The Modern Rules of Making Grown-Up Friends

If there’s one thing I envy my children it’s their ability to make friends as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. I see the process happen every day and it’s fascinating to watch: they see another kid, like the cut of their jib and wander straight over to open the conversation.

“Hi, what’s your name?” they say. “How old are you?”.

Those are literally the only two bits of information required to strike up a relationship, and after the questions are asked and answered the children happily trot off to play together for as long as their mothers (who are awkwardly wondering whether or not to speak to each other) let them. It’s amazing and I am jealous they find it so easy to strike up easy conversation and identify mutual interests.

I’ve often thought I might be able to apply the same logic to forging new adult friendships. I would give it a go, if only in the name of research for my blog, but when I imagine strutting up to a stranger I might like to befriend and enquire to their age and name, in the supermarket or Costa, perhaps, I go all hot and bothered with embarrassment. Speaking to strangers for the explicit reason that we want to befriend them – it’s not really the done thing, is it?

It’s one thing to realise you bear yourself and your soul when entering into a romantic relationship, but revealing your vulnerabilities to other women feels like something else entirely.

Making Grown-Up friends

It’s only quite recently that I’ve began to see how absolutely vital the concept of adult friendship is. When I was married my female friendships weren’t a priority; I had the close friendship of my husband and I didn’t really feel like I needed anything outside of that.

How wrong I was.

In the last five years my female friends – all of whom I’ve grown mega close to since the divorce – have been my backbones. They’re the first people I turn to when it comes to work woes, love life issues, child-rearing questions: anything. It’s unfathomable to me now to think there was a time where they weren’t such a constant in my life. These brilliant women have come to me in a few different ways, and none of them involved strutting up to them in a public place to ask what their names were. Making Grown-Up friends

I met both Néva and Bryony on Twitter (remember? That Social Network we all used before Instagram came along?), Carlie is an ex-work colleague as is Caoimhe, and Sarah I met once through a friend before re-connecting online, with Claire and Hayley coming from the aforementioned Instagram. So basically, if it wasn’t for the apps in my phone I would be really thin on the ground when it comes to pals right now.

But our friendships haven’t been as effortless as I always assumed they might be. Friendships take work and endeavour: effort I’m always really happy to  make, but effort that has put me out of my comfort zone on one occasion. It’s one thing to realise you bear yourself and your soul when entering into a romantic relationship, but revealing your vulnerabilities to other women feels like something else entirely. And I guess that, as much as we might want to make friends in our adult years, that thought can feel terrifying when contemplating the woman next to you in the Costa queue whose shoes you are admiring.

I made a friend earlier on this week, when at the gym waiting to work out. I’d just bought a coffee and she was sat next to her son at a six-person table: with seats thin on the ground I asked if she’d mind me perching on the end. “Of course!” she said, smiling at me. I returned her grin and sat down.

I had no idea what the next step might be when it came to forging a friendship. Should I ask her name? Get her phone number?

She looked at me again, telling me she and her son had just been discussing the potential name of the new Prince. We entered into a fun and enthusiastic 15 minute chat about royal baby names, Meghan Markle, the public’s expectation of modern royals… it was great. I liked her a lot. Making Grown-Up friends

But once she gave in to her son tugging on her sleeve and begging to go swimming, I had no idea what the next step might be when it came to forging a friendship. Should I ask her name? Get her phone number? See when she might be next at the gym? I did none of these things, instead waving her off with an “it was so lovely chatting to you”.

Why was I so scared to take it any further?

I can’t work it out. Fear of rejection, perhaps. Worry that by me asking to be in contact again, I will have revealed a vulnerability or desperation to her, one that, if snubbed, would hurt.

Even just thinking about this concept of making friends as an adult this week I feel has changed the way I approach people. I smile bigger, make more eye contact, enter into small talk with abandon. I haven’t been as scared to enter rooms of people – seeing everyone as a potential friend is much more positive than seeing everyone as a potential stranger – and I feel slightly more confident for it.

I might not be ready to ask the age of the woman I’m exchanging excited Monarchy and Markle-related small talk with, but I’m OK to enquire where she got her shoes. And maybe, just maybe, I can invite her for a more grown-up-appropriate coffee.

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  1. Love this post, Alice. I think for me, the sheer effort involved in forming a solid friendship after that initial spark of conversation at soft play, or wherever, is just too much to comprehend. It’s a mix of being time poor, and unused to ‘putting myself out there’. It’s easier not to try. I have a really great, tight knit group of friends from school, but I haven’t really made any close friendships since then (a fact that I try not to scrutinise too hard!) I love the rephrasing of a room full of strangers to a room full of potential friends.

    Posted 4.26.18 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      Exactly that – it’s a really big effort I guess to pursue a friendship, no matter how much of a good thing you can see it being so yeah, easier not to try. I’m not close with anyone I know from school (we’re in different areas of the country) and I wish I hadn’t let them drift away so much. There’s a lovely security in being friends with people you’ve known for years.

      Posted 4.30.18 Reply
  2. Nina C wrote:

    Why is it that making friends as an adult is so difficult? I always think “what happens if we become friends and then I find I really don’t like her?” Ugh, it’s like going through a breakup. Well, we retired and moved bag and baggage 1500 miles away and I needed to make new friends. I immediately felt like a scared five year old on the first day of school! We’d walk the neighborhood in the evening and I’d say hi to everyone we came across – so often that my husband asked me if I was running for Mayor. I laughed and said we both needed to have the attitude that these strangers were friends waiting to happen. That was two and a half years ago and we’ve made many good and a few great friends since then. Just slap that smile on your face and say hello. The rest will happen naturally.

    Posted 4.30.18 Reply
    • alice wrote:

      It IS like going through a breakup! And I guess it is, of sorts.
      I love the thought of you walking around the neighborhood running for Mayor, waving and smiling at everyone who passes. The world would be a much happier place if we all did that!! It is lovely to friend you have made so many good and great friends this way :)

      Posted 4.30.18 Reply
  3. Megan wrote:

    Hi Alice
    I love this post. It articulately explains how I’ve been feeling for a while. After moving to a new area and having lost contact with school friends over the years, I am faced with having to put myself out there and make an effort.
    It’s interesting that you’ve met lots of your close friends through social media. I am a bit of a lurker on Instagram and Twitter and I’m going to start engaging with the people I follow.
    I’m so pleased it’s not just me who finds the whole process a bit challenging.
    Thank you!

    Posted 5.10.18 Reply