Making friends as an adult is hard. When we were kids, it was easy: find the nearest kid kicking the ball around and join in. Adults don’t have that same luxury: going to the adult playground (i.e., a bar) and sitting down at a random table will only get you dirty looks and strange glances. But men (and women) need community. More specifically, I needed a community, which is why I wanted to learn how to make friends as an adult man.
My struggles with friendship aren’t unique to me. According to data from YouGov, three in 10 millennials are lonely, and about one in five admit that they have no friends. Additionally, “psychologist Christopher Blazina and researcher Lori Kogan, 62% of male dog owners said their relationship with their dog is “almost always” secure, while only 10% said the same about the relationship with the closest human in their life.” Why is loneliness so common? Especially for men?
The truth is a bit more complicated than adults who work too much or aren’t as social. Men frequently fail to recognize the importance of male friendship, acknowledge the benefits of emotional courage, or even attempt to seek out men’s communities. Without building upon communication skills, courage, and the confidence to play, it’s challenging to build a community. Building friendship and community is extremely important to me, so I put together these 7 tips on making friends as an adult man.
Why is making friends when you’re an adult so hard?
I sat cross-legged on my living room carpet, Rachel standing over me. “Garrett, just text Trevor, ask him if he wants to go out this weekend.” A simple question with no real downside, yet I found myself struggling to work up the nerve just to set up a time to hang out. Thinking back to the last two real friends I made (outside of those dude friends I met through my wife), it was purely by happenstance.
Kellen and I met while teaching at the same school. Dave and I met playing wiffle ball. We found commonality in our interests, became close, and boom, friendship. But it had been at least five years since I initiated building a new friendship.
I asked myself, why is making friends as an adult so hard? I’m personable. I’m usually surrounded by people I get along with, and I’m relatively inoffensive. So what is it?
We don’t give ourselves a chance.
Daniel Wendler, a clinical psychology student, told Hopes and Fears, “I think a big part of it is that many adults don’t give themselves many opportunities to make new friends. For many adults, the daily routine is: go to work, go home, repeat.” There are only so many hours in a day, and it’s much easier to accept a lack of friendship in place as long as we have work or are in a relationship. Because of those beliefs, we may have the perfect life on paper, but our lives aren’t fulfilled without a strong community backing us up.
We don’t have a structure.
Part of why making friends as an adult is problematic because we don’t ever really learn how to do it. Friendship often just kind of happens: maybe you work together or do similar activities. It’s the structure in our lives that makes it so easy to build close friendships. Without that structure, we’re kind of lost.
It’s difficult to admit to ourselves we need friends.
Besides, it’s difficult to admit that we’re lonely and want to make friends. When self-reflecting on our community, it’s easy to overlook the lack of close bonds we have with others and instead look to the number of relationships surrounding us. But the number of friends we have in real life, or online, doesn’t equate to the number of close friendships we have.
We hold back.
As adults, we’ve learned to protect ourselves by putting up walls around us. Unfortunately, that doesn’t just affect communication in our romantic relationships, but how we build our friendships as well. When we’re children, we don’t understand what or when to share our thoughts and emotions; thus, we can form relationships based on mutual expressive behaviors. Without the removal of those barriers, it’ll be impossible to make new friends as an adult.
Especially for dudes?
Take all of the reasons why making friends as an adult is hard, and then add in decades of traditional masculinity resulting in a male loneliness epidemic. This has had terrible consequences for men worldwide, including “people experiencing cycles of social isolation, anxiety, and depression.” But due to years of being told to be quiet, stoic, and unemotional, men are finding themselves alone without the proper tools to find and build a community around them.
Childhood expectations Masculinity
Author Niobe Way writes in her book Deep Secrets: Boys Friendships and the Crisis of Connection about how friendships between boys often fall apart as they grow up. After studying relationships between boys and traveling to middle schools across the country, Way believes that a culture of harmful masculinity has told young boys that it’s not okay to be emotional towards their friends.
Way told Forbes, “not flipping the hierarchy so that stereotypically feminine behavior is on top and masculine behavior is on bottom. We simply have to stop gendering and sexualizing core human capacities and needs. The conversation has to be focused on disrupting stereotypes by listening to young people who tell us explicitly that such stereotypes are not true.” By normalizing young people’s behaviors of expressing love and affection towards their friends, adults can then change the narrative around building deep male friendships. But change begins at adolescence.
Masculine communication styles
There are three primary forms of communication: self-reflection, communication with our friends, and how we communicate in our relationships. And when it comes to masculine communication styles, the way men build relationships with other men is built upon external connections and often don’t go past shallow friendships. They often describe male friendships as shoulder-to-shoulder friendships.
Geoffrey Greif writes, “So men approach friendships differently – through activities – 80% of the men interviewed for my book said they participate in sports with their friends; no women gave that answer though a few said they exercise with friends.” Building friendship through sports is that the focus is on the game, not on communication or increasing the level of intimacy. By doing activities themselves, there just isn’t a lot of time for bonding. Activities aren’t the problem in building male friendships; it’s the lack of follow-up that holds men back.
Men struggle to be vulnerable.
Making friends as an adult man is also tricky due to a lack of vulnerability from traditional masculinity. Men frequently fear looking weak in front of other men, as shown in a study of Australian men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The researchers found that no matter how close the men became in sharing their experiences, the men still struggled to remain completely vulnerable and able to express their feelings.
Niobe Way wrote that as boys grow older, they fear cultural isolation from their peers if they show affection. Thus, men are often afraid to show vulnerability and ultimately lead to shallow friendships.
7 Tips How to Make Friends as an Adult Man
According to research, building a healthy community of dudes leads to a healthy life, which is why it’s more important than ever that we learn how to make friends as an adult man. Here are seven easy tips that will lead you to build new friendships with other dudes, as well as reconnecting with old friends.
Reconnect with old friends
Reconnecting with old friends might be both the most comfortable and most challenging option on this list. For this, you don’t need to think about making friends as an adult, but instead reigniting a past friendship. The hard work and awkwardness of introducing yourself are over. Still, the difficult task of reaching back out requires a different kind of work.
Suzanne Degges-White writes, “[reach out to old friends]because you want to reconnect from where you are now in your life, not expecting to reconnect in a way that doesn’t reflect how you may have changed and grown over time.” Part of the greatness in reaching out and reconnecting with old friends is that you get to share your personal growth with someone, and they can share the same with you. When reconnecting with old friends, remember there will be a reintroduction period: you and your friend aren’t going to be the same people you used to be (and that’s a good thing).
There’s no guarantee that your friendship will be the same as it was before (nor should it be), but you never know what can happen when reconnecting with an old friend.
Go past work friendships into social relationships.
Another more accessible option for how to make friends as an adult man is to look at the relationships you already surround yourself with. Maybe it’s a member of your sports team, or in this case, someone you work with. You already have something in common with them (and probably share some similar interests), now it’s time to take your friendship to the next level. Whether you realize it or not, there is a difference between work friendship and a real-world friendship.
Dave Kerpen, the author of The Art of People, suggests that the most critical step in moving a work friendship into a more significant, real-world friendship is to spend time outside of the workplace. That means going out to lunch, grabbing a beer after work, or even inviting them out somewhere. As long as you’re outside of your job (and don’t spend all of your time talking about your work either), then you’re well on your way to building a closer friendship with a coworker.
Join a community
I wanted to build a community of like-minded dudes together. Text message threads and occasional Zoom chats weren’t cutting it; I tried to set time with my dude-friends to talk about the real stuff bothering us. Community is a central experience for humankind, as a strong community develops support, reinforces positive behaviors, and helps build connections. So if you’re looking to make friends as an adult man, I highly suggest looking into finding a community that matches your belief system.
Wellbeing People, a provider of wellbeing services, says, “being part of a shared space, whether physical or virtual, gives people the chance to be inspired, solve problems, share humor, vent their frustrations and share their achievements.” Built communities also include the all-too-important element of structure, one of the keys to building friendships. Structure allows for you and any potential friends to spend scheduled, repeated time together. The more time you invest in a group, the more likely you will make new friends as an adult.
There is an art to vulnerability, and most definitely displaying emotional courage. But sometimes, all of that is mistaken for confidence. According to The Good Men Project, “Mistakenly, however, men think of confidence as excluding vulnerability, when, in fact, the foundation of true confidence in our ability to be real and vulnerable.” Look at any man capable of real vulnerability. You’ll notice how strong his friendships, romantic relationships, and even parenting skills are. Plus, folks that display emotional courage are better leaders.
When learning how to make friends as an adult man, it’s essential to be willing to show vulnerability. You want to move past those shoulder-to-shoulder relationships I wrote about earlier and into something more profound and more meaningful. One great way to do that is to think about some of these deep conversation topics and insert them into more conversations. You are offering this person that you are willing to invest time and effort into your relationship by showing vulnerability.
Put in effort
Speaking of effort, it’s easy to fall off the face of the Earth these days between quarantine, work responsibilities, and family life. But if you’re wondering how to make friends as an adult man, then you’re going to need to put in the effort. That means reaching out to folks, setting up hangouts, and, most importantly, following through on those plans as often as you can.
According to Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, “[researcher] Daniel Hruschka reviewed studies on the causes of conflict in friendship and found that the most common friendship fights boil down to time commitments. Spending time with someone is a sure indicator that you value him; no one likes to feel undervalued.” Friendship should always be a two-way relationship. If you don’t put the time into a new friendship, the relationship won’t be healthy. The next time you reach out to someone, heck, reach out to someone now, and set concrete plans. Pick a date, a time, an activity. And stick to it.
Be willing to accept rejection.
Rejection sucks. Whether it’s at work, from a partner, or even a new friend, rejection hurts. When you’re putting yourself out there, there is always the chance that your potential new friend isn’t willing to put in the effort, or worse yet, isn’t capable of showing the vulnerability needed to develop a healthy friendship. That’s why when it comes to learning how to make friends as an adult man, you need to understand that there is always the chance for rejection.
One of the world’s worst feelings is telling someone you care about something bothering you only to feel ignored and rejected. In fact, rejection is an obstacle that often holds people back from being their true selves around others. If you want to build close friendships, though, you will need to accept that rejection may always be a possibility. But look on the bright side, you now know which friendships are worth developing and which ones belong in the trash.
Be of a curious mind.
Listening will always be an essential element in any healthy relationship. Still, now more than ever, it’s just as important to have a curious mindset (thanks to Tribe Men’s Group for this phrasing). That means to be willing to truly listen to those who might share different opinions and beliefs because, despite our differences, the human experience can be universal.
As a society, we’ve succumbed to a lot of black and white thinking, which means we disregard many people based on first impressions. Truthfully, we might not agree with everyone, and more importantly, not everyone makes for a good friend. But if we’re more like to build new friendships, we are willing to discuss and hear others out if we go into these situations.
Making friends as an adult is difficult, but not impossible. And building a strong community around you is key to living a healthy, happier life.
Do you have any go-to tips for making friends? How to do you build community?
Let us know in the comments below!