15 December 2022

Is it just harder to make new friends as an adult?

| Zoya Patel
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Fingers in front of Art Gallery

Is there a way to increase our social networks as we get older or just accept that they will shrink? Photo: Region.

It’s a trend that has been creeping up on us for the better part of the last decade, but as I look around at my fellow 30-somethings, it’s impossible to ignore – for many people my age, it’s almost impossible to make new friendships in this stage of our lives.

I’ve had a few conversations with friends lately where we’ve noted that our social circles have shifted in the past few years. Where previously every night presented a new social occasion, now it can be a week at a time before we see someone socially, and for those of us who are single, it can feel very isolating.

It’s obvious that individual personalities play into how we interact socially – the more outgoing among us will always find it easier to maintain a strong social network than the introverts. But where friendships casually sprung up and evolved in our younger years through university, work and hobbies as our lives have become busier and energy levels have dropped, these organic interactions are dwindling.

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Add to that the automatic shift that happens for people my age, as children and relationships take up more of our focus, and even the friendships we retain can slowly drift away. Where we used to have gradients of friends – the close inner circle, followed by the more transient mates we saw at gatherings, through to the activity-specific friends we played sport with or shared a common interest with – now there are the few close friends, one or two colleagues we socialise with at work, and that might be it.

A friend recently confessed that she has been feeling quite lonely and down. She lives alone, and with her workplace still operating remotely, there aren’t many opportunities to interact with people. She’s a natural introvert and struggles to actively reach out to people, so it was easy to slip into isolation.

I tried to think of how she could increase the social interactions in her life and realised that most of my engagement with friends is online these days. The primary way I see people in person is when my main hobby (I have three horses) pushes me into contact with people via agistment, competitions and lessons.

Otherwise, the close and important friends I have are people I likely only see in person every month or even six weeks or so.

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The obvious ways to meet new people – like joining a particular interest group, taking up a new hobby, etc. – are emotionally draining for introverted people. It’s hard to leave the house to purposefully engage with strangers even when you’re a natural communicator. If you’re already feeling a little down, it’s going to be a tough choice between social vulnerability and switching on the TV.

And the lack of energy we have as we get a little older as our workloads become more demanding, or family life starts taking its toll, means there’s even less impetus to strike out to forge friendships than ever before.

I look at the older, retired people around me (literally, as I type this, there’s a group of older men at the cafe I’m at, having a wonderful time catching up), and it gives me hope that we’ll all have a second wind, but I’m not sure that waiting for another 40 years and accepting loneliness in the meantime is healthy.

Is it just harder to make and keep friends in your middle years? Or, if not, how can we increase our social circles without adding to burnout?

If this story has raised concerns for you, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. If someone is in immediate danger, call 000. Information and support for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention are available through Beyond Blue.

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When you start a family you realise the truth behind the age old maxim: blood is thicker than water!

Friendships are hard work and as I have gotten older (now in my 60s) I have let a lot of them drop away. I now refer to the few casual contacts I have as acquaintances so I have no obligation to catch up regularly. People are too difficult most times and I have reached the point where I can’t be bothered. To all things interested indifference.

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