Making Friends in Your 30’s is About Lowering Expectations

“Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I’ve lived in Austin for six years and I don’t have any friends here. Now that I’ve admitted to myself that Austin isn’t for me and eventually I’m going to return to the northeast to be closer to family and best gal pals, I’ve made my peace with it. I’m in that sweet spot where you decide to either settle or give up completely (much like dating). I’d be happy to meet someone I can call once a month to hang at a coffee shop, dinner, happy hour or the park. More importantly, I’d like to be reasonably sure they won’t flake out on me at the last minute or worse, do the ole one-two-three hangout before the inevitable radio silence. It’s much easier to maintain the deep friendships I already have, even though they are long distance, than it is to start from scratch and risk another flake out or fade out from a new person.

I know what you’re thinking: Wandering Professional, you probably haven’t tried hard enough. I admit that I struggle with depression and anxiety, so that’s certainly a factor. I’m also in a relationship and that can make you overly reliant on your significant other for entertainment and companionship.

On the other hand, I joined a friendship matchmaking site. I regularly attend book club meetings. I tried (unsuccessfully) to befriend a former coworker. We hung out a total of three times and she went dark once she started dating her girlfriend. She resurfaced again asking me if I wanted to hang (“I haven’t seen you in ages.”–the battle cry of flakes everywhere) and then would cancel on the day we were supposed to hang out. When I first moved here, a friend of mine was nice enough to friend-set me up with one of her childhood buddies, but he and his girlfriend only seemed to like hanging out in a big group of people they already know. I didn’t mind since they are nice, down-to-earth people and we had a good time together, but I was never really able to make meaningful connection since the dynamics of big group hangouts don’t really allow for that when you’re an introvert. Eventually, I realized I was only being invited occasionally out with them and then barely at all. They seemed more interested in hanging out with each other then welcoming me, a newcomer, into their bubble. I moved on.

I asked my other friends who live across the country if they had a hard time making friends and they all answered a resounding “yes.” We longed for the days when making friends was as easy as being in the same class or field trip together. Even in the bad, Big Apple, making friends took a little longer but they seemed easier to come by. Maybe because I’ve spend most of my life in New York and I’m more familiar with that culture. Maybe because living in such a crazy, crowded place where your day could bring you anything from a subway car masturbator to a city bus breakdown causes people to bond in the way that only intense circumstances can.

What it is it about making friends over 30? Why is it so hard?

  1. Work. It’s no secret that Americans work a lot. If we aren’t tired from working 50 hour work weeks, we’re drained because we hate our jobs (or both). After a long week, it’s that much harder to carve out the time to make new friends. Work also keeps you an weird emotional mode, you have to friendly with people but you can’t really be open and vulnerable in an competitive environment where you are being paid to show up every day. It’s possible to become friends with people you work with, but usually that means working in a uniquely nurturing environment or you become closer after you’ve moved on to another job.
  2. Family. Some of my parent friends are able to instantly connect with other parents. Having kids is a pretty major thing to bond over. Others are so busy with spouse and children that trying to make friends just seems like an unnecessary obligation in a world full of necessary ones. If you are childfree like myself, it can be especially daunting because most people have kids and can find it hard to relate to people who don’t (by choice) have them.
  3. Significant other. Now here’s where friendship gets really tricky. Not only do you have to worry about your potential buddy getting along with you, but they have to get along with your partner too. You also have to worry about your partner liking that person. You might be a couple with similar personalities, but every person has different friendship requirements. What works for you might not work for your partner and vice versa. In our couples bubble, we often neglect maintaining our old friendships (especially if a relationship is new) so the odds of going out and making new friends are even lower.
  4. Older and pickier. Getting older is great in so many ways. You are more self-aware, experience has (hopefully) made you more confident, and you put up with less bullshit, which means you are pickier about a lot of things, especially making friends. This means we can be especially harsh or impatient when it comes to new friends, especially when our time is limited with family, work, etc. I’m a romantic by nature, so I have a very idealized, Stand by Me view of friendship. I’ve learned that making friends in your 30s involves a lot of expectation lowering. Obviously, you don’t want someone who’s overly dramatic, toxic and manipulative, but friendship in your 30s is more about making friends who make time for you when they can and you enjoy spending time with them. Deep friendships take time, and that’s something that’s in short supply as you get older.

“Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”–Girl Scouts Song

If I had one piece of advice for twentysomethings, it would simply be to quote that song above. Your twenties are an especially crucial time for making and keeping good friends. Not having friends in Austin sucks, but without my Google hangout sessions with my best girls I’d go insane. Once you really start adulting, you’ll need those deep friendships and you don’t realize how it is to find and cultivate them when you’re older.