Lately, we have been hearing from a lot of our clients about relationship struggles. The past (nearly) two years of pandemic living has been hard on relationships of all kinds. I’ve seen changes in my personal friendships, my relationship to my partner and close family members during this time – some changes are good and some are… more challenging. For today, let’s talk about friendships.
As we age, forming new friendships becomes more and more difficult. There are a lot of reasons for this, from being out of school and having fewer interactions with people of the same age with similar interests to having less free time in general with demanding work and family schedules. When being vulnerable with close friends came naturally as a kid or teen, it now feels forced and oddly like… dating? Yikes!
In my circle of parent friends, we often joke about the very awkward thing that happens when your preschooler meets another kid at the playground and it’s time to leave – do you ask for the parent’s phone number to set up a future playdate? Nothing is more uncomfortable, and it gets worse when you don’t have the excuse of “our kids play well together” to want to befriend someone. “Can we be friends?” just doesn’t land as well when you’re 35.
All that said, this is an actual problem that needs to be solved. 12% of Americans report that they have “no friends”, and about half report only having 1-4 close friends. Compared to 20 years ago, these numbers have changed significantly: in 1990, only 3% of people claimed they had “no friends” and 33% reported having four or less close friends.
Ok, so… how? Let’s go back to the basics. What you need for a foundation of friendship is something in common. So, if you are interested in something, make an effort to participate in something related to that interest. Put yourself in positions where you are likely to meet someone. Ideally, something that is laid back yet social in nature. Try taking a group dance class, join a book club, or take water aerobics. Whatever gets you excited.
Being friendly is something that doesn’t come naturally for all of us. And, since the pandemic has stripped us from our social habits, we are more out of practice than ever. I have noticed that even minimal social interactions leave me more tired than usual and I have had to remind myself on several occasions how to have normal conversations with acquaintances. Just keep practicing. Practice in front of a mirror if you feel extra nervous, or with a close friend, family member, or your therapist for more engagement.
It’s painful, I know. Almost everyone I know is not great at reaching out. We assume that everyone else already has plenty of friends and it would just be so weird of us to ask to hang out. The strangest part? All of those friends of mine who are so terrible at making the first move admit that when someone asks them to do something, they definitely do it. We all crave connection, but making that first move is hard.
On that note, it’s important to thicken up your skin a bit. Sometimes people are busy or something comes up last minute and they cancel. Do everything you can to not take it personally and give it another try. I always give it 3-5 tries before I move on, depending on the type of rejections I’m getting and the potential I see in the friendship.
Go deep. Have you ever had someone open up to you in a vulnerable way when you weren’t expecting it? It makes you feel capable of opening up in response, right? It doesn’t have to be anything overly dramatic or raw at first. Even being vulnerable enough to say that you feel comfortable around them and would like to grow the friendship more goes a long way to developing intimacy.
I recently had a new friend say to our loosely connected mom group, “I’m not here for surface level friendship. You should know that I’m going to ask you lots of questions and ask you to hang out a lot in the next few weeks.” It took me by surprise at first, but I was happy she spoke up because that’s how I had been feeling about the group but I was too shy to say so. I had actually assumed she didn’t feel this way because she is so close to her family. We are now well on our way to a really special friendship because she got vulnerable fast.
Friendship is one of the most beautiful things in life. They are relationships that we choose over and over. Sometimes friendships are lifelong, but most of the time they are seasonal. As relationships with friends come in and out of our lives, it is important to flex the muscle of building new intimate friendships as we go.
Need more support on the topic of building intimate friendships? We can help.
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