In each installment of Ask An Expert, we round up the authorities on everything from sleep to finances, ask them your biggest questions, and finally get some real answers
This week: Hope Kelaher, therapist and author of Here to Make Friends: How to Make Friends as an Adult, weighs in on exactly that — how to make new friends in midlife.
Dear Friendship Expert,
How do I make new friends as an adult?? I feel like I looked up one day, and all my old friends were gone! I'm not sure how to meet anyone new, except through work or family (both of which have turned out to be kind of dead ends for me). Is it even possible to make new friends at this point in life, when you have so much on your plate and can't just hang out for hours every day like you did in college?
PS: Please don't tell me that the answer is joining a book club. I hate book clubs.
Hope Kelaher says:
Making friends as an adult, especially when you have so many other commitments, is really taxing and hard. (Sustaining friendships as an adult can, at times, be even harder.) And while it's common that many adults are able to find and cultivate new friends through anchor institutions — like your child's school, your job, local community centers, etc — we need to acknowledge that on some level, even in those places, you have to vibe and genuinely like the people. Just having something in common with them, such as a job or kids the same age, doesn’t guarantee friendship chemistry.
The unfortunate truth about making friends is that it requires a time investment, and most of us already feel like we have no time to spare. But I often remind folks that in moments when we are stressed with family and work obligations, self-care is necessary—and a part of that self-care may mean setting aside time for yourself to meet new people.
One tip is to put yourself in places where you have access to people of your ilk. Consider reconnecting with the parts of yourself that may not be getting attention these days— the creative part, the athletic part, or the social part that you may have lost due to your busy life. Participate in activities that engage these parts, like art or improv comedy classes, running groups, or community service organizations. If you're doing things you really enjoy, rather than just looking around your workplace or neighborhood parents group, you may be more likely to meet people you genuinely connect with.
It's also important to note that while we are all hoping to hit the jackpot of meeting a soulmate-level friend, it is essential to have different types of friends, too, including friends who we just have fun with (maybe that's a person we go to a pottery or a yoga class with) and friends who we have a more practical relationship with (that person who may be helpful to use when we need a carpool, or vice versa). Just because you may not connect with a new person on every deep level, it doesn't mean that you can't enrich each other's lives.
Investing in friendships, while time-consuming and sometimes even stressful, is a bit like investing in a retirement plan. The more time and energy you invest now, the stronger your social networks will be when you retire and are an empty nester...and finally have some free time again.