How to Make Friends as an Adult

Remember how easy it was to make friends in elementary school? Kids never really seemed to care if we had anything in common or shared similar values. Add to that the fact that we were less worried about being rejected or as picky about who we were hanging out with and it certainly made for an easy place to make new friends.

Now that we are adults everything seems to have changed. Not only are our lives and personalities more complicated than they were as children we start to care a lot more about the type of people we want to spend our personal time with. Now also for whatever reason that fear of rejection seems to be a bit more painful than it was when we were children or perhaps that part of us just never really grows up (?!).

As most of us are pressed for time it seems a lot easier to simply lament the fact that we don’t have a large friend group any longer than to expend the effort in time it makes to create new friendships. But in reality there are a lot of simple ways to make friends that will not only further that goal but will likely fulfill other interests that make us well-rounded, happier humans.

For whatever reason, March has declared itself the month of relationships. If that doesn’t make sense to you it’s probably because you’re not following along on the podcast, in which case, what are you feeding your ear balls?! This month, in the Lawyer Life Podcast we are not only exploring how to deal with difficult relationships but those episodes will be followed by episodes addressing how to know when a relationship has run its course and how to transform any relationship. Since I have been spending so much time thinking about relationships, it has gotten me thinking about one interesting recurring relationship theme I often coach on: how to establish and create new friendships as an adult professional woman.

For me personally, my legal career started in a city where I knew no one and had no ties whatsoever. Overtime, this introvert of yours has tried a variety of tactics to establish and create meaningful friendships as an adult. The following are my tried and tested tactics for finding and maintaining adult friendships.

Join Professional Groups or Organizations

This goes beyond your local and state bar associations — trust me, we already have enough lawyer friends. For me, this consisted of Junior League and a city-sponsored leadership program. While joining these programs harkened back to my days joining a sorority in college when I didn’t know anyone there either the results were worth every excruciating formality of the process. I found like-minded professional friends that have lasted long beyond the close of the event calendar. Time consuming? Yes. Overly structured? Yes. Both things that pushed me outside my comfort zone and forced me to learn and experience things I would otherwise have missed.

Attend Networking Events (other than bar/firm events)

After getting plugged into my local Chamber of Commerce via the city-sponsored leadership program, I signed up for one of their ongoing networking events and, despite my discomfort, attended a morning networking event. While there, I was able to connect with the lone attendee who appeared just as uncomfortable as I was in the room full of men in suits. Our discomfort quickly led to connection and our friendship followed from there.

Take Initiative at Work

This goes beyond taking on new projects but instead asks that we initiate conversations with colleagues and participating in work-related events or outings to expand our work networks. Some of the most important work-related friendships that I formed occurred with women outside of my practice group with whom I actively pursued a social relationship. They provided invaluable perspective on my working group and my team and could also relate to the challenges of practicing law in general. If there are women in your organization that you admire but that you don’t know socially, those are the ones to experiment with. Invite one of these women out on a coffee run and come prepared to talk about anything other than work. Try out: What do you do for fun when you’re not at work…if you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing for a career?…Tell me about how you landed in law… Bonus: those relationships will become essential for lateral moves as everyone starts bouncing around among firms and in-house jobs.

Join a Social Group or Club

One of the easiest topics of conversation when you were uncomfortable is that of your interests outside of work and your hobbies (if you don’t have any or don’t have time for that, let’s develop a plan to change that). I was recently at a holiday party where I didn’t know anybody and I struck up a conversation with an older woman at my table who mentioned that she was in a stand-up paddleboard  and kayak club. As someone who loves paddle boarding and kayaking, after the party I reached out to the host to get the woman’s contact information and contacted her to see if I could tag along to her group’s next outing (a very uncomfortable outreach for me!). She obliged and it has opened my world to a whole new group of interesting people that I would never have met otherwise as well as an opportunity to enjoy my hobbies which were being neglected. Bonus: groups like this open the possibilities to all sorts of potential client opportunities as well!

Volunteer for Causes You Care About

Years ago after my divorce, I reached out to the statewide domestic violence and sexual assault organizations to see if I could support them in any way (might as well put my traumas to good use, eh?). I quickly became a board member for a DV/SA organization and years later became the chair of the statewide coalition. That simple e-mail has connected me with so many interesting people with so many amazing backgrounds and great connections across my state. Again, amazing client opportunities as well as friendships.

Host Social Gatherings

We currently live in my husband’s hometown, albeit a metro of one million people, he seems to know or be related to most of them (Irish Catholics!). Because of this, I often found myself in groups where everyone knew everyone else and I was the outsider. To remedy this, my husband and I decided to make a regular practice or hosting a Sunday dinner for couples in our friend group. It was an easy way for me to get one-on-one time with the wives of his friends and build meaningful connections with previously casual acquaintances.

A few things to keep in mind…

Take the initiative. So many of us are waiting for someone else to initiate contact/conversation with us, but according to one study, when people viewed friendship as happening without effort, they were lonelier years later. When they viewed friendship as taking effort, they were less lonely.  Whether you use any of the tactics above, I recommend going into the situation believing that everybody there wants to be your friend and wants to get to know you but they’re just waiting for you to initiate it. Don’t wait for friendships or new connections to happen organically. Make it happen for yourself. Both you and the other party will thank you.

Seasons change and so do friendships. Not every friendship is meant to go the distance and that is OK. (Read that again.) If you find yourself struggling to maintain existing friendships because you feel like you should it’s possible that the friendship has simply run its course. That is not an indictment of you or the individual but simply an acknowledgement that our life is comprised of different seasons with different needs and different individuals willing to join us for those seasons. If a friendship feels forced let it go with love and move on (and listen to the upcoming podcast on that topic!).

Being vulnerable and authentic is the easiest way to forge connection. If you are at a networking event and you’re uncomfortable, say it to whomever you are talking to. If you have met someone that you want to become a closer friend with, say it. One of the most memorable adult friendship experiences I ever had was when a woman that I have known casually for years asked me to lunch saying I just don’t have a lot of friends and I would like to connect with you on that level. Her vulnerability blew my mind and opened my heart to invest more in that relationship. I won’t ever forget it.

Organization is important. Life is messy and busy and it’s easy to lose sight of these essential relationships. We must not forget that friendships require nurturing and attention to some degree. Every week when I sit down with my calendar I make sure that I have time scheduled to catch up with friends. At times, I have even developed a list of individuals that I want to maintain a relationship with or develop a relationship with and I used that list to guide my weekly calendar reviews to ensure that I was making time for everybody on that list at some point over the upcoming weeks. As an added bonus, whenever I had a bout of the “woe is mes” I was able to look at that list and remember all the amazing friendships I had in my life. Yes, it sounds overly structured and impersonal but it is the best way I have found to hold myself accountable to be a good friend and show up to nurture my existing relationships and those I am developing.  In my world getting together with friends is no different than scheduling time to go to the gym – if it’s important to me it gets a spot on my calendar.

Photo by Belle Co

Recommended Articles