When I was growing up, my best friends were simply the ones most available to me. That’s true for most of us, probably—even if we don’t realize it at the time. My next-door neighbor Miranda was my closest childhood confidant: She was the cooler, older girl who pretended to be witches with me when we were children, lent me her velour top for the middle-school dance, and taught a teenaged me about Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple and alt-girl angst. She and her art-school friends compelled me to read books I probably didn’t understand, and one of them convinced me I was a socialist at the tender age of 14. Miranda and I kept in touch when she went away to college, but our contact dwindled once I moved away to go to school myself. She got married soon after, at an age where I was still trying to master flirting with boys. Now I see photos of her four kids on Instagram and “like” every one of them. I can tell from the pictures that I’d probably get along with her middle daughter the best—she seems to be the most like her mom when she was a kid.
And that’s how it goes, doesn’t it? Until you’re capable of making decisions for yourself—or wise enough to be able to tell the difference between legitimate shared interests and mere tipsy camaraderie or friendly groupthink—most of the friends you make before your mid-to-late twenties just happen to be the most convenient. The neighbors close enough for your parents to keep an eye on, the classmates most tolerant of your beautiful adolescent bullshit, and the college-dorm and first-job cohorts who’d inevitably witness your first steps into adulthood. These people are important, they’re your friends, they saw you through Some Shit. They may also not be around anymore.
Yes, meeting new people gets harder as you get older—sometimes the mere idea can send a person into an existential crisis. But the friends you make as adults tend to bond to you much faster, if only because you’re all quicker to embrace your own quirks and have (hopefully) become more self-aware about who you can tolerate. Being clear-eyed about that sort of thing is half the battle. Here’s some advice on how to make it through the other half.
At the risk of sounding callous, there are times when older relationships can get to be more trouble than they’re worth. The upside is that you might find that you’re more willing to open yourself up to new people than before. (It isn’t so different from dating, to be honest.) It’s easy for some to detach from those who’re getting them down, but often, the familiarity/comfort makes it too hard. Consider re-evaluating the following:
- The friends you may not vibe with, but are wrapped up in routine. You’ve always watched the Big Game with them, and you always will ... even though you hate their politics, and their significant other, and their house, and the way they make you feel about the fact that your life does not remotely resemble theirs. Perhaps you could try watching the next Big Game somewhere else?
- The boors whose loud opinions you can’t stomach anymore: Facebook is evil and abrasive and yet, somehow, a great way to determine whether you ever want to talk to someone ever again. When you log in and see that your old high school pal shared the Buzzfeed post “Lena Dunham’s New Podcast Proves That She’s the World’s Greatest Feminist”—with the added caption “YAAAAAS QUEEEN”—or your old college drinking buddy is suddenly very interested in building walls and Making America Great Again, it might be time to cite irreconcilable differences on the subjects of life, liberty, and general good taste. By all means, be tolerant of differing opinions, but also accept when you’ve been confronted with an unavoidable deal-breaker.
- The constant catcher-uppers: These are particularly difficult to navigate: the ones where you keep having the same empty conversations. All of your text messages involve an innocuous promise to “catch up soon!” that involves listing things that can be readily discovered about you on the internet, in lieu of expanding on them or talking about anything Real at all. (To be fair, it’s hard to talk about Real Things with people you rarely speak to.) Or when the only common ground you have anymore involves past events now so distant that you’ve hashed them out to completion.
God, it sounds petty, doesn’t it? It feels worse! But, hey, it’s cool to lean into your own sanity from time to time. You don’t need to break up with anyone outright, but it couldn’t hurt to, y’know, see other people.
“Make new friends, but keep the old,” they say, and even then, it’s painful to feel a great distance with your closest friends. These are the lifers—the ones who’ve seen you at your best (and your worst), and perhaps barely see you at all anymore. It feels like the death of something—your #squad! your youth!—but they helped make you who you are today, and you’ll still turn to each other in your most trying hours. And it’s okay to want to experience new things with new people who can better appreciate the new (and hopefully improved) you. So how do you meet those people?
All this talk of change means looking inwards, too. What do you want to change about the way you spend your time? What would you be doing if you had a pal to do it with? Want to join a rec league or play pickup basketball with the guys at your neighborhood court? Looking to to take a cooking class or join a hobby-oriented club of some kind? Just do it. Writing your name down on that sign-up sheet and introducing yourself to a bunch of strangers with ostensibly similar interests is the hardest part of all this. See a good concert coming up, but can’t convince anybody to tag along? Go alone. Maybe you’ll spot someone you know, or strike up a convo with the other guy posted up at the bar, singing along to “Shake It Off” between shots of whiskey. You are not a loser; you are an advanced human.
Life is very hard and depressing, and staring at the ground is a reliable way to avoid direct eye contact with anyone who might want to ask you what did you did this weekend. That said, your coworkers are living under the same confusing overlords and navigating the same workplace dramas on a daily basis, and given that you probably spend more time with them than anyone else these days, you probably don’t want for conversation-starters. I personally have the advantage of working in a place with preexisting friends, and our jobs largely revolve around shared interests, but shooting the shit (and talking shit) over a drink is still the quickest way to find out whether you’ve got chemistry outside the walls of your shared prison. (Note: Don’t get drunk or loose-lipped during your first hang. Just revel in the fact that you’ve both survived another day.)
If you’ve recently moved or switched career paths, ask your friends to put you in touch with people they know in your new area, or new area of expertise. And be open. When you’re looking for a job, the rule is supposedly, “Never say no to a meeting,” and the same mentality applies here: When a friend-of-a-friend invites you to a group outing or suggests grabbing a drink at a new bar in your neighborhood, you should do them, and yourself, the decency of doing it. (Assuming that your friend’s friends aren’t total clowns, of course.) Take friendly people up on their offers to hang, as it might have taken them the same minuscule amount of awkward-bravery to ask that it will take you to say “yes.” If you’re a parent looking for other parent friends, use your kids as easy bait: Find the “cool dad” or “cool mom” in your kid’s class or play group, make sure their child isn’t a lunatic and knows how to share his Legos, and then set up a playdate.
Several of my coworkers have copped to “sliding into the DMs” of someone whose work they admired or whose online personality vibes with their own. If it seems like someone you’re friends with online would be up for an IRL conversation about something you’re both passionate about, reach out. (Writers do this all the time!) This may require you to be a little more outgoing than you want to be—you’ve progressed from approaching strangers with shared hobbies to someone with whom you’ve friend-crushed on online—but folks who actively engage with others online are usually accustomed to talking to strangers.
Listen, no one is obligated to be your best friend. Like I said earlier, this whole thing is sort of like dating. It will come with the usual weird gaps in communication, the awkward laughs at not-so-funny jokes, and anxieties on the order of “Why hasn’t Cool Tom replied to my invite to see a movie? Am I too weird? Did I accidentally diss him? Am I going to die alone?” As a fully grown adult, you’ve got to understand that people your own age are very busy and easily tired, just like you. Be chill about it: Consider it one more thing you have in common.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.
Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.