Finding friends as an adult isn’t always easy, as two books point out. And societal taboos against admitting that you’re actively looking remain powerful.
Where to meet pals
Check your church or community center for friendship or discussion groups.Join a book club.Volunteering will put you in touch with new faces.Visit www.newcomersclub.com for a worldwide directory of clubs and organizations that welcome you to a town.Mothers of young children should visit www.mothersandmore.org, www.motherscenter.org, and www.mops.org for local groups.Enroll in classes at the YMCA or neighborhood health club.Buy a dog or walk a neighbor’s pup. It’s a great conversation starter.Source: “The Friendship Crisis,” by Marla Paul
Two authors, Rachel Bertsche with “MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend” and Marla Paul in “The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore,” wrote about their search for friends.
Friendship shortages are fairly common, and Paul says they tend to occur at predictable times, for example, when you move to a new city, have children, or when your friends do.
“Any time you have a major lifestyle change, all your friendships are in flux,” says Paul. “I found it incredibly hard to make new friends. I felt like kind of a pariah, so I wrote about it.”
To her surprise, other women wrote back, with many saying they were relieved they weren’t the only ones.
As we age, it can become more difficult to make friends. We are less inhibited when we are young, so reaching out to a potential friend isn’t so scary. But those life changes — puberty, graduation, moving, marriage, childbirth, divorce or a loved one’s death — can adversely alter friendships.
There are things you might be able to do to change that. Start with a declaration to make more friends, or renew old friendships, this year.
“Being a friend takes action,” explains counselor Jill Jividen with Counseling for Wellness in Kent, Ohio. “It’s like a job. You have to work at it. It doesn’t just happen.”
Ruby Winter, who lives in the Portage Lakes, Ohio, area, works at keeping and making friends. During Winter’s weekly gathering with 16 or so pals, nearly everyone who comes through the door waves to the retired schoolteacher. Returning the greeting, she flashes them a grin and sometimes a wink.
“My mom never knew a stranger. I guess I’m a lot like her,” Winter says. “She always said, ‘You can never have too many friends.’ ”
Jividen noted that an action begets the same reaction. So expressing kindness, for example, will generally bring kindness.
Psychologist Irene Levine, author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend” as well as The Friendship Blog (the friendshipblog.com), points to a range of online services now available to women on the prowl for pals, including Girlfriend Social (girlfriendsocial.com), Girlfriend Circles (girlfriendcircles.com), Social Jane (socialjane.com) and Next Door (nextdoor.com).
Author Bertsche, however, says we still have a way to go.
“We still haven’t given ourselves permission to say, ‘I want new friends.’ You don’t want to sound like a loser.”
Bertsche hit a nerve in December with the publication of her spirited account of her 2010 quest to create a local friendship network after relocating from New York to Chicago.
Bertsche tackled the problem head-on, going on 52 weekly “friend-dates” with likely candidates, many of whom she found through out-of-town BFFs or shared activities.
Death do us part
Nothing will alter a person’s address book like the death of a spouse or child. While the bereaved may feel snubbed when a friend doesn’t keep in contact afterward, it’s likely the pal simply feels uncomfortable.
“They don’t want to see you in pain because it brings up their own pain,” Jividen says.
To draw them back, Jividen suggests being honest. Tell your friend that you worry that he or she will be uncomfortable if you cry.
“I want you to know that it’s OK if I cry, and you don’t have to do anything,” Jividen says to tell the friend. “I’m really the same person and I need you now.”
If you want to help a grieving friend, resist telling her to “call if she needs something.” It’s nearly impossible to think straight in grief, so being told what to do is just an added burden. Instead, as Paul mentions in her book, tell her specifically what you plan to do for her: take care of the kids, bring over dinner or mow the lawn.
Feeding a relationship
Winter’s parents had 14 children and, to this day, she doesn’t like being alone. That’s one of the reasons she’s so involved in volunteering and social groups. A great way, she acknowledged, to meet new folks.
“I just like to be surrounded by people. The more, the merrier,” she said, adding that she grew up in a small home where three or four children sometimes shared the same bed.
But it’s not always easy to make time for buddies. Paul writes that it’s “hard to make new friends in our culture of busyness. And as we frantically juggle a constellation of demands, many of us are unwilling, or unable, to fold a new pal into our lives.”
Friendship takes effort. Even charismatic Winter says she has to work at it. If she hasn’t heard from a pal in a while, she calls. Lack of communication can make a friendship wane in a hurry.
Paul’s book notes that to keep a friendship alive we need to pay attention to what’s happening in our friend’s life by doing things like making a date for breakfast or a workout, celebrating the victories or surprising them with a gift.