Why is making friends as an adult so hard?

I am good at a lot of things, ranging from crossword puzzles to packing for a two week trip in a carry-on. Making friends, however, is not one of those things. Don’t get me wrong, I have always had friends. From each phase of my life I have carried forward one or two precious people with whom I’m still close. When I reflect on the depth and quality of these relationships, I feel enormously lucky. When I look at the small number of them, I wonder if something is wrong with me.

Most of my expectations about making friends as an adult came from 90s TV shows—Friends, Seinfeld, etc.  I learned that you head to your neighborhood coffee shop or bar, and voilà, your friends are there waiting for you! Honestly though, for some people it really seems that easy. Take a friend I met when we both moved to new city at the same time. We connected easily because neither of us knew anyone. Fast forward a year and she threw a party with a packed house, whereas I barely knew enough people to fill a phone booth.

As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to believe that the ease with which we make friends is rooted in how we define friendship. Personally, it takes me a long time to feel comfortable bestowing the title of “friend” on someone. To me, it represents a deeper level of trust and knowledge about each other. Which is where it gets tricky, because in this overscheduled world, who has time to go deep with anyone? I’m not even talking about baring our souls, pricking our fingers and becoming blood sisters, but about having meaningful conversations that go beyond kids, work, and how tired we are.

Lots of people told me that becoming a mom would come with ready-made friendships with other moms. Honestly though, I have found making mom friends the most challenging. While we have so many obvious things in common, trying to have a substantive conversation about any of them while you’re with your kids is impossible. Or maybe it’s just me who has trouble focusing on discussing my hopes and dreams while I’m trying to keep my toddler from eating a pine cone at the park (at least I think it was a pine cone—dear God please let it have been a pine cone). Then say you do manage to have a fun, interesting conversation—where do you go from there? The chances of crossing paths again at random may be slim to none. So, you’re faced with the awkward task of asking whether they want to hang out again after knowing each other all of fifteen minutes—and risking rejection. Maybe they have enough friends already. Maybe they thought our conversation about Brexit and Beyoncé was boring or weird. Maybe they’re tired, hungry, or otherwise preoccupied. Even if they also felt a connection, between kids’ activities and keeping up on Netflix, you’ll be lucky if you can pencil in a coffee date for 2020.

The other part of making friends that I find hard is knowing how much of myself to share with someone right away. Because let’s face it, no deep bond was ever forged from two people sitting down over a glass of wine and talking about how perfect their lives are. It’s hard, though, to find the balance of being vulnerable enough to connect with someone, but not so much that you feel like you want to throw up afterward. This is especially hard for someone like me who is reserved in nature, and admittedly, can be hard to get to know. Sharing a lot about myself makes me nervous, especially at first. However, when I think, about my deepest, truest friendships—the ones where I am accepted and loved for being entirely myself—they are all born of a shared survival story. Whether it’s divorce, addiction, or the exhaustion of new motherhood, these experiences are often the seeds from which friendships grow. And thank God for this, because we could not survive them on our own.

When it comes to friends, then, quality over quantity may be a cliché, but it’s my cliché. I’ll likely never be the person with a large enough circle to throw an unforgettable party. Probably, this will always feel a little bit lonely. The friendships I do have, though, more than make up for that. They remind me that the reward of true connection is always worth the time and effort it takes to build. That a slow start can yield a beautiful finish. And above all, that the risk of being vulnerable is almost always worth the gift of helping someone else realize they are not alone.

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