future. Trusting a new friend means opening up and being vulnerable, just like we do in relationships.
friendship needs time
After the issue of trust, follows that of time. “Lack of time” was the second most common reason people gave when asked why it was difficult for them to make friends as adults.
This is not news to many of us. When we have demanding work schedules, busy family lives, or a combination of both, our time to invest in friendships decreases.
Even when we meet a promising new friend, it can be hard to carve out the time to invest in them. This is a worse problem for older adults, since most people find that their obligations increase with age.
So how long does it really take to make friends? It should come as no surprise that close friendships take longer than casual ones.
US researchers have tried to quantify this, estimating that it takes about 50 hours of shared contact to go from acquaintances to casual friends. And to be a close friend? More than 200 hours.
Also, the hours you spend together should be of quality. While you may spend time with your co-workers, professional interactions don’t count for much.
To develop a new friendship you need a personal connection. It doesn’t have to be an intimate conversation to strengthen a friendship, casual encounters and banter can be just as important.
There are many other barriers that prevent us from having the friendships we want. This can include having an introverted personality, health issues, personal insecurities, or maintaining a formal facade and keeping potential friends out.
Older people are more likely to cite illness and disability as a barrier to socializing, while younger adults are more likely to hold back due to introversion and fear of rejection.
How can we get better at making friends as adults?
It is entirely possible to overcome these barriers as adults and build meaningful and lasting friendships. We do not have to accept loneliness as something inevitable.
And while you may think that everyone else has a great social life, remember that loneliness is widespread.
So how do you do it?
- Build friendships for ten minutes a day.
You don’t have to be climbing mountains or bonding intensely over a shared hobby to solidify a new friendship. By putting in ten minutes a day, you can maintain existing friendships and build new ones. Send a text message, forward a meme, add them to group chat, or quickly call someone. Don’t get caught up in the amount of effort, energy, and time that goes into building friendships. Ten minutes a day may be all you need.
- Make the most of any quality time
When you can properly spend time with a friend or acquaintance, make the most of it. Avoid distractions if possible, leave Instagram for the couch at home, and stay present with your new friend.
- Lean on your vulnerability
The idea of being vulnerable often scares us. I think we should accept it. Remember that you are in control of how much you trust and how open you are. If you have trust issues, consider sharing personal information slowly, rather than all at once.
Yes, there is the risk of being vulnerable, but there is also the possibility of connecting on a meaningful level with another person who may very well become a good friend. And that’s a nice reward.
*Anastasia Hronis is a Clinical Psychologist from the University of Technology Sydney. This note originally appeared on The Conversation and is published here under a Creative Commons license.
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