At a certain point, making friends is not easy. Keeping them is another matter. This is about sourcing adult friendships. Can we get an assist from technology? I think we can.
I’m talking friends with benefits. Just not those kinds of benefits. Real, life-sustaining, society-building benefits. We need a Tinder for marrieds. Or other domesticated coupleds. Or other post-college singles. It’s a big tent.
Somebody get on it, quick.
Oh you gotta have friends
The other day, my wife asked me a question that I thought was so obvious, it need not ever be asked: “What does it take to be friends with you?”
Setting aside for a moment the passive-aggressive inference that I might not be the easiest, breeziest of personalities to lock arms with in friendtastic Kumbaya, it’s a question worth exploring. Because making friends may be one of life’s greatest, enduring mysteries. As Arthur Bloch’s famous quip goes, “Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.” Truer words were never spoken.
It isn’t enough just to make friends. You have to maintain those relationships. But how, when you’re busy living a work + family + other life? “Friends” often get back-burnered when the rest of life constantly intrudes.
Let’s start with what we want out of friendships. To me, it’s simple. In fact, I think it’s the same for everyone. There are only two qualifications you need:
- Be interested in me.
- Be nice to me.
Beyond that, the horizon is unlimited. If you’ve got the first two qualifications for me, then there’s a good chance I’ve got the same for you. I’d say that’s a start to a friendship.
But what about differences, you ask? The more the better, I say. If we’re culturally, generationally, politically or otherly different from each other, then great. That gives us interesting topics to discuss. I don’t want another echo chamber of my own thoughts and beliefs. I live with me 24/7/365. I bore the shit out of me. I can use the diversity.
It’s the differences we have, in addition to hopefully shared values, that form the basis of friendships.
Let’s examine those differences as adults. If it turns out we cannot abide each others’ different orientations or beliefs, well, we’ll find out pretty quickly. And we’ll move on. And that’s OK. At least we’ll be better for the act of mixing it up and exploring new minds. And that will help us find and relate to our common values — either this time, with you and me, or the next time with others.
Sounds simple, when you put it like that, right? Not so much, as it turns out. I have few friends. There could be several reasons why that is, but my answer to why that is is this: It’s just the way I roll. I’m definitely in a “quality over quantity” phase of life. Historically, I’ve always had few friends. It’s what I’m comfortable with. Maybe it has something to do with my life’s motto: “Mortals annoy me.” I dunno.
Those two simple criteria from above are rarer gold than they appear. Because they’re not maybes, or considerations. They’re requirements. The first one is a full-time requirement. The second one can fluctuate a bit. We’re human, after all. I can take a little criticism. I’m familiar with the online writing/publishing experience, so comment sections have toughened me up a bit over the years.
Cute. And Stupid.
“A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.” This famous quote, long attributed to Will Rogers, and oft-repeated by the likes of Barney the dinosaur, points to a high degree of optimism in humankind. Ridiculous. People suuuuuuck. Rogers clearly died long before the age of the internet and all of its online disinhibition effect behaviors.
But that doesn’t mean we, as busy adults, are doomed to fail when it comes to making and maintaining adult friendships. It comes down to making friends a priority. But let’s be realistic about it. That means we can eschew the Will Rogers platitudes and roll up our sleeves. Even if you are the most magnetic of personalities, maintaining adult friendships is going to take some work.
Well-being is, after all, a social imperative. Isolation kills. Healthy sociability is vital to our overall health. It can be a struggle to come up with authentic connections at any age. But does it get more difficult as we get older? Do we get more real as we age? Or are we just too self-important? Does pride sometimes hamper your ability to maintain relationships? I know it can for me.
If we’re seeking more meaningful relationships, then maybe we need to do a self-audit, first. Have your views on friendly relationships changed over the years? Here are a few questions to ponder:
- At your current age, are you more or less willing to put yourself out there for friendships?
- Do you have a greater interest in making friends with persons from younger or older generations?
- Do you find yourself gravitating more toward other adults close to your own age?
- Trust factor: Over the course of living your life and experiencing the ups and downs of relationships over time, have you become more or less trusting?
- What is most important to you: Old friends with you for life or the refreshing aspect of meeting new friends?
- Does your desire for new friends hinge on a desire for new and interesting stimuli? New thinking? Or a desire for connection? In other words, is it more about intellectual growth or human relatability?
- Is it possible for people to be friends with members of the opposite sex? If so, does that sometimes tricky dynamic get easier or harder as you age?
Gain some clarity on these topics and you’re ready to start. Or it’s possible that I’m completely full of shit and totally overthinking it. Maybe adult friendships can still start on a whim or due to a chance encounter. You decide. But a little self-awareness goes a long way.
Because if you’re like me (in this one way) you don’t need more missteps when it comes to relationships. We’re all busy. And one day closer to death. If there’s going to be a funeral for you, who will show up?
Why is it so hard?
Whether you’re an extrovert, introvert or even an ambivert, making friends post-college can be tough. The usual reasons abound: Work, family, commute, and energy all contribute to a “maintenance” mind-set. You may want more or new friends, but knowing how to find them and expending the energy required to attract and retain them may not be easy to come by.
It’s just different for those at or approaching mid-life. Youthful energy that fuels exploration wanes. Those BFFs of your teens and twenties more pragmatically transition to “kind-of-friends” (KOFs), of the more situational variety.
Friends + tech = great benefits
The Tinder for marrieds idea is certainly not a completely new concept. Regardless of marital status, friends can be hard to come by for any adult. Naturally, we turn to tech to solve our relationship need solutions. The Kiwis have already come up with Frinder:
But what about for those in a family way? How do we convert those KOFs to real life, full-on friends? Where’s our Marinder?*
Thank you for being a friend
In an article on Lifehacker, writer Melanie Pinola examines why it’s so hard for so many people to make friends after college. She offers some thoughts on what to do about it.
Pinola writes there are “three things sociologists consider necessary to making close friends: close proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting where people let their guards down and confide in each other (like college).”
Absent one or more of those factors — because your job or primary (often domestic) relationship takes repeated priority — and those opportunities for connection dwindle. We need to prioritize these factors in our lives.
I’ll add a fourth factor: fun. We need to be around those that we have fun with. Conversely, in the absence of fun, relationships are not likely to last even if we have the other three factors.
In a piece from NYTimes.com, author Alex Williams writes:
“In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.
Basically, she suggests, this is because people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events, like turning 30. It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now ...
… In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends — the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis — those are in shorter supply.”
Tick tock, in other words. Make some friends and make them count. Because life will intrude.
Life is happening today. Wouldn’t you love to swipe right on some new friends? I’m telling ya — Marinder! It’s a potential goldmine!