How to Make Friends in Your 20s and 30s
Making friends has seriously never been easy—even before, well, life happened. Making friends as an adult? That is especially difficult. Throughout childhood and into college you have your built-in friend groups that appear as if from nowhere primarily due to convenience. Then you graduate. Maybe you move cities, start seriously dating someone, jump into a hectic new career, or have a baby. Regardless, it becomes really difficult to keep up the relationships that were once so enriching, and to make new friends as an adult. One thing to remember is that this is a largely universal issue.
To offer some hope and advice to those of us who’ve had to struggle through this phase of life, I spoke with Shasta Nelson, a leading expert on, you guessed it, friendship. She’s dedicated the bulk of her professional career to helping people understand why friendships are so important and how you can work to find new ones while maintaining the ones that you have.
It gets tougher to maintain friendships as we get older, busier, and more anxious.
“While school provided the unscheduled consistent time together that friendships require, as we enter our 20s and 30s, our time together has to be scheduled, and it competes with jobs, romances, and kids,” Nelson says. “Also, as we see our collective anxiety increasing, there’s an obvious spillover into our social lives.”
While anxiety can have different effects on different people, Nelson describes it as one of the reasons why making new friends can feel more complicated than it once did. “More young adults are reporting feelings of loneliness, fear of rejection, and social insecurities which can tempt us to withdraw and take things more personally,” Nelson says. “It’s unfortunately a bit of a spiral: The lonelier we feel, the more likely we are to act out of that loneliness and show up without the warmth, hope, and confidence that draws others to us.”
If you’re dealing with a big transition in life, it can be especially hard to find time to focus on friends—but it could be the very aspect of your life that helps you maintain your positivity and continue being the best version of yourself. And while it’s important to keep making friends in each life phase, don’t forget to set aside time for the people who know and love you.
“We don’t need every friend to live in the same city or be at the same life stage as us in order to be meaningful and help us feel more seen and supported,” Nelson says. “Be intentional about identifying a couple of friendships you’re going to take responsibility for initiating and staying in touch with through the change, even if the time together looks different and takes on new rituals.”
It’s not impossible to make new friends as an adult.
And while you’re keeping in touch with your old buddies, Nelson insists people should never stop making new friends. This, of course, is the hard part—and that’s due in large part to the difficulty of creating and maintaining consistency.
“The three requirements of all relationships are positivity (enjoying each other and feeling good), vulnerability (sharing and feeling seen with each other), and consistency (time together),” says Nelson. “But figuring out how to connect and interact is necessary for us to do the other two.”
While consistency may be the toughest component, it’s the most necessary. Nelson suggests people either join social groups or to look at your regular haunts, like work. If you’ve already maxed out those options, make sure you’re taking “responsibility for initiating enough with the same people to foster that consistency.”
Widen your circle through boy/girlfriends, partners, or spouses.
And if you’re looking for couples to go out with on the occasional double date, Nelson suggests starting with the people you already know. “The easiest way to find couple friends is usually for friends to start inviting their significant others to join in the friendship that is already started by two people,” says Nelson. The toughest part here is to be realistic with your expectations—your [partners] don’t have to be best friends immediately!
“We feel more supported in life when the people we care about—our [partner] and our friends—know each other and can interact together in healthy ways,” Nelson says. So go ahead and take a mental inventory of the people you love—and their loved ones.
Don't stop putting yourself out there.
“I know it’s so hard to not get jaded or burned out, but think of making friends a bit like exercise: just because you’ve had an injury in the past, doesn’t make it bad to keep finding ways to move our bodies,” says Nelson. “We are wired to feel connected to others so we have to keep practicing.”
Think of everyone that you meet along the way as another member of your personal community. And remember, you’re not alone in the search for friends."
“No matter how scary or painful it is to keep leaning into connection, the alternative of withdrawing or convincing ourselves we’re fine without intimacy may trick us into thinking we’re safe—but we’re definitely not happier, healthier, or stronger,” says Nelson. “We’re actually safest when we have a net of people in our lives, not when we have a wall up around our hearts.”