9.22.2014

adult friendship

As a lover of learning and an educator myself, I have a confession to make: much of the information I learned in high school and college is useless in my quotidian life. 

I wish there were courses on how to be a productive adult member of society. Most recently, I find myself wishing there were a class on how to make new friends as an adult.

Students have it so easy. They see the same people each day in classes or extracurriculars or part-time jobs. They have roommates and dorm mates. They don't have to look very far to find someone who shares their interests or values.

But what about adults with jobs, responsibilities, and families? What about adults who move to a new city? And especially what about introverted adults?

It's not easy out there, guys. I know, because I've been in the market for adult friends since I graduated college 4 years ago. Here are the stages and phases I have gone through in my attempts to make new adult friends:

1. A fresh college grad. Where are all the young, fun, hip "adults"(you know, the 22 year olds who don't actually consider themselves grown up)? In that phase it felt like everyone either (a) had their entire group of friends from high school or college still around, or (b) had a family and kids. As an introvert, there was no way I was going to try to infiltrate an existing group of friends. Interloper is not a position of comfort for me. I also (hopefully wrongly) assumed that anyone with kids and a family had no time for me. In this stage, coworkers were my main group of friends. Thank goodness for jobs!

2. Ain't nobody got time for that! Once I started working full time as a teacher, with coaching duties on the side, it didn't even matter to me that I didn't have many close friends in the area. As an introvert, I was ok with that. I shouldn't have been. Human beings need a social network (and not just on the computer). We need to socialize and have fun!

3. Sweet - had a baby, got my "in". I'll be honest...it got a lot easier to make friends once I had a baby. You have an instant "connection" with other parents. If you meet another parent at the park, you have some built-in conversation starters. "She's so cute! How old is she? What a fun age!" You have play dates and get-togethers with other parents.

Making new friends comes so naturally to some - those lucky people! Personally, I tend to choose my social interactions so carefully because they are draining to me. Not draining in a bad way - it's just that I need my alone time to recharge, and alone time is hard to come by when you're married with a child. So when I do choose to socialize with others, I want it to be worth my energy. Ask my husband how much I have to mentally prepare myself before going to a party or gathering, especially if I know I'll have to make awkward small talk.

I am working really hard on relaxing, making an effort to smile more, and simply being a friendlier person to those around me. This is easier said than done, because when I enter a new situation, I like to observe until I feel comfortable enough to speak up. News flash: observation is often mistaken for being aloof or unsocial. Whoops.

I'm working on it. Here is what I have learned so far from my great friendship experiment:

- Nobody will ever replace my childhood, high school, and college friends. They know me so well, and though we may be far apart, we share so many memories and common experiences. It's important to have those.

- I don't have to be friends with only people who are my age. Right out of college I thought that was the most important thing. Now I'm looking for people with a sense of humor, and people who are kind.

- Not everyone is going to be a good "friendship fit." That doesn't mean we can't still be friendly and share a social circle.

- Making new friends, dating, and networking are all eerily similar.

- Meetup.com = online dating for friends?

- I may have to give up my vision of having a friend who just drops by to chat over coffee unannounced. Or a friend I go walking with while we push the babies in strollers. Why does TV make it all look so glamorous?

- I am so thankful for the women I have met in my area who have been kind and welcoming and friendly. It took a few years, but I finally feel like I have roots and a social circle here.

Well, this is starting to feel like an after school special. Kids, to have a friend, you have to be a friend. The more you know.

How do you make friends in a new situation or location?

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