If you often struggle with a piercing sense of loneliness or feel that your life lacks steadfast, enriching friendships, you’re not alone. Making new connections seems all the more difficult as adults. Furthermore, a study by Kunal Bhattacharya et al reveals that our social circle begins to shrink soon after our mid-20s, mainly as our priorities begin to shift in life. We may make a few half-hearted attempts to get over the hump once in a while, but life tends to get in the way, and we lose a few friends along the journey.
In fact, a UK poll conducted of 1,200 people by YouGov reports that 30 per cent of millennials, 20 per cent of Gen X and 15 per cent of Baby Boomers interviewed admitted they felt lonely ‘always’ or ‘often’. Additionally, the most cited reasons for why one can’t make friends with ease were cited to be shyness (53 per cent), the feeling that friendships needed too much work (20 per cent), and a busy life (14 per cent).
However, the good news is that it’s certainly possible to make new friends, even as adults, provided that we clearly strategize our needs and preferences, and put in the necessary effort towards building new relationships.
Humans are social beings, and all of us seek enriching, dependable social connections. However, making new friends can be hard, and we sometimes tend to get stuck in a ‘why can’t I make friends’ rut when we struggle to build lasting friendships. Here are seven potential holding patterns that could be preventing you from building a rewarding social life.
“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit,” as philosopher Aristotle famously stated. Some of us assume that friendships just occur, and that we don’t need to put in any special effort. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Indeed, the reality is that friendships require focused, intentional efforts on a continued basis.
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In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researcher Jeffrey Hall revealed that moving someone from the category of a ‘mere acquaintance’ to ‘casual friend’ requires us to spend roughly 50 hours with a person. Moving that relationship to ‘close friend’ status requires approximately 300 hours of togetherness time.
Hall has some clear advice for those of us who may be wondering why we can't make friends: “If you are interested in a friendship, switch up the context.” While we cannot possibly force our friendship upon anyone, we can signal that we’re interested in knowing them better by inviting them over for to lunch, seeking their advice, catching a movie together and checking up on them regularly, etc.
Sometimes we forget about all our unique qualities that give our personality a distinctive edge, and how we can make friends easily if we remember to bring these qualities to the table.
This has happened to me quite a few times. I would meet up with some new people or friends of friends, we’d end up chatting about everything under the sky, and suddenly someone would remark, “Wow, you’re so witty!”, or “I’m a fan of your funny takes”. This made me abruptly realize that I have a humorous side that I often forget I could exploit while I remain stuck in the ‘why can’t I make friends’ rut.
The process of forging new friendships can become a lot easier and productive if we remember all the qualities which makes us exclusive and likeable and keep working on honing these skills.
If you’re an introvert, chances are that you get overstimulated from excessive socializing. There’s a fair chance that having a bustling social life with numerous groups isn’t really your idea of fun. This may have discouraged you from putting in the effort to make friends in the first place. However, introverts crave human connection just as much as extroverts, and the fear of introvert hangover should not prevent you from seeking fulfilling friendships.
“Making new friends can be hard, and we sometimes tend to get stuck in a ‘why can’t I make friends’ rut when we struggle to build lasting friendships.”
Indeed, introverts need their space for quiet reflection. Thus, you can devise your recharge time consciously and balance it carefully with attending social events. This will ensure that you derive psychological benefits of close friendships at the pace you set for yourself.
During my school and college years I would make acquaintances and friends with just about everyone. It seemed so effortless and easy to just reach out, talk and continue towards building friendships. However, it also resulted in me forming some mediocre connections, and sometimes I even found myself in the midst of unwanted drama and chaos.
Which is why, as I grew older, I resolved to attract the kind of energy and attention into my life that is closely aligned with my interests and goals. It is best to observe keenly and interact strategically whenever you’re around strangers and acquaintances, so that you can carefully select those who may have similar likes and interests as you.
Furthermore, it is perfectly OK – and recommended in fact – to have different types of friends, as sticking to one friend for your entire life and burdening the same person with all our different needs can severely strain the friendship. “Once you've made decisions and found the appropriate people, you can be much less socially promiscuous and invest your time in these people," suggests Robin Dunbar, psychology professor at Oxford University. This way, creating a lasting connection with the chosen few is easier as well.
Don't forget the qualities that make you unique shutterstock/oneinchpunch
Very often, the compulsion to like everyone we come across is mistaken as being nice. Truth is, there is no place for forced obligation in real friendships, and connections created under such compulsion can’t possibly last long.
A 2010 study by Sally Theran, assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley College, USA, revealed that honesty in relationships can result in strengthened connections and improved happiness levels. Indeed, while we can be kind towards others and respect their perspectives, we needn’t put ourselves in a difficult spot or compromise our values to form new friendships.
Sometimes, we can’t but help being worried about others’ reactions to our personality when we reach out to them. What if we come across as awkward or plain stupid, right? Nutrition expert and life coach Sarah Jenks associates this fear of appearing ridiculous or weird with ‘leftover playground trauma’, suggesting that our previous failures or abuse prevent us from trying something new again. This could also be us experiencing vulnerability hangover, wherein we may resent the feeling of shame or embarrassment that tends to occur after an emotional risk.
“Truth is, there is no place for forced obligation in real friendships, and connections created under such compulsion can’t possibly last long.”
The truth is, making new friends may sometimes requires courage and resilience on our behalf. Indeed, when you overcome your fear of rejection and continue to present your authentic self to others around, they’ll be able to relate better with you, as they may have the same concerns and insecurities in their minds as well.
Oftentimes we avoid making difficult choices or acting upon them, due to our ingrained beliefs or fear of a negative outcome. This avoidance coping behavior regarding stressful situations could be a reason why you can’t make friends.
So, the next time you find yourself turning down an invite to a social event with abundant opportunities to make new connections, ask yourself why you feel compelled to do so. Being mindful about your impulses and resolving your ingrained patterns gently yet consistently can help you find your tribe with greater ease.
Close friendships offer the sense of belonging that we yearn for as humans, especially during challenging times and hardship. In fact, the need for belonging appears in the third tier itself on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, right after the basic needs like food and shelter. Having no friends to rely on and the lack of social support can further the feelings of loneliness and even mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
Furthermore, repetitive thoughts such as “why can’t I make friends” and “what’s wrong with me” can potentially affect our sense of self-worth and confidence. The inability to strike up friendships can also make us feel ‘cursed’ or stuck in life, almost as if the people we meet have already made up their mind beforehand to not like us. This internalized feeling can hamper our self-esteem over time and can even leave us unmotivated towards attending social events where we are, in fact, more likely to meet new people and build potential friendships.
The inability to make friends – especially as adults – can affect one’s mental health and well-being adversely. It’s important to know that you’re not alone – several others tackle the “why can’t I make friends” question every day in their head. Identifying the self-limiting patterns and modifying our approach to resolve the same can help us build new, lasting relationships with ease. •
Main image: shutterstock/fizkes
Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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