When I embarked on a short online course last year, I expected to come away with new learnings. Instead, I found a new friend. As in, a proper friend. Not just an acquaintance or someone I follow on social media.
We became full-blown pals. She taught me how to make a macramé plant hanger, we’ve shared books, wine, and laughter over video chats, and when life got messy, we offered space and a listening ear to ease the pain.
This new bond isn’t something I expected to happen after turning 30. In fact, up until that point, I hadn’t made a connection like this in a very long time. I mistakenly assumed that friendships like these were exclusive to that magical time between childhood and coming-of-age. An era before jobs, mortgages, and babies, when we’re more likely to have a larger, more active social life.
THE SECRET INGREDIENT
In my experience, friendship, and particularly friendship later in life, comes down to being brave enough to be vulnerable with someone new. Something that perhaps takes a bit more effort as an adult.
Remember all that open, raw bonding you did in the sandpit in kindy? Over first dates, failed maths tests, and acne in high school? Over tequila shots in your early 20s? Well, as we get older it’s arguably harder to let new people in. We’re busier, more set in our ways, and life experience has hardened our emotional walls. We might even feel bound by the myth that people over the age of 30 don’t need any new friends and have essentially shut up shop; making us less likely to take the leap. As it turns out, social connections are important for us at all ages.
In fact, studies in 2017 by William Chopik, scholar and assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, suggest that when we’re older, friends may be even more vital than family connections to our overall happiness. Chopnik summarises these studies, indicating that friendships are greater predicters of our happiness, and even how long we’ll live, “more so than spousal and family relationships.”
Whether that’s true or not for every individual, there is plenty of research showing that friends play a key role in our overall health and wellbeing as we age. After all, loneliness has been linked to a range of physical and mental conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, and dementia. Heck, loneliness is considered such a prominent issue that there is an appointed Minister for Loneliness in both the United Kingdom and Japan.
TAKING THE LEAP
I still remember feeling nervous and a little embarrassed initiating those early stages of bonding with my new pal. Adding someone on Facebook is easy, but having authentic, meaningful conversations that move past ‘So what do you do for work?’ – that takes guts.
In her book We Should Get Together, Kat Vellos explores the challenges of making friends as an adult. She talks a lot about the restrictive nature of modern-day ‘small talk’ and how moving past this is one of the keys to developing intimate friendships. She writes: “I believe that deep conversations, in which we disclose the more sensitive emotions, thoughts, and feelings that we’d otherwise hold inside, are superior in every way to superficial conversation.”
This in itself is a great tip for making friends as an adult. And once again, it relies on us to be brave enough to offer our true selves up for evaluation. To push past the thoughts of ‘But what if I sound stupid?’, or ‘What if they find me weird or too forward?’. This can be incredibly scary to do. But it can be so rewarding, especially when you realise how much more there is to the person you’re talking to, as I discovered through my own experience.
Most importantly, don’t be disappointed if your desired level of friendship doesn’t happen immediately, even when you’re boldly putting yourself out there. According to the wisdom of Aristotle, friendship is the key to a meaningful life, but it also takes time to form those truly sacred bonds: “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.”
Words: LAUREN FUREY