The Not-So-Sad Truth About Making Friends As An Adult

Photographed by: Rockie Nolan.
I have just one childhood friend, someone who’s known me since I was young enough to think I could make patterned "tights" by dragging a hairbrush over my dry legs. Our dads were best friends. But after they got into a fight over a VCR I broke a few years into our friendship, she and I have gotten together only once, for Mexican food.

Since then, I’ve met all my other pals at school and work. After college graduation, I got hired as a hostess in a Sacramento, CA, steakhouse, where I bonded with the waitresses. When I moved to New York to become a magazine editor, my officemates ended up becoming some of my dearest friends.

Then, a year-and-a-half ago, I moved to Portland and became a freelance writer. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a classroom, workplace, or other intimacy incubator in which forced togetherness could flourish into something more. I had to work hard to convert acquaintances, neighbors, and friends of friends into actual friends. I’m not saying I have a gaggle of ladies who are "MY LYFE/EVERYTHING," but I do have a handful of women in my life who have a copy of my house key, know I go to therapy, have seen me cry while watching The Bachelor, or some combination of the three.

Here’s what finding them taught me about making friends.

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You can go all-in with a job or even dating, scheduling lunches and drinks, and putting your best foot forward, because it’s normal to want a job and a partner. But doing that stuff makes you seem lame and desperate when the goal is friendship. People are crazy busy and presumably have enough friends already, so they don’t have much incentive to fit you into their life.

As a Type A, I usually end up being the initiator of hangouts the first few times. If the other person doesn’t start volleying after that, I back off — with no hard feelings. Often, Potential Friend With a Lot of Shit Going On really is going through a weirdly busy patch and will resurface months down the line. Basically, I try to do my best to kindle the friendship fire without pushing so hard that I blow out the tiny flame.
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Though intros from a pal can be a great way to meet people, friends of friends are tricky. If you become tight with each other, the friend who set you up can feel territorial and hurt. And I sometimes feel that way when the other two get together on their own. But trying to keep both friendships perfectly equitable by making plans only as a threesome means you never get one-on-one time. So, I’ve found it best to mix up the configurations and be open without rubbing anything in anyone’s face. ("Jenny and I had sooooooo much fun without you Sunday!" is an example of something I wouldn’t say.)
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Another way friendship is not like dating: You don’t necessarily feel an immediate spark. I was ambivalent about some of my favorite people the first one or two times I met them. I thought one was bossy, another loud, and another unfriendly. But in every case, I felt drawn to them, like I might want to watch a show about their lives, but not appear in it. It just took time for their softer sides to come through, I think. I’ve learned that if I’m intimidated by or unsure about a person — rather than merely bored or, worse, unable to make them laugh — I should give them a second chance.
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My friend group used to be made up pretty exclusively of single twentysomething women who worked in media, shopped at Anthro, and did half-marathons. In other words, pretty homogenous. But it doesn’t always happen that way (nor is it preferable, necessarily), and my current social life proves that.

Now, I’m in a cookbook club with women who have kids roughly my age. I have stay-at-home-mom friends with babies, which means going on long walks instead of out for drinks. I’ve become close with my sister-in-law, who lives out of her truck and loves to rock climb, whereas my Twitter bio placed me "probably indoors" until a few months ago. Diversifying my friend portfolio has meant working harder to find common ground, but it’s also made my life richer.
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I sometimes try to make myself indispensable to new friends by giving a lot without asking too much. I show up to birthday parties and housewarmings on time and bearing baked goods. I listen closely and ask questions. I’m happy to help. And even though it’s not a very equitable attitude, I would never expect the same from them.

What if they realize I’m not worth the trouble or that my "problems" are trivial? The thing is, to build intimacy, you have to lean and not just be leaned on. I’m working on letting people in, which I know sounds dangerously like something a Bachelor contestant would say. But here’s one thing you’ll never hear come out of their mouths: I am here to make friends. The more, the merrier.
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Want more stories about friendship? Don't miss our debrief on the irresistible allure of "girl crushes."
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