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Making Friends As An Adult – Why Is It So Hard?

Friendships are an important predictor of happiness and life satisfaction. And yet, many adults live very lonely lives and miss out on the support that friendships provide, especially in the context of addiction and mental health. 

Many people would probably like to have more friends (or better friendships) than they currently do, but making friends as an adult is not easy. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says it best:

When you’re a kid, you can be friends with anybody. If someone’s in front of my house now, that’s my friend. And if you have anything in common at all… Do you like cherry soda? We’ll be best friends!

When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. You’re not interviewing, or interested in seeing any applications. If I meet a guy in a club or the gym or someplace… I’m sure you’re a very nice person, you seem to have a lot of potentials, but we’re just not hiring right now.

And it’s not just Seinfeld that believes this. Marisa Franco is a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, and the Author of Platonic, a book about the bonds that exist between people. According to Franco, there’s a scientific reason why making friends is so much harder later in life.

In an interview with Boston news station WBUR, Marisa outlines what it takes to make friends organically. “Sociologists have kind of identified the ingredients that need to be in place,” she says, “continuous unplanned interaction and shared vulnerability.” As children, or as young adults, we have many opportunities to be in such friendship-nurturing contexts. “As we become adults,” she says, “we have fewer and fewer environments where those ingredients are at play.”

Because of this, we can’t simply rely on friendships happening organically—we need to be active participants in bringing friendship into our lives. 

Making Friends Takes Work

In a research paper from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, professor Jeffrey Hall took a data-centred look at the different stages of friendship and how long it takes people on average to make meaningful friendships.

According to the study, a casual friendship can take between 40 and 60 hours to establish, with a true friendship clocking in somewhere between 80 and 100 hours, and finally “good friends” require closer to 200 hours to really gel together.

With so much work to be done, where do we even start? Franco reminds us not to lose hope, and to consider these 5 skills for making friends as an adult:

  1. Initiative, i.e. taking radical responsibility for making friends
  2. Affirmation, i.e. working to make people feel liked and comfortable
  3. Security, i.e. being secure in yourself and assuming people like you
  4. Persistence, i.e. staying optimistic and sticking it out
  5. Reaching out, i.e. finding opportunities to make contact with potential friends

Friendships In Recovery

From our experience at Sunshine Coast Health Centre, people tend to make long-lasting and meaningful friendships in treatment. Because SCHC predominantly runs inpatient programs, people in treatment are able to spend time together and share vulnerability, both of which are conducive elements to fostering friendships. Having the common goal of supporting each other’s healing, growth and recovery certainly helps. What’s more, we’ve seen countless situations wherein peers support each other beyond treatment and into recovery, with friendships spanning years or even decades.

Making friends as an adult is not easy… the science shows that it takes a lot of time and a lot of work. But when it comes to facing challenges related to addiction and mental health, friends can be one of our best resources.

No matter how dire or discouraging your situation, friends remind us of an important message: you don’t have to face this alone.

At Sunshine Coast Health Centre and Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic, we support individuals through a holistic approach that recognizes social wellbeing as a key part of growth and healing. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or mental health, give us a call today.


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