Katherine Goldstein on how to make friends as an adult
Hi, I'm an evil witch, would you like to have my son over for a playdate sometime?
Our kids are switching schools this fall, which has been a hard thing to undertake (I never heard or used the phrase “You’ve got to do what’s right for your kids” so much, so often.)
New-friend-wise, I am cautiously optimistic for my kids, who are social fellows who like to throw a ball around and have experience mixing it up with new kids from sports and camp.
But what about me?
Despite hyping myself up that I am also a social fellow / am a bad bitch who doesn’t need new friends, rolling up as a newbie to the new school playdates the other week was daunting. People seemed nice, but they were strangers. I instantly forgot everyone’s names and didn’t have much to talk about besides “I’m new.” I mentioned a recent trip I had taken by myself for pleasure and realized I might be around people who don’t find that witchy and cool. Plus, folks had beers in their hands, but I don’t drink anymore. Sober stranger schoolyard small talk is hard for me.
But I would like it if I can make amicable relationships with some of these folks, at least for the kids’ sake so they can get invited to things and I can know who to contact at 6 PM for the 6th grade vocab words and whatnot.
I imagine some of these new-school people will become my friends over the next few years, but getting to that place and figuring out who my people are will take a bit of awkward time.
Today I’m running a piece by Katherine Goldstein over at the Double Shift that looks at making new friends in adulthood. Katherine is a journalist, speaker and fellow at The Better Life Lab at New America who covers social and workplace equity issues facing moms and caregivers. She spoke with some of her readers about their experiences making friends at this stage of life:
How do you make friends after the age of 25? Early American adulthood offers many opportunities to connect with people, like college dorm floors, bonding summer jobs, group houses and sometimes plenty of leisure time to hang out with people. As we get older, these natural environments conducive to making friends don’t always happen as seamlessly.
Of course, pandemic restrictions have not made it easy to meet new people or gather with old friends in the last few years, and more than a few of us have undergone big life changes during the pandemic, like changing jobs, adding a baby or moving to a new city. All of these factors present challenges I was expecting. However, Double Shift members also brought up other situations I hadn’t considered. I’ll share a few.
Changing your relationship to alcohol. Double Shift member Maggie shared, “while I’m not ‘sober,’ I just don’t drink socially much. It made me realize that drinking and bars were really the backbone of my social life from post-college until I turned 35 – that’s where I got together with people. And it’s not convenient to do that anymore because evenings are hard with kids, and so I feel like I’m at a loss for how to see people regularly.”
Not having time for social leisure activities like sports leagues: Double Shift member Emily says, “my husband and I were involved in a lot of rec sports before we had kids. Like frisbee teams or triathlon fundraisers, and it was such a great way to meet people along with a philanthropy piece mixed in. There was also a big social drinking component. Those kinds of leisure recreation activities are for people who have nothing but time between 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM, which is not most people with little kids. I am just missing physically doing something with others.”
Trouble connecting meaningfully at kid-focused events: While daycare pickup or school events may seem like the perfect way to meet new people, the chaos of wrangling children can make it hard to have more than 30 seconds of conversation or get any connection going with new people. The struggle is real!
All of this is to say if you are having trouble finding meaningful friendships in adulthood, you are not alone. So now, let’s talk about solutions. Here are six ideas that are a mashup of things I’ve gleaned from my research, my own life experience of relocating to a new city 5 years ago, and great suggestions from Double Shift members.
Proximity helps a lot: Building relationships with people who are easy to see regularly and live in close proximity to you can really pay off. Proximity is relative, of course. To you, it could mean someone who lives within your urban apartment building, to someone else, a 45 minute drive is “close by.” But zeroing in on removing logistical barriers to getting together, and being able to do more informal things like borrowing a watering can or dropping off some cookies can help build relationships.
Double Shift member Lisa shares after finding that her social circles had recently thinned out, “my family and I moved to a new neighborhood and was pregnant with a third child in the middle of COVID. I got this text from one of my old mom’s group’s friends [who I hadn’t been in close touch with.] She’s like, ‘Hey, I think you just moved into my street!’ She was working from home too, so we ended up meeting up and it turned out we were both 15 weeks pregnant at the time. We went on walks every Wednesday together and now she's one of my closest friends.”
Don’t keep score. It’s easy to feel self-conscious that you are bothering someone by being outgoing and forthright about making plans. Everyone is busy, and if you feel like you have a connection with someone, don’t immediately give up over scheduling conflicts or if you’ve had them over twice and they haven’t invited you back yet.
A Double Shift member who moved to a new city during the pandemic shared, “I really hesitate to send the second text or send another email. I had this happen this weekend where I had reached out to a parent who thought, ‘We could connect.’ And she emailed me back like two weeks later. It was a Saturday morning and she was like, ‘Hey, can you meet for bagels like right now? Here’s my number.’ So I texted her and she never responded. And then like yesterday at pickup, she was like, ‘Did you get my email?’ And I said, ‘Did you get my text?’ And it turns out she had sent me the wrong phone number. The whole time I was in my head about, “Oh my gosh, I was too persistent.”
Keep the bar for getting together low. We often hold ourselves to way too high standards around hosting people, especially around keeping our houses clean. Keep the pressure off yourself and focus on fun and easy ways to connect, whether it’s meeting at a playground, ordering pizza and eating on the porch, or just going for a walk.
Double Shift member Aubrey shares a new-ish tradition of hosting a bi-monthly brunch and invites a bunch of people, and whoever is free comes and brings a dish to share. She doesn’t knock herself out with cooking or cleaning. “Our house looks like goblins live there, and that’s just fine. The people who come know us and love us and if they don’t, well, they don’t have to come back. It’s been a really easy way to be like, ‘Hey, my kid really likes you. You guys should come to our brunch.’ Or I met a new neighbor a couple nights ago at a neighborhood hang and we hit it off. And I just emailed her and was like, ‘I like you. Let's be friends. Come to brunch. I already have this thing.’ I don't have to go out of my way to make new plans.”
Stay in touch. If you want to make friends, you have to be outgoing about asking people for contact information, and don’t be shy about staying in touch in between when you see them. Texting, “I’m back at that great playground, thinking of you,” or sharing a funny meme can also keep contact going and maybe make you more top of mind for future social plans. “I think people are flattered when they hear someone’s thinking about them,” a Double Shift member adds.
Make reasonable goals: It’s not realistic to think a brand new friend is going to fill the void that your friend of twenty years left when she moved away. Focus on achievable things you want from your new relationships. Double Shift member Jill shares, “I just want a friend to meet up with at the playground, so it’s not so boring.”
Vulnerability builds relationships. I’m a maniac for signing up for meal trains, because the meal train we had when our twins were born was truly a godsend and I want to pay it forward. If there’s a favor you can offer someone like picking up their mail or walking their dog while they are out of town, that can be a great step in building a connection. Despite the conditioning that too many Americans have around militant independence, allowing someone to help YOU or do YOU a favor is also a way to build reciprocity and relationships.
This is CZ again — I would love to hear from any of you witches who have had success making new parent pals, especially when you come bearing your own history and contexts already. I’m thinking of one friend who had her kid in her 40’s and sees herself as the “old mom” in her kid’s class, or my cousin whose fourth child is in a preschool class where all the other kids’ parents are first-time parents.
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