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How to Make Friends When You’re a Grown-up

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You move to a new city. You stop having things in common with the people you used to hang out with. Your friends all start having kids and stop being available to hang out. Or you simply feel ready for a new batch of besties.

Making friends as a kid, or even in college or grad school where there’s a set up social structure is one thing. But making friends out in the big bad world on your own is something entirely different.

I’ve moved to new cities three times in my adult life and have created communities I’ve been teary-eyed to leave every time I’ve moved. My community is at the tippy top of the short list of things I hold sacred in this life.

Nurturing my friendships is right up there with breathing for me. {Tweet it!}

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So if you’ve found yourself craving new connections with other humans, this is for you.

Here are my key tips for making friends when you’re a grownup. (And not just any friends. People you absolutely adore and consider your soul tribe kind of friends.)

1. Make it a priority.

Oh so simple and oh so necessary. What we put our attention on grows. You water your plants, they thrive. You pay attention to meeting new people and nurturing those relationships, they bloom. If you’re craving new friendships (or wanting to deepen the ones you already have), make the time for it. Yes, there will always be work projects and other things you “should” be doing other than having tea with a girlfriend. But you know what?

Achieving goals is meaningless unless you have a tribe to celebrate with. {Tweet it!}

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And the only way to create that tribe is to make it a priority. I have been known to meet a friend for lunch during big launches and before looming deadlines. Why? It fills me up. It energizes me. I feel more like myself. And I do better work when I prioritize being with my girls (and a few great men).

2. Show up where you’ll find people you have something in common with.

If you don’t drink, don’t go looking for friends at a bar. If you love yoga, try out all the classes in your city and then keep going back to the ones where everyone is the friendliest. Join a hiking group through meetup.com if you love the mountains. Take a surfing class if you’re into the ocean. Obvious, yet so often overlooked. Make a list of things you love to do, go find groups of other people who love doing them, and then follow step three.

3. Question. Compliment.

I’ll admit that I have a little social anxiety. I’m not the kind of girl you’ll find yukking it up with random people in an elevator, and I try to get my ear buds in and my book out as quickly as possible on airplanes, lest someone try to strike up a conversation. However, it turns out that making new friends requires talking to new people.

A few years back I asked a particularly outgoing friend of mine how he struck up conversation with new people. He said the following, “Start with a question and then give a compliment. Or the other way around. Compliment/question. Or question/compliment.”

For example, if you see a woman at a party who seems really fun and interesting, you could go over to her and say, “I love your dress! Is it vintage?” And there you are, off and running, connecting about your mutual love of fashion from the past.

4. Trust yourself.

Mike and I took a breastfeeding class the summer before P was born, and the minute we sat down I zeroed in on a couple sitting across from us. I had an immediate gut feeling that we needed to be friends with them, so I listened, hoping to hear a common thread I could start a conversation about. They mentioned paddle boarding and that they’d just moved to Maine from Long Island. We paddle boarded, and they clearly needed new friends. Done and done. I invited them on a paddle boarding date after class, and they’ve become two of our absolute best friends. Their friendship has been so meaningful, especially as we navigated the first year of parenthood together, texting 800 million times a day.

When you get a hit that you need to know someone, trust it and make it happen. They could be your soul family, like Steve and Sarah and their baby Sophia have become for us. And conversely, if you get into conversation with someone and you don’t like their vibe after all, trust that. There are 7 billion people on the planet. You don’t have to be friends with everyone.

5. Remain open.

I met two of my very best friends because they reached out to me randomly on Facebook to get together for tea. Two of our other very best friends were introduced to us by a mutual friend. I’m so glad I said yes to all of them because my life would be far less rich without them.

It’s really easy to say, “Oh, I already have all the friends I need” as grownups. We’ve been around a while. We know a lot of people already. I’m not saying say yes to every invitation you get. (In fact, I often batch mine and invite them to our weekly Team Northrup coffee hour in Yarmouth, Maine, since my time as a new mom is more limited than it was pre-baby.) But check in with your gut (per tip #4) and remain open. You never know when you’re going to meet your next soul sister or brother.

 

OVER TO YOU:

How do you make friends as a grownup? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below!

  • Kate:
    I’ve moved no less than thirty-eight times as an adult, to several countries, many cities, different neighborhoods (even across town can feel like spanning a warzone to get to ’em!) Each time, I hole-up a little bit, getting my compass and gear, choosing who I aim to be in this new home, then get OUT!
    A huge piece is willingness for me, the ability to open the door, step out into the unknown, and put a smile on my mug. Saying hello is a great start, and looking someone in the eyes with a departure, declaring something with meaning, like “I hope to see you again!”
    Thank you for, per usual, being you!
    Paula

  • Katie Clark says:

    I love this post, and it’s so true about moving to a new place and thus finding a bit of a new tribe. It’s hard without a built-in structure, like you say, such as school.

    When I moved to Portland I struggled with the same – finding my local tribe (outside of work colleagues). I was lucky enough to stumble across the Junior League…and was astounded by their 94 year history in Portland and the impact they’ve made. And was impressed that it wasn’t the “pearls and ladies who lunch” organization I thought it was!

    I joined because I didn’t know anyone, and now my League friends are my tribe and I’m thrilled to stand by them as we seek to make a difference in the greater Portland community.

  • Kim says:

    I have lived in the same town for 50 years (with a short 5 month move during my 49th year). Some of the same friends for most of my adult life. Though they varied during the “kid” years, and the ones that stuck.. I consider my really good friends.

    Then I moved in September all by myself! My kids were grown and out on their own and since I have been divorced for 6 years, there was no need for me to stay.
    All of the advice you gave is spot on. I talk to anyone! I start with a compliment always! Or I ask a question! Perfect advice.
    I am also working from home. So after a week, I sent out a message on the apartment complex portal asking if there was anyone else working from home too and did they want to meet for lunch or mid day walk. Was that easy! I made a few really good friends doing that and we get together a couple of times a week, and then after work as well.

    Making friends was a fear for me.. but in reality, I am so outgoing, that I will talk to just about anyone! I have learned to reach out because the other person may really want to hang out too, and just don’t. You will never know unless you ask!

    I miss my friends from back home, but we are still in touch, and I needed to grow.. so having new friends has been really wonderful!

    Thank you for a really great blog at just the right time of my life!
    Kim

  • Meredith says:

    Thanks, Kate! I need to work on all of these. I am entering adulthood post grad and though I fall into the “I have all the friends I need” category, I am feeling the ache to connect with more folks, especially after moving to a new city. The ache is becoming stronger than my fear of being vulnerable. I’ve made a goal to start volunteering at the food bank which I have always wanted to do, but never got around to it (I finally scheduled it in my planner to keep me accountable). I love the work food banks do across the country and surely there are good folks there!

    These tips are great. Thanks a bunch!

  • Ryan says:

    Thanks for this. I just got wind of you and your great message from Sarah Jenks via the Live More Weigh Less program. Just finished your audio book, Money, A Love Story. Looooooooooved it! So much. I needed this post so much. I really struggle with this and I’ve realized that something I crave is communion and I can’t get that without engaging with more people. I dream of one day having a super close knit of friends in my community that have the same goals and ambitions in life that I do. Thanks again for all you do. Great post!

  • Dani says:

    This is a question I found myself exploring a few years back and it has since become something I’m so passionate about. I found myself in that space of CRAVING DEEP friendship and connection and with effort I found/created it and am so grateful for it.

    I totally agree that one of the biggest steps was making it a priority. It’s so easy to be “busy” but so much of can feel empty. Making friends as an adult feels like taboo at times but it really is simple and is a basic need. Life changes and so do we. So new friends are just as fitting as a new wardrobe for a new season. I am so happy you are address this here.

    Shasta Nelson has become a great resource for friendship: http://www.shastanelson.com/#welcome

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