The Biggest Reason Making Friends As An Adult Is So Hard, According To Friendship Experts

by Olivia June
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

In this op-ed, Olivia June, founder and CEO of Hey! VINA, a social discovery app for women, explains why making new friendships as an adult can be so difficult — and how to make it feel less intimidating.

Ever feel like it’s absurdly hard to make new friends as an adult? You’re totally not alone. We’ve all been victim of the myth of easy friendship. The reasons range from thinking “I’m too busy” or “I don’t know how to start a conversation” or “she’s has too many friends already” to experiencing social anxiety. We’ve all faced many moments in our lives where we’ve wanted to make a new friend and simply didn’t have the time, tools, or confidence to make it happen. I’ve moved to new cities without knowing a single soul, gone through breakups where I realized I lost all my friends in the whirlwind of love, been the only woman in an all male company, and fallen suddenly to feeling like the odd girl out. Times that were lonely, isolating, and sometimes straight-up depressing.

As the founder & CEO of Hey! VINA, the world’s #1 app for women’s friendship, I’ve made it my life mission to make sure we always have access to finding new friends and creating a supportive community of like-minded women wherever we are in our lives or in the world.

“As we transition out of emerging adulthood (ages 18-25), we’re no longer surrounded by a group of same-age peers who happen to be in a similar life stage and with whom we have things in common,” Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship researcher, tells Bustle. “Our life paths begin to diverge more and more from those of our friends, and we can end up in very different places — both geographically and emotionally.”

"Life gets a little more complicated when you're an adult. People often work full-time jobs and many are also maintaining romantic relationships too. What time does that leave to make friends?”

Of course, finding the time to meet new friends is a struggle in itself. “When people are in high school and college, they’re naturally around a lot of people they can interact with and who are similar to them,” Dr. William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, says. “But life gets a little more complicated when you're an adult. People often work full-time jobs and many are also maintaining romantic relationships too. What time does that leave to make friends?”

Besides these factors, another reason I struggled is because not only is there no adulting guidebook on how to actually make friends, but it’s really hard to tell just by looking at someone if they’d make a good friend, live a similar lifestyle, or are even interested in expanding their social circle. So although we largely say it should just be “easy,” it’s not easy, and it truly takes work. In turn, many of us simply opt out. “Making friends as an adult can be difficult because it’s just so unfamiliar,” Miriam says. “It’s tough to know where to meet new people or what to say to someone we’d like to befriend.”

There’s no doubt that finding and fostering these friendships are difficult, but the more we don’t do it, the more at risk we are for loneliness, which ICYMI, is the #1 health epidemic of our time — equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Talk about scary.

“Research is showing us that friendships are not a luxury, but are necessary for our emotional and physical health well throughout adulthood,” Kirmayer tells Bustle. “Feeling socially connected lowers our risk for specific health concerns including cardiovascular problems, cancers, and the common cold, as well as anxiety and depression.”

So how do we go out and find these deep, strong friendships that we so desperately need? It starts with you. Apps, various online meet-ups, sporting leagues, or networking groups are some things you can try. At VINA, I hear from thousands of women who struggled with the idea of using a friend-finding app. Take it from one user, 25-year-old Vicki Lambert, who lives in St. Louis, MO. Through VINA, she was invited to a game night — and she almost bailed. “It took a lot to get me to that first meeting, but it got easier after that,” she says. Now, she’s part of a 12-member girl gang, where she participates in weekly bar hops, concerts, karaoke, and wine-down nights out. “I can’t imagine my life without them.”

The reality is, you can use your phone as an excuse to not meet new people and spend another night scrolling the ‘gram (been there), or you can use it to your benefit — and tap into the tools you need to find your people. I hope you choose the latter. Your happiness — and your health — relies on it. “As we age, we start to realize that life is short and we start to focus more on things that bring us emotional balance and enjoyment,” Dr. Chopik says. “One of those things that helps us have emotional balance is having good, quality, meaningful relationships. Luckily for everyone, it's never too late to start forming them.”