It seems harder to make friends as we get older, because there are fewer ‘organic’ opportunities to get to know people. At school or university, you’re spending large chunks of your day-to-day with other people, and/or living with them, and it’s expected that you form friendship groups with these people. This is, in many ways, a really good way to form close relationships – because you get to spend a lot of time with people in a natural, low-pressure environment, and no one person has to put themselves out there or make a lot of effort to get to know one another. (This is not to say that friendships at school or university are easy – bullying and clique-y-ness are huge problems, and kids can be so mean. But I do think there is an advantage here worth noting.)
As we get older, it feels like we have to invest a lot more effort into friendships. Most of our day-to-day is spent with work colleagues, and it’s not really the norm that those people are your best friends. You might go out for drinks with them after work, or be friends with one or two people, but I think there’s a general feeling that if your main friends are work friends, you’re doing something wrong. Especially in big cities like London, making and developing friendships can require a lot of conscious effort: arranging coffees or dinners weeks in advance, and only seeing people once every few weeks if you’re lucky.
When more effort is required, there’s also more vulnerability involved in making friends. It feels quite uncomfortable to me to just reach out and say, “Hey, I’d like to be better friends with you – can we hang out more?”, especially if it’s someone I don’t know well, or I’ve met in some non-friend context (like work, or someone I exchange pleasantries with in a coffee shop, or talked to briefly at a party.) But I wish I felt comfortable doing this more often. I’m afraid of rejection, afraid they’re not as interested in being friends with me as I am them, and perhaps even more deeply afraid of admitting that I’d like to have more close friends than I do, that sometimes I feel a bit lonely. Afraid that other people don’t feel like this, that they have plenty of friends, enough that they don’t need or even have time for someone like me.
One disadvantage to the “organic” way of making friends – making friends naturally with people you spend lots of time with, without any explicit effort – is that this doesn’t lend itself to really thinking about who you want to be friends with. We just fall into friendships, based on all kinds of circumstantial factors. Granted, I’m much more likely to continue spending time with people who make me feel good and whose company I enjoy, and I certainly won’t “accidentally” end up friends with someone I actively dislike or makes me feel shitty about myself. But I also have the sense that if I thought a little more about the kinds of people who really make me feel good, who I really want to spend my time with, who I want to be influencing me, I might choose some of my friends differently. And I think this is a thing I’d like to do more of – explicitly thinking about the kinds of people who I feel good around and who influence me in positive ways.
Generally, I’d like to be more proactive about friendship. But it feels scary. I think it might be helpful if we acknowledged more that this is scary – there’s a lot more acknowledgement that “putting yourself out there” in dating is scary, I think, but not so much that explicitly seeking out friendship can be just as scary, if not more so.