group of friends looking towards the horizon

Did you know there’s a scientific reason why most of us struggle to make friends as adults? Many of us find it challenging to open up and connect with someone right off the bat. However, this doesn’t stop us from looking for ways to make new friends. Humans are, after all, social beings.

Do you sometimes feel lonely and disconnected? You’re not the only one and it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with you. Recent studies have found we have fewer friends than ever before. Remote work, digital networking, and hectic lifestyles are all to blame for the phenomenon.

Why is it so difficult to connect and build trust in your 20s, 30s, and later on in life? And is there anything we could do to overcome the difficulties, embrace opportunities and build a brand-new community as an adult? Psychology has some great tips and tricks for you to count on.

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Why Meaningful and Profound Social Interactions Are Difficult for Adults

Children can naturally get close to new people and turn casual acquaintances into friends effortlessly. The fear of rejection isn’t strong yet and the efforts are minimal. Adult friendships, however, are a lot more challenging to establish and maintain.

When we carry a lot of our lived history and experiences into our adult lives, we may find it a lot more challenging to be open and vulnerable – two vital ingredients for any lasting relationship. Unplanned new interactions also don’t occur as often. Even if you’re consciously seeking such opportunities, they can be hard to come by.

Adults also lack the time needed to build new friendships. Sociologists believe it takes about 50 hours to make a casual friend and about 200 hours to turn that acquaintance into a close friend. Chances are you may find it difficult to find time in investing in something new. A busy job, kids, and personal responsibilities can all stand in the way of establishing and nurturing a new social connection.

Start by Leveraging Your Current Social Network

So, let’s say you’re dissatisfied with your social life and would like to add a few new people to your circle of friends. The easiest way to start out involves harnessing the power of your current network. Meeting friends of friends is a lot simpler than having to gather courage and interact with complete strangers.

Getting to meet new people through mutual friends is one of the low-effort opportunities you should employ before turning to anything else. Your friends and acquaintances know you well and also have some idea about the kinds of people you gravitate towards. Even work colleagues can introduce you to new people and present you with opportunities you wouldn’t get otherwise.

A friend of a friend may be feeling the exact same way and seeking meaningful connections too. Finding that person is simply a matter of speaking up and letting others know about your intentions. Even if these endeavors go nowhere, they’ll help you get in the right mindset for new kinds of social exploration.

meeting new people from different cultures and races

Use the Power of the Mere Exposure Effect

The mere exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people develop preferences for the things they become familiar with. The same principle applies to social interactions.

So, how can you use the power of this phenomenon to make new friends? The answer is a lot simpler than you might think – join a group that meets regularly and shares a common interest.

Networking events are a great way to meet potential friends and consolidate friendships. Try a sports class, a book club, a yoga class, an art class, or any social club that meets on a regular basis and practices a certain hobby you love.

Not only will you meet the same people regularly, but you’ll also enjoy an activity that brings you pleasure. A shared interest is an excellent icebreaker. And if this doesn’t do the trick immediately, getting to meet the same people time and time again will deliver a sense of comfort that will encourage social exploration.

Consider Coaching and Therapy

For many people, being vulnerable is the biggest challenge to conquer in the face of networking and finding true friends.

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us will have been rejected. Rejection fosters fear. Many people will simply choose to refrain from opening up in an attempt to protect themselves.

If that situation sounds pretty much like your social life, the time may be right to consider some coaching or therapy.

A therapist or psychologist can help you pinpoint the root cause of your social anxiety and fear of rejection. You will also be provided with the right tools to help you overcome social isolation and cope with such hindrances. Knowing how to work around the fear will allow you to embrace new social situations instead of running from those in fear.

group of three friends hugging

Focus on Quality and Not Quantity

It’s a well-known fact that most adults don’t have too many friends. In fact, 49 percent of Americans report having three or fewer close friends.

That’s not necessarily a problem. In fact, limiting your social interactions is a normal part of becoming mature and knowing what you need from the people in your social circle. As you age, you become much more capable of identifying toxicity and emotionally draining social interactions.

So, instead of focusing on numerous new casual friendships, try to foster a few meaningful relationships. In the world of social interactions, quality is much more important than quantity. You want to interact with people who get you, empower you and have your back.

So, once you establish your “chemistry” with someone, start deepening that relationship. Putting your efforts into helping the relationship grow instead of getting to meet dozens of new people will give you the highest level of satisfaction.

Final Thoughts

Putting your heart and soul into every new acquaintance you make is impossible. This is why you have to be selective about emotional investments. And that’s ok. You are in control and have the power to choose how deep you will go.

If you believe that a certain relationship isn’t going anywhere, you have the power to pull back and opt out of the interaction. Boundaries are as important as opening yourself up to new things.

Once you sow the seeds of new friendships, you’ll have to move on and enter the maintenance stage. Making friends is just the first step. If you’re looking for something meaningful, you’ll have to embark on a journey. To maintain your new friendships, do get in the habit of reaching out, being present, communicating effectively, and showing up for your new friends the way you’d like them to show up for you.