When Katie Patel moved to Iowa in spring 2011 she was new to the Midwest and out of her comfort zone.
Between college, moving and marriage, this wasn’t the first time Patel was faced with starting over socially.
She turned to a hobby she enjoys — knitting — and sought out others with a similar passion by starting “The Cedar Rapids Knitting Group” on Meetup.com.
“I was in a similar group in Los Angeles and I knew when I moved to Iowa that it was going to be one of the top things I missed,” says Patel of Solon. “If you find something that makes you happy, like knitting ... stick with it and surround yourself with like-minded people.”
Meetup.com is a popular online way to find like-minded people.
It’s one solution to a not altogether uncommon problem — making friends as an adult.
“In school, we are all pretty much in the same life stage, but after school, there are endless branches of where life takes us,” says Yue Xu, founder of Singlefied.com, an online site similar to dating websites but solely for finding friends. “As a result, it’s a lot harder to find people in similar life stages although we may be in similar age ranges.”
Once you age out of parent-arranged playdates, alphabetized seating charts, after-school activities and college dorm assignments, just how is a person supposed to go about meeting someone with whom to share a laugh, not a lifetime?
It’s hard enough trying to meet someone for a romantic relationship. At least, then, if you find someone’s single, it’s fair to assume they’re also on the market, so to speak.
“It is harder as you are no longer in a situation where everyone is looking to connect with someone,” says Sarah Blake, therapist with Blake Psychotherapy & Associates in Maryland. “You are in an adult world, where people have different lives and different levels of need. Some adults are perfectly set with their immediate family at home. Some have wonderful neighbors and friends from high school and college, and do not have the time or the need for anyone else.”
Life isn’t the movies. People rarely approach someone at the grocery store with an invitation to dinner.
It’s easy to assume everyone around you has filled their friend quota. That’s why you must be proactive.
“It’s really important to take the initiative and to get involved,” says Alexis Conason, a licensed psychologist in New York City. “It’s a big step, but you really have to find the courage within you to search for those networks, to find your community.”
Wendy DeCora of Iowa City followed that advice. A Harry Connick Jr. fan, DeCora found an entire network of friends through a forum on the singer and actor’s official website. DeCora eventually flew to New York to attend one of Connick’s shows and meet more than a dozen women from the site’s online fan forum.
In the years since that first meeting, DeCora has taken several group trips with this group. It’s also how she met two of her best friends.
“None of us were there looking to meet other friends,” DeCora says. “We went there looking for people who share our obsession, our love, and fell into this big group of awesome people. I just happened to pick the best two and run away with them.”
Just like when dating, the experts suggest starting with a group. Join a gym or a church or seek groups with shared interests either online on sites like Meetup.com or in person.
Joining a group isn’t enough. Once that connection is established, adults need to initiate a conversation.
“You can’t connect with people if you’re reading a book in the corner,” Blake says. “A person has to be willing to take a step.”
She has this tip: “Look for the person who looks more uncomfortable than (you) do. Go up to them first, say hello, and you have an ally for the rest of the evening.”
Making friends as an adult is similar to dating in other ways, too. One person may feel a connection when another doesn’t. Maybe someone doesn’t have time to cultivate a new friendship. Others might not feel pressured to make friends and are content to remain acquaintances. Or maybe an extended conversation reveals you have less in common than previously thought.
And that’s OK.
“Be judicious,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist in California and author of “You Are WHY you Eat: Change Your Food Attitude, Change Your Life. “Trust your gut and if you don’t like them, this isn’t second grade. You don’t have to be their friend.”
Just keep looking.
“Hold on to the faith,” Blake says. “There are friends out there for everybody. You just have to find them.”
Make New Friends
- Before you set out to make new friends, ask yourself what you are looking for in a friend. Knowing what you want will help you find like-minded people.
- Because large groups play a role in connecting adults, take time to discover what truly interests you. It will be easier and less threatening for you to start making new friendships if you already have something in common with the people you are meeting.
- Join a gym or take a class; anything that forces you into regular contact with people. Take “saying hello” a step further by asking someone out to coffee after class.
- Seek out volunteer opportunities, whether in the community, church or your child’s school. This may not lead to close friendships, but it will get you used to talking to new people while doing something good.
- Draw on existing networks. If you are already belong to a church, temple, political group, etc., invite a subgroup of folks to your home or to go out on the basis of shared interests.
- Take the leap from acquaintance to friend. If there’s someone at work you can see yourself hanging out with after hours, ask them to dinner.
- Have a friendship party. Each guest brings a friend, giving everyone the same opportunity to expand their social circle.