It’s easy to feel lonely in your 20’s and 30’s: having roommates begins to lose its appeal, and between work, taking care of yourself, and people coupling up like crazy, your network steadily begins to shrink. I am no stranger to this “I don’t have any friends,” feeling. When I moved back from NYC in 2012 I left behind a close-knit group of people who functioned as my second family. Even though I grew up near the Atlanta area, when I moved back I had only a handful of connections. Most of my friends from college live in other metropolitan cities – which is super fun for travel -but can make day-to-day living feel solitary.
I was 25 when I moved back to Atlanta, and though I’ve always made friends fairly easily (transferring schools in the middle of undergrad will do that to a person!) I felt I had to work harder at it than ever before. It’s taking awhile to get the hang of what it really takes to make friends in your 20’s (and even into your thirties), but I’m happy to report I think I’m making steady progress.
Although it feels like making friends should be easy and fairly self-explanatory, it can often be harder than dating. In addition, while swiping right for your next boyfriend is common practice, the rise of digital technology (shockingly) makes fostering true, meaningful friend connections even more complex.
The good news is, if you put in the work, you will reap the reward. Below are some of the stories behind the female friendships I’ve fostered since moving back to Atlanta, and my tips for how to go about making friends in your 20s.
Lauren and Shelby
Shelby and I met through a blog coaching client of mine who hired Shelby to take (amazing) photos for her website. After seeing the photos, I loved Shelby’s bright-light style and immediately booked a session with her. I was afraid our shoot would be awkward, but she was really easy to work with and I instantly warmed to her.
Shelby had just moved to the area from Wisconsin and was new in town and also looking for friends. At the end of the shoot, she was like, “We should go get coffee or drinks sometime,” and I said, “Sure!” And we set a date to hang and the rest is history!
Over the years we’ve continued to make time to get together: whether it’s coffee, a quick drink, a Pure Barre class (which she got me into!) or taking our dogs to the dog park. Because I see her so often, she’s now one of the closest friends I've ever had.
Tip #1: Make continual efforts to hang out.
I always say to people, “Friendships are like a plant that takes two people to water.” No one wants to be the only person making all the effort, reaching out, scheduling all the plans – in essence watering the friendship plant all on their own. When one person does most of the watering, it often breeds resentment. That person quits watering and then friendships lapse because no one is making any effort.
So, if you meet someone and you want to be their friend – make real efforts to hang out. It doesn’t have to be often, but needs to happen more than just “occasionally.” Otherwise, the relationship takes on more of more of a networking vibe than the true-blue call-you-in-the-night friend.
Lauren and Monica
Monica is the wife of Rich (my fiancee’s) “work husband,” Walter. Rich and Walter are borderline obsessed with one another (it’s actually super cute) and so I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Monica. Upon meeting, I found her delightful and fun, but since she’s a successful lawyer and new mom, I just assumed she would never have the time to take on a new friend.
Then, out of the blue, Monica reaches to Rich (via Walter) for my email and writes asking if I’d like to go get my nails done together and she provided a date, time, and location.
Like no brainer, I just had to say yes and show up to the place. How awesome, right? Now, we hang out every few weeks and my life is better for the warmth and advice Monica provides me from everything to wedding planning to my career.
Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to make the first move.
I’m not sure if she knows this, but I was so blown away by how Monica just reached out and invited me to an activity that it’s inspired me to do the same with other cool people I meet. If you meet someone you’d like to be friends with and think they’re cool and that you’d have great conversations, ask them for coffee. Or drinks. Or brunch. (Honestly, it’s a lot like dating.)
Yes, there’s always the chance you get rejected. A lot of times, I think because it’s a friendship I think people are a bit more afraid of the sting. (Or, at least this was the case for me.) But think about it – what do you have to lose? 40 minutes of your time at a coffee shop? Or if they say no, and they have “no time,” or “aren’t looking for friends,” then move on.
They probably aren’t the type of person who can successfully water a friendship plant anyway.
Katie and Sarah
Tip #3: Friendships thrive on proximity. Find a friend in the spheres you already inhabit.
It’s easiest to foster friendships with people you see on a regular basis, like your buds at work. Other places could be your apartment building or neighborhood, which is where I met Katie & Sarah – two awesome ladies that I now do a monthly book club and other activities with. You can meet someone at the dog park, at the gym, or if you do some type of hobby (like art class or theater.) What’s amazing about this is that because they are close by, it’s easy to continually build the friendship.
Once I set out on a “mission” to make new friends, I found that they're literally all around if you’re willing to look and –potentially -make the first move.
Lauren & Kathrine
I’ve known Kathrine since childhood thanks to the local community theater in our hometown, but we were never close. Fast forward 15 years and our Moms are now BFF’s. In 2013 Kathrine and I were both complaining to our respective Moms about not having any girlfriends to hang out with and they encouraged us to get together. When I finally ran into Kathrine at the opening night of one of my Mom’s performances, we chatted about hanging out, and I followed up on Facebook.
We’ve been close friends ever since and I’ve been blessed to be a part of so many of Kat’s major milestones, including her wedding, first home purchase, and the birth of her first child. (She even graciously let me film her and her now husband for my series, Awkward Money Chat.) It’s fun doing life with her and I’m so glad we had the chance to reconnect.
Tip #4: Let other people set you up. (And if you know people – be a connector!)
If someone says, “oh you should meet my friend so-and-so, they love going to plays!” follow up and let them make that connection. And if you know two people who can connect – don’t be shy. It feels good to make connections and do things for others.
Final tips for making friends in your 20’s and 30’s.
Tip #5: Don’t flake.
Seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? Obviously, things come up, but it’s the same in a new friendship as it is when you’re going on like the second or third date with a romantic interest. Flaking or rescheduling plans leaves a bad impression. Or, if we’re using the plant metaphor – baby friendship plants are too weak to survive your flightiness. If you’re serious about making friends, but don’t feel like moving off the couch that day – get up and go anyway. Time is precious and people don’t want to waste it on people who can’t get their sh!t together enough to keep plans.
It’s also important to note here not to flake on yourself – if meeting people through work or through activities isn’t possible, you have to put yourself out there. And while there aren’t many dating apps for friends (at least ones that don’t feel creepy when in use), take up a class or an activity and try to make connections that way.
Tip #6: Maintain Contact.
While proximity and frequent friend-dates may not always be possible, it’s important to maintain contact with your friends (both new and old) and social media/texting make this easier than ever. Comment on friends photos on Instagram, shoot them a text or a chat or if you’re old school – talk on the phone or send cards in the mail. These gestures also serve as powerful sustenance for friendship plants.
Take me and my group of “blogger friends,” whom I’m lucky to see maybe 1-2 times each year. We maintain steady contact throughout the year through email, Instagram, or facebook groups and then when we get together it’s like we’ve never been apart. It’s kind of like sleep-away camp friends, but better because often they’re the only people who get this crazy, “work and make money blogging” world I inhabit.
Tip #7: Don’t force it.
I’ve got some great examples above, but for every new, great friendship story, I swear I've got two that I tried to foster that didn’t work out. Just like in romantic relationships, sometimes people are not a great fit. There’s a natural platonic chemistry between folks, so if you don’t feel it’s a great fit, don’t force things.
I’ve definitely been in the situation where I was doing all the watering, and often I let those friendships go in order to focus on the ones that matter.
Tip #8: Don’t assume.
Early on when I first moved here, I assumed many of the women I met already had friends, or wouldn’t have time to invest in a new relationship (like what happened when I first met Monica!) And while this may be true for some people you meet, I’ve found that most people struggle to make connections after college or feel they don’t spend enough time just hanging out with friends.
Don't let assumptions keep you from reaching out. The best way (that I know) to make yourself feel richer is to invest in relationships that improve your quality of life. How's that for a money tip?