Let’s be honest, it can be hard to know how to make friends as an adult. In childhood, as teenagers, and even in college, our lives are built around highly structured routines and activities. We go to school, we try out for sports teams, we learn an instrument, we join clubs, we live in dorms. As we spend this intensive time with our peers, we naturally develop emotional intimacy, which in turn grows into friendships.
Adult friendships require a little more work at the beginning. Like dating, making new friends as a young adult involves being vulnerable with new people, trying new things, and embracing a certain level of uncertainty. But we’re here to help make the process easier. We talked to a few Bumble For Friends members about how they’ve made friends as young adults and why it can be a challenging yet exciting experience.
First, why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?
Jane, 35, is a Bumble For Friends member who recently moved to a new state, where the only person she knows is her boyfriend of two years. This has forced her to reflect on why making friends as a young adult can feel so daunting. “When we’re kids, we all make friends because we’re put in an environment by somebody else,” Jane says. “Or when we go to college, we’re in an environment with other people who also chose to be there; it’s easier to tell what someone’s values and goals are up front. Now, as an adult, you have to actively seek out situations where you will meet entirely new groups of people. That means putting yourself in an environment where you are likely to feel uncomfortable, even if only for a little bit—and most people just don’t want to do that.”
And why do adult friendships seem more complicated?
Because they kind of are! As Jane notes, “The older we get, the more we push into adulthood, the more set in our ways we become. It’s harder to find the motivation to get to know people outside of your friend group.”
Two months ago, Nina, 29, another Bumble For Friends member, relocated to a small town outside of the medium-sized city where she had been living. Even though she isn’t far from her old haunts, the move has shown her how difficult it can be to start from scratch and make new adult friendships. “Now that I live in a smaller community, there aren’t as many gathering places where meeting people organically just happens,” she says. “When I meet a potential new friend, it’s clear there’s more pressure on both of us to make it happen.”
Of course, it is important to be safe and cautious about meeting up with people you do not know. When meeting up with a new friend for the first time, always make sure to tell someone you trust where you are going, what time you expect to be back, and who you are meeting.
Here are five ways to help start meeting people and making new adult friendships
1. Connect with people at work
This might seem like a wildly obvious suggestion, but your coworkers are the people you spend most of your time with during the week. If you work in an office, your deskmates see you come into the office every morning. If you work in retail or hospitality, your coworkers are the ones you hope will cover for you if you clock in late or take your shift if you need to take a sick day. In a lot of ways, your relationship with your coworkers is the closest you will ever get again to the built-in camaraderie you likely experienced with your high school and college classmates. Your coworkers are experiencing the same thing every day at work that you’re experiencing. They are likely similarly apprehensive about the new floor manager or just as excited as you are for the next three-day weekend.
Because of this, it’s natural to build real friendships with your coworkers. Start by inviting a coworker or two to go get coffee together. Don’t just stand at the coffee machine in your office’s tiny kitchen; actually go find the cutest coffee shop in the neighborhood and then take a walk around the block. The first few times might feel a little awkward, and the small talk may seem stilted. But by the third coffee walk-and-talk, you’ll find that you know a little more about your coworkers’ hobbies outside of the office, what shows they watch, what books they’ve read recently—and, suddenly, you have more things to talk about than you did two weeks ago.
Next, try to arrange social gatherings after work. Happy hours with coworkers, for example, are classic bonding moments for young adults looking to make new friends. If you don’t want every interaction outside of the office to be organized around drinking and/or food, however, find a group activity to add into the mix. Many bars have trivia nights, where you and your coworkers can flex your knowledge about those shows or movies you all love.
If you’re a remote worker, you can still make powerful connections with your coworkers. Consider scheduling a weekly five-minute chat with a couple of colleagues you feel you have the most in common with. Take that time to debrief about your week. Or, you can make a rule that there’s no work talk allowed, which offers an opportunity to get to know each other better.
2. Connect with people from your college’s alumni network
After college, many young adults in their 20s move to new cities to start their first jobs. Reach out to the alumni office at your college and let them know where you’re moving. They’ll likely have a chapter there with a specific representative in charge of managing networking events for all alumni in the area. While alumni clubs are generally thought of as providing networking opportunities, nowadays they are often just as focused on arranging social events. You might be surprised to discover people from your university just a year or two older than you who are also recent transplants—and who already know the city’s best spots.
More often than not, older alums will be happy to meet up with you as you get your bearings, as well. They’ve been where you are now and they know how stressful and, frankly, scary moving to a new city can be. Also, by connecting with your new city’s alumni chapter, you may discover other new grads from your school who you just haven’t met yet. You might have majored in different things. You might have been involved in different clubs or sports. Maybe you were in a sorority or fraternity, and they weren’t. But you’re all on similar journeys in the same place, and that’s how great friendships often start.
3. Connect with people on social
Another Bumble For Friends member Rebecca, 35, has identified potential new friends by looking at her social media followers and who she follows. She says moving those connections offline has resulted in some legitimate IRL personal connections. “I followed a girl on social who used to intern at the same magazine I did, even though we never overlapped there, and she followed me back,” says Rebecca. “We realized we have a lot in common. We both love vintage clothes, so we met up at a massive flea market that happens in our city every Saturday. I was nervous about hanging out for the first time, but exploring the flea market together really gave us a lot to talk about.”
Of course, turning social media connections into in-person connections isn’t always easy. Rebecca recommends keeping it simple. “Sending DMs to people you’re following who also follow you, commenting on their posts—these are the kind of social interactions that don’t require a lot of time and energy,” she says. “You can demonstrate your sense of humor or emphasize shared interests. If you and a potential new friend have good chat, as they say, then try meeting up!”
4. Meet people at the gym
Young adults are the largest age group that frequent gyms (60.6%, according to the Global Health and Fitness Association), so it makes sense that this would be a great place to make friends. You’ll likely find people who are striving toward a similar goal and who appreciate a hype man or woman to cheer them on. In fact, after Jane moved to the city where she now lives, she found attending classes at a fitness studio to be a wonderful social outlet. “I have actually started meeting a few people through yoga,” she says. “I have a yoga instructor I became super friendly with after I started taking her classes. She also just moved here from another state and doesn’t know anyone.”
You don’t have to be a total gym rat for this to be a fruitful exercise. Sometimes, it’s the gym newbies who are most open to meeting new people. Also, if you’re still figuring out what your exercise regimen looks like, don’t be afraid to ask someone for tips or for help. Next thing you know, you could be sharing post-workout smoothies. Another idea? Ask one of your new office mates if they want to take a fitness class with you after work.
5. Not a gym rat? Meet people through group activities
Maybe the gym is your escape from social interaction. Or, maybe you’re just not the gym type at all! That’s totally fine. Consider exploring a few different activities where young adults are known to often help expand their friend groups.
After finishing grad school, many of Rebecca’s friends dispersed to other parts of the country, and she decided she needed to look for new activities that had a strong social component. She discovered that she loved doing improv. “Yes, it’s admittedly a little dorky,” she says, “but there is nothing more freeing than being with people who affirm that part of you, because they share that. The people I took improv classes with quickly became the people I wanted to see outside of class, the people I thought of when something funny happened to me.”
Rebecca has also made friends with people through creative writing workshops. Jane has also found a regular meetup of people curious about natural wines, a niche category of wine she says she’s delighted to discover has attracted a strong community. “Sometimes, it’s the nerdiest, most specific interest that has the biggest following,” she says. “You’ll meet a lot of like-minded people that way.”
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