On making new friends

Dear Bronwyn,

I finished college, got married and moved to a new community two years ago. We’d heard that making friends after college is hard, so we found a church, joined a small group, and said “yes” to as many engagements as we could. We have met some wonderful people, I would even call them friends.

That being said, Friday nights roll around, or my husband has work when I don’t, and I (or we) find ourselves at home wondering what to do. The college answer of “call your friends and see what they’re up to” doesn’t seem to work. We have one couple we feel we could just call up, but their schedules often differ. Many have kids, and others I am hesitant to call because I feel like they already have their friends and we are just an obligation as part of being “welcoming”.

Is this just the slow reality of developing friendships after college, or am I missing something? Do I need to push harder? How do I do so without being obnoxious?

– Need Friendly Advice

dinner party Dear NFA,

My hubby and I had been married for 6 months when we moved half way across the world so he could start his PhD. Six. Months. And for this gal, who had led a rich, friend-filled, socially-hectic life in Cape Town – those were some of the hardest months of my life. I was lonely, I was bored, I was newly married and trying to figure out so many new things: a new identity, a new community, a new routine, a new room mate (!). Sounds like you are going through a similar set of changes; and I remember praying tear-filled prayers that I would find friends too.

You have two big challenges facing you.

The first is the challenge of making friends after college. College, for all its challenges and existential angst, is still a relatively easy place to find friends as there are a few thousand people of exactly the same age around,and they have similar interests, similar availability, and a similar need to make new friends. Added to that – there are a host of on-campus communities that always make it their sole ambition to find the “new people” and get them “plugged in”. Really, you get the opportunity to just shop for the community you feel most comfortable in, and then the rest is a little like Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate: with a little bit of action on your part, everything gets mixed up and sweet pretty quickly.

Post-college has none of those guaranteed points of similarity: ages vary, schedules vary, interests vary, and there aren’t as many people around who are as desperate to make friends as you are. It takes longer. You have to try harder. In many ways, making friends post college feels a little like dating: you have to take risks, arrange meetings, start conversations. I remember wanting to make friends with my daughter’s pediatrician after we’d met a few times, but feeling like I didn’t know whether I was allowed to make friends in what was, for her, a professional context. Broaching the subject of “would you like to get together?” felt like I was asking her on a date. (For the record, she said yes, and we are still friends). But it was terrifying and it felt risky.

It sounds like you are doing so many healthy things for this life stage: saying “Yes” to invitations, joining a church, and finding a small group. Keep it up. Say yes to opportunities to be with others, and even better – to serve alongside others. And take people at their word: if they say they’d love you to come, don’t second guess whether this is a “politeness” offer. If you like them and would like to be friends, act on it. You have so much to offer as a friend, and they need good friends in their life as much as you do.

Inviting people around and saying yes is not being “obnoxious”: it’s relationally healthy. Keep up your efforts, and as time goes out you will find that the fatigue of always-having-to-explain-the-back-story will fade away: you’ll be able to tell your new friend that “John called and he said he’s coming home for the holidays”, without having to explain that John is your wayward brother, or that his coming home for the Holidays means Walking On Eggshells around him. In time your new friends will know your back stories, and your shared experiences as meals, adventures and service together will build a new web of shared community.

However, you have a second challenge in making friends: you are a newly wed.

The first year of marriage has many challenges, and making friends with a newly wed couple can be challenging because people fear that newlyweds are pretty much constantly in bed, that they would NEVER call you on a Friday evening for fear that they might be “interrupting” something. For sure, the number of “just dropped in to say Hi”, or “just phoned to see what you were doing” calls PLUMMETED once we got married. People assumed we were “busy”, and they wanted to give us “space”.

To counter that – you have to figure out as a couple whether you want an open house/open calendar mood to your marriage, and you will have to work hard to persuade your friends that you still really want them around (and that you don’t spend every minute at home wearing skanky lingerie. Seriously – I had friends that thought that.)  Many single friends fear that their newly married friends won’t want them around (wrongly assuming they only want to be friends with couples now), and so they need extra encouragement that they have a welcome place in your life.

Also, there are the new challenges of figuring out his friends vs my friends vs OUR friends. If someone befriends you, are you available to be their friend, or are you and your new hubby a “package deal”? These kinds of questions are tricky for you as a couple to figure out, and tricky too for those in your community who want to approach you.

Again – this takes a little persistence on your part. There are some couples who prefer to hibernate at home together in the evenings, but if you and your hubby are wanting to extend your circles and deepen your fledgling friendships – encourage your new friends to come round, tell them you are thankful for them, use your words and your invitations to communicate that even though you’re a young-couple-in-love, you also two people who want to make friends and be friends… and you want to be their friend.

Being a newly wed and being freshly out of college requires some new habits in making friends, and is also means some new expectations. This is the “new normal”, and it DOES take more time to make friends. But you will.

And in fact, it sounds as if you already are.

4 thoughts on “On making new friends

  1. You give excellent suggestions for these young people. Thank you.

    What suggestions do you have for single seniors who devoted their lives to career and family and now are in a lonely place where they want and need friends and a social life?

    I meet deal with this question regularly. Some seniors rely on their psychotherapists for rich conversation and the knowledge that someone knows the details of their lives. This is fine, yet I would like to suggest ways for them to build personal friendships.

    The age group I refer to is from 65 – 95+ with an emphasis on the 75-85 group.

    Looking forward to your response.

    Joanna Poppink, MFT
    Los Angeles psychotherapist
    author of Healing Your Hungry Heart

    • Hi Joanna,

      Thank you so much for your kind words.

      Your question is such a good one, and one with which I have no experience apart from trying to foster inter-generational relationships in church… so I asked some of the elder women in my family their thoughts, and these were the conclusions:

      I think elder people suffer from the same fundamental misconception as young people do when they are feeling lonely: they believe that everyone else is busy and fulfilled, and that they are alone in their loneliness. Perhaps when we are young we can silence the loneliness with frenetic busyness and the demands of careers and jobs, but I imagine once the years creep on and a new phase of life presents itself, we have to be honest, and we thus need to be braver.

      I would encourage people of all ages to realize that we ALL struggle with loneliness and insecurity, we ALL fear rejection by others, and we ALL have a tendency to wait for others to make the first move relationally.

      That being said: I would say – be courageous and 1) choose to be in places and do activities where there are other people; and 2) take the initiative to invite others to share in those activities with you (knowing that many of them are feeling lonely too).

      I know there are many who resist moving into retirement communities because it smacks of a loss of independence and identity. I understand that for many it might feel like a sentence to “the end of life”. However, for many – a retirement community gives a new lease on life because it is a retirement COMMUNITY.

      If one doesn’t want to move into such a community, you still need to PHYSICALLY put yourself out there: play bowls, play bridge, invite a friend over to watch the 11am soap opera, have a standing tea party on 3pm on Wednesdays where everyone knits, or whittles, or brings the New York Times crossword and tries to solve it together.

      Maybe it’s the courage to volunteer in the nursery at church, or to start a book club, or to get a clever nephew to show you the ropes online so you can start researching your family tree (my mother-in-law developed an interest in genealogies after her retirement and it has brought her HOURS of fun, as well as some very meaningful connections to family she had lost contact with over the years, some family she had never met before, as well as friendships with a community of online amateur genealogists!)

      In short, I would encourage them as much as possible to be brave and reach out to the other lonely people out there; to think of something they would like to do with their time, and then invite someone to do it with them… and who knows what wonderful new things could come in the sunset years of their lives?

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you suggest – as it sounds like you have a rich experience. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      • Dear Bronwyn,

        Your survey came up with fine suggestions. Thank you for doing some probing.

        Your encouragement to be brave, in my opinion, is vital. People in their seventies and up have much to deal with that most younger people do not understand. A lot has to do with unending losses of friends and family, loss of the familiar in this ever changing world, loss of the body they once had just for starters.

        These losses are difficult but normal and bearable if the people in their world respect the older person’s position and experience. But in this culture of ours, old people can be labelled harshly, considered as a deficient group of their own and excluded from many activities. Stereotypes die hard and its quite unnerving to be treated as a stereotype instead of as an individual.

        I think older people need support and perhaps some guidance in pushing against the stereotypes that try to envelop them. The older people I speak with read, write, think, care about history and current events, do their best to volunteer in community activities they care about and do their best to make calls and write notes to family and friends on special occasions. Often they are still working.

        Many are taken for granted, minimized or ignored because of the aging stereotype. I think this also happens because younger people are terrified of aging themselves and try to put the idea as well as the people out of conscious awareness.

        Perhaps part of an approach to loneliness after seventy is to find ways to befriend younger people.
        Instead of assuming that age groups must stick together and all old people should be with each other, we should open our minds and hearts to the idea of relationships between people of mixed ages.

        Our society has accepted the idea of old people mixing with young children as babysitters, and readers at the library. I see nothing wrong with that. But I’d like to encourage older people to make themselves more available and accessible to young adults in their communities and vice versa.

        Some people may want to relax and do simple activities with other seniors in their “sunset years.”
        But others want nothing to do with sunset years. They are vital and alive. They want the feel of passion, exchanges of ideas, involvement in meaningful activities and the ability to make a difference in this world. Perhaps their unfound as yet friends are decades younger than they.

        What do you think, Bronwyn? Thank you for the opportunity to speak out on this topic.

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