As children, the adults in our lives guide us towards friendship – through play-dates, sports teams, summer camps, and birthday parties. Once we reach our own adulthood, there are minimal societal mechanisms in place to support finding friends. What’s more, once we meet someone, how do we maintain that relationship in the brief moments between all our responsibilities and much-needed alone time?
To us, February 14th doesn’t only symbolize a day for couples to celebrate romance, it reminds us of all the love we have, and want to give, in this world – to family, friends, and our community. And yeah, okay, if you find someone attractive and want to feed them chocolate strawberries, go on and enjoy that part too. But today, we’re talking about our gal pals. Our besties. The butterflies in your tummy when you meet someone new that you think is cool and you hope wants to hang out with you again.
If you’ve ever moved to a new town, started a new job, waded through changes in decade-long friendships, or intentionally modified the people in your circle for health or career benefits, you’ve needed to make new friends. This isn’t easy, for anyone. You’re not alone! We’re here to guide you through the wild and wacky world of finding and maintaining relationships in adulthood.
Get out of your comfort zone, or your town, state, or country! Whether to a local workshop or on a group guided hike, find the opportune events to meet like-minded people. But, you must follow your curiosity and your interests.
If you go to these places solo, you are even more likely to connect with new people. Although it is more comforting and can sound more fun, with an already-established friend by our side we are less likely to open up and engage with strangers.
Many of my closest friends in adulthood have come from saying yes to something that was intimidating, and when I went alone. Whether it was a group hiking trip in Yosemite, volunteering at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, working on a farm in Costa Rica, or buying an extra ticket to a local concert, I made surprise friends, many of which have remained close for years. But, how do we keep new friendships going?
In order to form a connection, it is crucial to get to know one another. The best way to do that is to ask questions! Ask about their favorite hobbies, places, and people. Ask about the areas they are a little uncomfortable talking about, but they light up – like a creative project, a family member who has passed away, or a business idea they have.
By learning about others as an adult, we find our commonalities, and that is what creates friendships. When I look down at the list of friends I’ve made over the last two decades, the people I feel closest with are those that I share common interests with. In some cases, we didn’t have that affinity when we met but later found we both enjoyed it. For others, it’s what brought us together.
There are also areas where we don’t align with our friends. But, it’s important for us to try and understand one another. One of my most cherished friends is many years older than me, has a husband and four daughters, and is a retired nurse – all experiences far outside of my realm. But, they are important factors in her life, and in order for me to be a good friend, I need to hear those aspects of her world and try to understand what it’s like for her. Bonus, I get to learn a heck of a lot!
One of the best parts about making friends as adults is to mutually invite one another out - whether on a hike, to a ceramic class, out to dinner, for a hot cocoa evening chat, to networking events, to their house while you’re on a bike tour, on your first backpacking trip, to camp over a holiday weekend, on a run during lunch, etc. Yes, this list should go on and on and on!
The key here is that it needs to be a two-way street. You are responsible for inviting and they should also invite you. The other vital piece is that you need to say ‘yes’ to these invites! Not every time, but eventually, you need to show up. Most people will tire of rejection after too many, “I can’t make it,” and the friendship will fizzle.
But, that’s the tricky part, because sometimes life happens. One of you could be navigating through symptoms of a mental health challenge, struggling to find interest in your usual activities, retreating from friends, or feeling overwhelmed by your schedule or by large groups of people. The other might be navigating first-time parenthood, a new job, moving, or any other life milestones that demand more time and energy. This is not the time for us to retreat. This is the period that, as friends, we have the opportunity to check-in, in and modify our invites to better suit our friend’s capacities.
Most people’s first reaction is to feel hurt, blame them for not saying yes to your invites, or assuming they are too busy for you. In reality, turning down invite after invite, or not showing up to yoga, the gym, or wherever else you first met them, can all be signs of a mental health challenge, or another difficulty in adult life, like a hostile work environment, a relationship crumbling, or an ill family member.
I’ll never forget when my friend said (with sass), “if you’d ever hang out with us again,” one evening after many months of me choosing to watch The Food Network alone at night, and crying in bathroom stalls at work. I didn’t know it then, but after taking Adult Mental Health First Aid USA years later, I learned I was experiencing symptoms of depression. I often wonder how that period might have felt different if I received caring, non-judgemental check-ins from friends and colleagues.
Nothing builds a relationship like helping someone achieve their goals or celebrating their wins. What’s more, most of us don’t prioritize celebrating our own milestones and treating ourselves. Fortunately, that’s where friends come in!
Did your friend get promoted? Quit their job to build their business? Ski their first black diamond? Have a challenging conversation with a family member? Get out of bed in the morning?
A good friend is a loud cheerleader! They say the things that we can’t seem to say to ourselves when we are too clouded with the stress and overwhelm of life. In the days of email newsletters and social media, this active support can be simple. Is your friend hosting an event or guided hike, posted a beautiful photo, or shared a vulnerable blog? Share it with your community! Share, share, share! Those clickable forward/share buttons on your pocket screen are about as easy as it gets when it comes to supporting a friend.
Giving does not only mean spending money. You can give your time, your energy, or items you already have that you don’t need. You can give your professional services at no cost or part of the space in your home for a few nights.
And yes, you can also spend money on friends. You can give the gift of a coffee, a home-baked muffin, a healthy dinner at your house, a night at the movies, or maybe a ticket to a concert or a full-body massage. Think small or big. Think about what would particularly bring them joy or peace.
When a doubt, a hand-written card sent in the mail is one of the most powerful, personal, and affordable gifts out there. Timing a gift during a period when a friend needs a check-in or should be celebrating a milestone, is a stellar way to tick multiple friendship boxes at once.
Humans are built for connection. We need positive, supportive, loving, and fun relationships to get through all the twists and turns, good and bad, of adulting. But, like anything else worth it in life, from a multi-day backpack trip to landing your dream job, we’ve got to put in the effort to get there. Relationships do take work, but that doesn’t mean they have to be laborious. The efforts needed to find and maintain relationships as adults are the type of tasks that fill your cup, bring you peace, and more often than not, end in laughs and hugs.
Which of the steps above will you choose to do this week in order to spread the love and find or maintain a relationship?
Natasha Buffo is a creative non-fiction writer and a community mental health instructor. You can also find her work on Recreation.gov, the Fleet Feet Blog, GearJunkie, and Tahoe Quarterly Magazine. Natasha’s biggest writing project is her unpublished memoir, which shows that travels can be put on pause but the lives of our loved ones sometimes can’t. When she’s not in front of the computer, you’ll find her snowboarding in Tahoe, riding her bike across states, kayaking on alpine lakes, camping in the backcountry, hiking on unpopular trails, or walking her new puppy.
Learn more at www.dirtandtears.com or connect on Instagram or LinkedIn.