The Art of Making Friends Post-Graduation

Whether your first exchange with a new friend was a smile or snatching of their toy, you've been making connections and building relationships from the very beginning.

That first act of reaching out to someone, once as easy as sharing pretzels during preschool, becomes more difficult as we grow up. Perhaps this is due to criticism of ourselves and others that comes with age, or spurned friendships jading us for good. Sometimes, true and lasting friendships are just hard to find. For many of us, the difficulty begins in our twenties. College, jobs and traveling separates us from our network and we end up outside of our comfort zones in search of a new circle.  

I moved to a foreign country two years ago without knowing anyone. I was lucky to meet a few other expats and interesting people. However, after the first year alone in the big city, I was quickly introduced to a fear and loneliness I unlike anything I'd ever felt. Separated from home by thousands of miles and watching friends come and go, I began the search for something more meaningful and enduring. I had to find the courage to meet others.

Like every great thing, making connections starts from within. You need to take time to figure out what you need from a friendship: a shared love in music, someone as crude as you, inspiration and encouragement, a sense of humor, support that will help you be a better version of yourself.

As millennials, the most natural place for us to turn in times of uncertainty is often the internet. While some use Craigslist to find roommates and (hopefully) friends, others find it  “a bit creepy.” Julia*, age 21, eventually amended her hesitation. She met a few friends through dating apps like Tinder and Happn. "Be upfront about what you want from the beginning,” she says. If what you seek with these dating apps is friendship, make that very clear. 

Boris, age 31, and Reeve, age 23, agree that social networks have their upsides as well. Boris sees them as great ways to make and keep contact with people via common interests. “Just by showing up, the hardest part is done,” says Boris.  

When I interviewed people for this article, many laughed when I asked if they would equate making friends at this point in our lives to dating. Emily, age 25, could relate. “Absolutely! My husband is always poking fun at me when I really like a new friend," she said. "He [says], ‘aww babe! You really like her, huh?’ and I’m over here just rolling my eyes because he’s right!”

The reality is that dating and making friends can be very similar. We have expectations or criteria that we hope a partner or friend will meet. Christianna even feels a certain anxiety before a friend date.

“I find myself worrying about everything from where to go to what to wear," she says, "[Especially] what topics will spark the best conversation.”

It can be hard to converse with a potential new friend, just like a potential date. Alexa, age 25, prefers someone, “who is not afraid to talk to anyone about anything.”  

But for some people, intimate conversation only feels right after the first "date." You need to wade in the friend pool and find those who best suit you. Don’t be discouraged if you have a bad few dates, Christianna advises; “[it only] takes a little boldness and a stretch outside of your comfort zone to find others who want to make friends, as well.”

When we find ourselves in a lonesome position, it can be easy to cling to things or people that may not be tailored to our needs or desires. We can slip into a place of near-desperation. And when we are there, we make friends of necessity. Friends of necessity aren’t a bad thing. They can help you get out of a bad place; they take part in a mutual support because you often find them at the bottom of the hole you have recently found yourself in.

"Sometimes out of convenience or circumstance, we pair up with friends that would not otherwise be the best fit,” says Christianna. Although these friendships may not be exactly what the doctor ordered, they do serve a greater purpose. “Most friendships that I would consider to have been made out of necessity are great because I think they take us out of our comfort zone and teach us new things,” she says. 

As weird as making friends as an adult is, remember that others likely feel as awkward and nervous as you. Those first friend-date jitters are perfectly normal. It's okay to be afraid, but don’t let that exile you to eating lunch in the bathroom. 

*Names have been changed. 

Feature photo: Dan Gold/ VIA Unsplash.