Take Two #101: Kindergarten Life Lessons: Making Friends as an Adult

By Kyra-lin Hom

Making friends was so easy in Kindergarten. The two of you shared a crayon box, a couple of germs and – bam – suddenly you’re inseparable. There were no excuses to be made, no ‘I’d rather have a lazy night in’ alibies. Your parents, desperate to occupy your time, arranged all the play dates, and the playground took care of the rest.

Even once autonomy set in, in the form of middle, high school and college we had all the things we needed for fast and easy friendships: proximity; repeated, spontaneous interactions; and easy and comfortable settings (sociologist consensus since about the 1950’s). Then we graduated into the real world and suddenly became fish without fins.

I knew I was lucky when it came to friends, but I didn’t realize how lucky I had been until I moved to Chicago. I have a very close-knit group of friends – two distinct ones actually. One is from middle and high school. The other formed via my cosplay hobby. Nearly all of these friends I have known for at least eight years. Those that I haven’t, I met directly through one of these other friends. Now they are all several states away, and I find myself faced with starting over.

I thought it would be easy. I’m likable enough, or so I’m told. I’m relatively sociable, confident, intelligent, etc. I get along well with most people I meet. How hard could it be to turn those kindly encounters into friendships? Over the last two months here in Chicago, it turns out that answer is ‘very.’ It isn’t that people here are unkind (exactly the opposite). It’s rather that I’m lacking all three of the friendship building blocks.

A bit of digging revealed that my problem is actually a hugely universal problem for adults all across the US. Once college falls away, so do our chances of making new friends. We don’t have a frequent environment like school forcing our constant proximity to hundreds and thousands of other people. We’re too busy and too rigorously scheduled for anything so casual as spontaneity. Those people that we are around frequently are very likely to be our competition in some form or fashion so there goes any kind of open, share-and-tell environment. And fourth – my own addition – most of the people we encounter aren’t in the mindset to encourage friendship. Neither are we.

True to my roots in the social phenomenon known as the “Seattle Freeze,” I’m outwardly friendly but emotionally standoffish. I’m introverted and tend to stay within my comfort zone. If a potential friend asks me to coffee, I hesitate. I can’t even recall the last time I instigated a spontaneous hangout with someone who wasn’t already a close friend. I’m always afraid the situation will turn awkward. This, for someone actively in need of new friends, is extremely dumb behavior.

Friendships were easy in Kindergarten because we didn’t know they were supposed to be hard. It didn’t seem weird to just turn to the person next to us in the sandbox and say, “I like you. Let’s be friends.” So why does that have to be weird now?

Because of the pandemic nature of this social dilemma, there are all sorts of advice columns, books and blogs about how to make new adult friends. But here’s what it all comes down to: friendship takes effort. We can’t passively expect for friendships to happen, not anymore. It’s time to take the bull by the horns, compose ourselves, and then buy that bull a coffee.

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