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Making new friends in adulthood

McKinley Valentine — 3 min read
Making new friends in adulthood
Photo by Ashkan Forouzani / Unsplash

Just the generally recognised thing that it feels super weird and difficult to go from acquaintances to friends; it's almost easier to ask someone on a date, because there's an established structure in place.

But here's a thing I noticed. I was in Sydney for a few months, and it felt incredibly normal to reach out to people I've only known online, or met once years ago, because you can say "I'm in town for a little while if you want to grab a coffee." Visiting a place makes it normal to ask. But it doesn't help much if you want to make friends in the city you live in.

Before I left Melbourne, a twitter mutual messaged and said "it looks like twitter is dying, so I'm doing an experiment where I try and meet up with people I think are cool IRL" and that ALSO seemed like a normal thing to ask. That is a good experiment! Twitter IS dying! We SHOULD be less beholden to social media for our connections to each other!

(Since I am about to encourage you to do something similar, I will tell you what it is like to be on the receiving end: I was personally flattered, and I thought it was a cool and brave project for her to be doing. I was ALSO nervous about agreeing to meet up (what if we have nothing to say to each other and it's super awkward? What if she is very disappointed by how not-actually-cool I am? I actually have no idea if my twitter persona gives an accurate impression of me? What if I turn out not to like her IRL and then I will feel awkward and stressed about that? What if we DO get on well but then her idea of friendship is hanging out every week? etc). It really helped that I ideologically approved of the mission, because I didn't have to weigh up "will this go well yes/no", I could just say "this is the kind of thing it's good to do, regardless of how it goes".) (If you're reading this, Person I'm Obviously Talking About, I thought it went well!)

Anyway it seems to me that her message content, and a person visiting a different city, both fulfil the same function: they give a reason as to "why am I asking you now, when I never have before?" and they also lower the emotional intensity by making it half about the asker and what is going on in their life. It's way less pressure; you get the sense you're not the only person they've asked, that their "why now?" project will trundle along happily regardless if you turn them down.

(The opposite of being asked on a date, maybe? For a date, you want to feel like it's your personal qualities alone that prompted the ask.)

The thing is, I don't think it has to be any particularly 'good' reason. Just "I've decided to a do a thing where I meet a new person every month" or "I am on a quest to try every ramen place in the city; I am going to Ramen Place Near Your Work on Wednesday, do you want to meet up." (In that scenario, they've told you where they work at some point, you haven't stalked them. Also the Ramen Quest has to be real.) It also frames success as "met a new person this month" or "ate at ramen place" rather than "established a friendship". Now even if we don't get on at all, I haven't let you down, because I still helped you with your quest.

Anyway that's my current theory on how to make friends as an adult: phrase it in a way that gives a temporal reason for why you're asking now, one which lowers the emotional intensity of the ask and suggests you have your own stuff going on. (I guess this isn't "how to make friends" cause they might turn you down out of busyness or anxiety or predicting you wouldn't get on well - it's more "how to ask in a way that feels normal and socially acceptable".)

Every time I've written some interpersonal advice that makes sense to me, I get at least one reply saying "I would absolutely hate this, this would be the worst way to speak to me, literal opposite of correct advice" so you can go ahead and assume this is not universal, but I do think it could be the bridging step for some people.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #173 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceEQ & Interpersonal


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