How to Make Adult Friends

A few years ago, I was reporting on my valley’s new roller derby team and I was sad I couldn’t join the fun.

“Too many concussions,” I told the gal sitting beside me.

She was explaining the game to me, who was whipping where and why, when we started talking about living in a new place as adults.

“It’s so hard to make women friends here,” she said. “Everyone is either super Christian and doesn’t want to party or they all have toddlers and don’t want to party.”

Hmmm, I thought, I am in neither of those categories, maybe we should be friends.

It had been a while since I’d had to start from scratch in making friends; I’d recently moved to the northwest corner of Montana to take my first journalism job out of college. It was exciting, it was adult, it was responsible, but it was also scary and weird.

I moved away from my college pals, and realized that making friends wasn’t something I’d worried about for years.

Friendship is magic

Actual footage of Molly making friends in Scotland.

As I’ve aged and been put through life’s ringer, I’ve gotten more confident in myself. I have a good sense of who I am, what I have to offer, and my own inherent value. I’ve become, through trial by fire, someone who finds self-esteem and worth in wells within myself. This means I don’t have to rely on outside influences to give me a sense of self-worth or importance; I already know it’s a good thing I’m alive, and that I can contribute cool things to those around me.

With this clear picture of myself, I can adopt a take-me-or-leave-me stance when it comes to making friends, meaning if they like me, that’s awesome, and if I’m not their particular cup of tea, fine! That doesn’t mean I’m lesser, or somehow inherently worse.

But this wasn’t always the case; I wasn’t always self-assured. The cool girls were the ones who bullied me for being different and nerdy in elementary school, and I’d built defenses along the way to counteract the bullying. As a result, I am friendly but wary, suspect of anyone who wants to get inside my walls and learn about the soft and vulnerable parts of me.

It helped that I was raised with four sisters, two older and two younger, so I always had someone to talk to, built-in friendships for life to depend on. These helped in high school and college, because my sisters were there before me. But when I took the newspaper job, it was the first time in my life that I was going somewhere no one in my family had ever been before, and it was intimidating.

This move was also the first time I’d been surrounded by dudes and not by women. I was the only woman working in my newsroom, and while I had no trouble bonding and chilling with my new bro-workers, I missed the comfort and ease of being with women.

But an interesting wrinkle showed up later in life: My queerness. Being an openly gay lady had its perks – people know who you are, you don’t have to hide, etc. – but it made making lady friends a bit difficult because I didn’t want to give the impression that I was coming onto to them. There’s nothing wrong with flirting with a gal, but when I’m trying to befriend someone, I don’t want them to think it’s just so I can get in their pants later.

So here I was, sitting on a bench watching the cool girls skate around and yearning for them to accept me. Sitting on that bench with the gal explaining roller derby, I made a snap decision to ignore my ego and anxiety and to speak plainly.

“It’s hard to make lady friends,” I told her. “And I miss being around women, smart women, progressive women.”

She agreed, so I kept going.

“Do you like beer?”

“Yes!”

“We should be friends,” I said, and then I started laughing at myself because I sounded like a kindergartener.

It didn’t strike me until later that the kindergarteners are the ones who have it all figured out. They approach situations honestly and boldly, making their intentions and needs known to the other person in clear terms. What is it about getting older that makes this seem less possible or prudent?

Perhaps it’s the idea that in extending yourself like that, you leave yourself vulnerable to rejection. I like to think of it as being stretched across a gap, your feet on one ledge and your hands gripping another, your belly on full display and open for attack. Rejection feels like someone coming along, walking under you and poking you in the gut with their umbrella.

But – and stick with me and this analogy for just a little longer – there’s also the chance you won’t get rejected, and that person will walk under your stretched body and help you down. One thing most people don’t remember when approaching these kinds of situations is that the other person is likely terrified and nervous as well, worried about vulnerability and compatibility and wanting something too much.

There is strength in vulnerability, bravery in hope, and authenticity in wanting connection.

After I told her we should be friends and hang out, the gal sitting next to me was momentarily stunned and then laughed a lot. She said we should definitely hang out, and then invited me to her book club. I went to the first meeting and met the folks who would become my core group of smart, progressive women friends. It’s been years since that interaction on that roller derby bench, and my friend and I have seen each other through injury, pregnancy, marriage, divorce, heartbreak, and joy.

By allowing myself to be vulnerable in those first moments of our friendship, I opened up my walls. Sure, it means there’s the possibility I’ll get hurt, but if I don’t open up, I lose the possibility of all those good, big emotions, the life-changing, soul-strengthening, community-building moments that are irreplaceable.

I know it can be scary to tell someone what you want, because they might say no or, in my worst imagined scenarios, they might make fun of you for it. But so what? What’s the worst thing that will come out of that? You’ll know they aren’t friend material, because anyone who makes fun of anyone else for being authentic is probably an asshole anyway. And if they say no, that’s absolutely their prerogative. I would probably take a day or two to wallow, because I’m not immune to disappointment, but then it’s time to keep moving on.

There is strength in vulnerability, bravery in hope, and authenticity in wanting connection. These attributes can feel like they’re in short supply most days, and when someone encounters them, it’s refreshing and grounding. These are attractive qualities in a friend, and the funny thing is, no matter how nervous you are about it, speaking plainly shows confidence in yourself and your goals.

On the first day of A-Camp last summer, I was nervous as all get out. I’d never been, I didn’t know anyone, and didn’t know how it was going to go. When I arrived, I decided to be as friendly and open as possible; out of 350 people, at least a few are going to want to be my friend, I thought. The fears were unfounded, of course, as A Camp is one of the most welcoming and friendship-friendly places I’ve ever been.

Autostraddle feels that way, full of potential for connection and buddies and community. It’s all a matter of how we decide to approach it. With that in mind, I have just one question for you: Wanna be friends?


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Molly Priddy is a writer and editor in Northwest Montana. Follow her on Twitter: @mollypriddy

Molly has written 40 articles for us.

26 Comments

  1. This was great!

    I’m getting ready to move to a different city and state by myself, where I know absolutely no one (I even had my interviews and apartment tours over Skype! I am going in incredibly cold). I am horrible at making friends. It’s good to be reminded that the worst that can happen is that I might get made fun of, but that the best thing could also happen–I could have a friend!

    Also, this happened once:

    Me: I was talking about that with my mom, and I was like “My friend, Lindsay…”
    Lindsay: Are we friends?
    Me: Oh. I guess we are just solid acquaintances.
    Lindsay: Yeah.

    It might explain my trepidation about friend-making.

  2. you’re so right – being straightforward is the best way haha. i remember reading somewhere, a long time ago before i needed this advice, that in order to make solid friends with someone, you need three things: 1, similar values and interests, 2, an openness to making friends, and 3, a way to spend time with each other regularly without either of you having to specifically plan it

    i got a year and a half into my graduate job (also 97% men, coincidentally) before i was like ‘you know, i think i need to make some friends that i don’t work with’. so following the above advice, i joined roller derby! cliche, i know. but i figured: 1, we’d have similar values from what i knew about roller derby, 2, it sounded like a welcoming place, and 3, it would be a regular thing that everyone would be coming along to without most of us having to put any planning into it!

    i was hesitant to consider it at first – i didn’t want to become a skater due to past injury, but luckily there’s an actual position called ‘non skating official’! and without NSOs, games can’t happen. going along to my first session was terrifying – i just kind of showed up after nothing more than an email to someone to make sure it was cool. and then i basically glued myself to the first person who said hi, but i’m getting there now! it’s just about six months since i joined, and…i think it’s working! making friends! scary but great!

    • “1, similar values and interests, 2, an openness to making friends, and 3, a way to spend time with each other regularly without either of you having to specifically plan it”

      That would conveniently explain my complete inability to make friends as an adult. I have odd interests and values (1), I live and work rurally with no co-workers so there’s no such thing as easy unplanned time with anyone (2), and whenever I’ve made an effort to take a class, join an association or volunteer – and thus meet people without specifically planning it – I keep running into nice enough people for whom that thing we’re doing is either compartmentalised away from their social life OR they are there with a friend and act really insular (3).

      It probably doesn’t help that I’m usually 20 (yoga class) to 45 years (associations) younger than everyone I meet. I mean, I don’t really mind, but when I’m younger than someone’s grandchild they don’t often look at me and think “we should do coffee and be friends”.

  3. I had this funny realization recently that the things that make me anxious are things I feel uncertain about, and that usually in relationships, you can stop being uncertain if you just ask. If you’re not sure where you stand in a relationship, you can ask. Which is strangely nonobvious? There’s such a strong idea that things should just happen–you should just naturally become friends with people. I was always anxious about making friends because I didn’t realize I could just say, “hey, can we be friends?” So I had a lot of proto-friendships that fizzled, because I thought they should just naturally grow and they didn’t. When you haven’t expressed a mutual intention to do a thing that requires two people, it tends not to happen.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this lately. I do have friends, many friends, and they’re great. The problem is, just about none of them live near me. I moved last year for work, and I really like my coworkers, for the most part. However, with the exception of maybe two or three, I am not super eager to make “friends” with them. I’m not saying it’s impossible, or that I’m not open to it. The issue is more that I miss the friends I have, and I’ve had to do this several times, moving away from the people I really care about. New friends are fine and dandy, but I didn’t make friends with these other folks for nothing. Possibly my favorite friend-human lives in freakin’ China, for Chrissake. How is that fair?

    Last weekend, I had a needed catch-up phone call with a buddy of mine, and she was asking me when I can come visit in California. And I’m just thinking, well shit, I would love to go hang out but I can’t just flit off to California! I couldn’t even make it out there when my grandma was still alive. And I mean, next month I’ll make it up to Boston which is cool because I have a core group of friends there and nearby in NH, but it’s gonna be a mad dash to see everyone, and I probably can’t do it. I’m finally going to get to meet one friend’s adorable kiddos, but I haven’t seen the guy in six years. It’s a puzzle – how can I keep up a meaningful connection with folks when our orbits seem to be so distant now?

    I probably shouldn’t complain too much, because I am really fortunate in one respect. My best friend in the world is my spouse, and I get to come home to him every day. We have gotten to spend way more meaningful time together since I landed this job and he got to quit his horrible one. Between him and the cat, home life is perfect, which is awesome. Doesn’t stop me from missing all my awesome friends, though.

  5. I was really bad at making friends back in school and high school and college.
    And somehow ppl talked to me so I made group of friends along the way.

    But then I came out a couple of years ago and I realized I had no queer friends.
    And it is so hard for me to approach someone and just say “let’s be friends” but that’s definitely my goal.
    I even join the Nancy podcast gaggle challenge.

    So this is really one of my goals of 2018 and so far it’s not going well…

    Also A Camp seems amazing but if I have to add the price of the plane ticket from Paris, it’s kinda really expensive.

  6. As a shy, closeted person for most of my life, I had a hard time making friends, especially women friends. I never initiated; the friends I made were always more outgoing and liked me enough to stick around. Looking back, I think I avoided making friends with women because I didn’t want to get too close and fall in love with them.

    Since I came out, I’ve found it easier to open up and connect and have been working on everything in this article. Vulnerability is hard when you’re used to hiding, but I’m finding that people are surprisingly friendly once you give them a chance.

    A million thank yous and a basket of cookies for this, Molly! I’m going to read it a thousand times.

  7. love this so much. your introvert session with heather at camp gave me a lot of courage to be bold in trying to make friends the past few days, and pairing it with the gaggle project from the nancy podcast has me pushing myself hard to be more social and authentic.

    (somehow i was still too embarrassed to tell you that at camp, but i’m a work in progress!)

  8. This really spoke to me today. Ever since returning home from camp, I’ve been contemplating how to bring vulnerability and openness to more of the relationships in my daily life. It’s not something that comes naturally to me (at least, not outside of A-Camp), but I think it’s worth practicing and ‘extending my belly’ a bit. ❤️

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