As the social butterfly that I am, I’ve never struggled to make friends. Until I moved to Estonia in my late 20s and started working in a teeny tiny company.
It was a shock because I’m quite an open person, which makes it easy for me to make friends. But I’ve had to admit to myself that making friends in your thirties is a completely different affair than what it was back when we were careless University students.
In Uni. we could easily attend 3 parties a week meeting new people at every one and making new friends without even trying. The student symbiosis is a bubble where we’re all in the same situation and can thus relate to one another easily. Making friends in such circumstances becomes pretty much automatic.
And after graduation we’re all swapping from one company to the next, perhaps moving from a city or a country to another, and that brings new challenges to the mix. Those challenges can vary a lot;
If you start working in a small company you might not have many people there with whom you’re able to find familiar ground. Thus you probably won’t opt for hanging out with them outside of work.
On the other hand, in a big company one can easily drown in the crowd, especially if your team consists of loud, strong personalities who take up the whole “stage”.
In my case the main difficulties in making friends in my near thirties have come down to cultural differences;
I’ve come to realize that in Western and, in particular, in Northern countries people tend to stick with who they already know. Little groups form within work teams and it’s extremely difficult to get into those groups. But in most parts of Central and Eastern Europe it has been the complete opposite, in my experience; the new person is invited to lunch, after-works and your birthday party from day one. LOVED IT!
And then I moved to Estonia where, even compared to Finland, people are very much shut-down socially, quite closed-up and not particularly welcoming or interested in getting to know anyone new. I’ve literally had to invite myself into other people’s barbecue parties if I wanted to avoid spending May Day alone at home.
But thankfully we’re not restricted to trying to make friends just at the office. There are so many ways to meet new people after you’ve graduated and after the safety net of University life has disbanded.
I’ve gathered some ideas here of how to make friends in your thirties (and before and after). A lot of these I have tried out myself and noted as well-functioning:
How To Make Friends As An Adult
Tip 1: Be approachable
The first thing we need to consider is:
Am I easy to approach? Do people want to come and talk to me? What sort of vibes am I giving out?
If you’re closed up and judgmental, it can be quite hard for you to get to know anyone, let alone stick with them. We are probably all aware that most of our communication is subconscious body language; facial expressions, posture, how we hold our arms, etc.
I, for one, have this thing called ‘resting bitch-face’ which basically means that if I’m not smiling, my basic expression can be described as bloody angry. This has in fact caused some problems in the past;
I was standing on a bus stop once and a friend’s friend went by on the other side of the road. She waved at me but I didn’t see her, I just stood there waiting for the bus. She then called my friend and very angrily asked her what she had been gossiping to me about her because I looked at her so angrily. When in fact I hadn’t seen her at all, it was just my face.
This could easily be a reason why people would rather stay away from me than come and talk to me. Knowing that my basic expression is rather severe, I attempt to not sulk in any corners in situations where there are a lot of people around.
My easy tips for being approachable are to smile and make eye contact with people, stand straight, and avoid keeping your arms crossed on your chest.
Tip 2: Learn to be vulnerable
Now, this may sound a bit frightening to those who do not feel comfortable talking about their private matters in public or letting people too close. But it’s not about spilling all your family secrets to complete strangers. What it comes down to, in the end, is understanding and accepting the fact that we’re all just human beings and just as fucked up as the next person.
When you accept that, it becomes much easier to be open about your failures and misgivings. And that immediately makes you easier to relate to, and thus more approachable as well.
I’m not going to pretend this is easy for those who suffer from low self-esteem issues, but I can guarantee that when you decide to just go for it, you soon realize that people around you start to open up more than before as well. Someone has to set the waves in motion, right?
Tip 3: Use technology
It’s 2018 and there’s nothing that you couldn’t find a solution for from the immense web that we like to call Internet. Technology is bringing amazing solutions for all kinds of deficiencies and problems that are brought along when the world around us is changing fast. Such issues like increasing loneliness and serious addictions on computer games and social media.
Instead of hitting the keyboard alone at home, communicating only via Facebook, get yourself out there! An easy way to do this is to sign yourself into a friend-finding app. For example Bumble, which is predominantly known as a dating app, now provides us with a gateway to possibly finding your new BFF (=best friend forever, as it is).
In addition to these overall apps, like Bumble and Meetup, there are all kinds of options aimed for certain kinds of demographics; Peanut is aimed for mothers, Meet My Dog is obviously the perfect way to bring together dog owners, and Nextdoor allows you to finally start connecting with your neighbours.
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Tip 4: Accept all invitations
In this time and age of mindfulness and allowing yourself to just stay on the couch after work if you want to do so, the fact remains that if you want to meet new people, and make friends, you won’t get very far laying on your couch.
I do not wish to belittle the importance of allowing you the me-time, absolutely do so! But if you yearn for new connections in your life you’re gonna have to say “Yes” to event invitations more often than not. After works, networking events, coffee meetings, you name it.
Because every invitation is an opportunity to meet new people and perhaps make a connection you never expected to make in the first place.
Tip 5: Be proactive
By putting yourself out there you multiply your chances of finding new, meaningful friendships. It can be as simple a thing as starting a new hobby or starting a conversation with a neighbour at a yard sale. Even if that particular neighbour doesn’t turn out to be your soul mate, they may just as well know someone that you should be in contact with.
And why should the first move always come from someone else? How about if you went and struck up a conversation with people at a networking event or that colleague that you haven’t talked much with in the past.
I’ve found that the easiest way to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know yet is through humour.
Very few people are gifted at telling jokes but that’s not necessarily what I mean. Just a witty comment or relaxed banter will do. Perhaps steer away from sensitive subjects in the beginning, such as religion and politics. Those can be talked about later when the connection between you and the new acquaintance has formed further.
Tip 6: Join a social group
A social group can be a group of people meeting in a dog park at a certain time each week. Or it can be a Facebook group! The point of such groups is usually to, eventually, get people together.
There are hundreds of options to choose from on Facebook alone; book clubs, movie clubs, lunch clubs, and if you live abroad your countrymen have usually set up a group of their own on Facebook. Internations is another great website dedicated for expats, and can be of great help for people who have just moved to a new country and feel a bit lonely.
You should also check the website of the city where you live. Most cities arrange events and happenings that are perfect for meeting new people. And local papers often include information on clubs or groups that like to meet up once a week or month, so don’t forget to check those as well.
And why not start up a group of your own?
Tip 7: Reconnect with old friends
Sometimes it’s the little things that we might overlook which can make the difference between us feeling lonely or loved. Such things as reconnecting with old friends. Now, with social media, it’s easier than ever. All it takes is one message; “Hi, how’s everything? It’s been a while and I was thinking whether you might have time for a cup of coffee some day this week.”
I’d probably be doing exactly that if I still lived in Finland. There are some amazing people who were sort of “left behind” when we went to different schools, etc. On the other hand it’s quite consoling to know that as long as I am far away from home, if I went back I’d have a relatively soft landing.
I’d love to hear how you guys make friends? What’s your best tactic? :)