“Do you want to be my friend?” is a question that many young children have no problem with asking in the school playground. There is an innate understanding in children that “we must play” and that playing on your own isn’t nearly as much fun as playing with somebody else. So children get from A to B very quickly, “let’s play and be friends”.
Fast forward into adulthood. Responsibility, work and (for some of us) parenthood takes hold. Our life circumstances change. We move away from our hometown, and our playground buddies have long since gone their own way. But guess what – us adults still want to play, and like when we were very young, we don’t like to do it on our own.
The good old days
When I was five, I was quite content with running around the playground with only the top button of my Parker coat done up so that I could pretend to be Batman. My friend (Robin of course) and I had a connection – Batman. It was simple and it was fun. Now in my late forties, the games, or rather, the things that engage me, have become a little more sophisticated, as has the process of making new friends.
As children and young adults, attending school, college or university is a great way of getting to know people because of the constant day-to-day exposure (in the good old days before lockdown at least). For many of us, work is the closest equivalent, but we often apply a level of caution at work. “Do I really want to confide in a work colleague? What if they tell somebody else and the whole office knows?”. Or maybe friendship could compromise your authority, judgement and perceived impartiality. The point is, it could get messy. And what about those of us who work alone or with a small group of people with whom friendship, close friendship, for whatever reason, is a no-no?
Furthermore, a lot of us assume that every other adult that we see already has a solid circle of friends, and if we expose that we want more friends, it suggests something about us that is lacking, something even anti-social. Having others think of us in this way (we feel) would embarrass us.
So what shall we play?
What do we want to play anyway? Probably not Batman and Robin or Hopscotch anymore (at least, not with anyone older than 6 or 7). No, our game could be an intellectual sparring match, arguing over football, slagging off the government, walking in the countryside, playing Bingo, etc., etc.. So the question is: how do adults get from A to B without going up to someone and saying “do you want to be my friend”?
Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t be embarrassed about wanting to make new friends or feeling lonely (if you are lonely). It’s normal for every one of us to want to connect with people outside of our household. (See the Is loneliness the new cool? post).
- Find people who are happy to do the things that you like to do. Sharing a common interest or activity naturally draws people together.
- Share. Being in challenging circumstances with others who are going through the same thing and are likely to understand what you are going through can be a very bonding experience. A word of caution though – don’t share too much too soon if it’s not appropriate. Bringing up your deepest, darkest thoughts whilst in the middle of a conversation about last night’s Coronation Street, may alarm.
- Be patient. Friendships, just like most other meaningful relationships, don’t happen overnight. Repeated exposure to the same person or people makes you and others feel more comfortable and relaxed when around each other.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for a friendship to happen. If you don’t have day-to-day opportunities, those opportunities need to be made. Time in your busy schedule needs to be set aside to invest in your friendship-making. Have a look at sites like Frindow to find people with similar interests and get involved with the face-to-face or virtual get-togethers.
- Don’t let shyness hold you back. Shyness often comes from being anxious about what others think of us, whether it be in the things we say, do, or even the way that we look. Newsflash – anyone who is destined to be your friend won’t care about those things, or may even enjoy them about you. The most important thing is to relax and be yourself.
Having a good friend enriches the quality of our lives. They say that our school days are amongst the best years that we’ll ever have, and I think that’s largely down to the friends that we had and the relative ease in making them compared to now. So do yourself a favour and start scouting for new people to play with today.