The difficulty of adult relationships

Being an adult is surprisingly lonely. Making friends as an adult is much harder than we often anticipate, and then throw in making friends as a mum? Even harder.

I’ve never been one to have lots and lots of friends- in fact, I can count the people I truly call friends on one hand- and while for the most part, I’m okay with that, sometimes, it can get a little lonely if the phone doesn’t ring, or you are alone and far away from those who you do feel closest to.

I feel like a big part of this road block to new friendships comes down to a feeling of suspicion that we all seem to develop as we get older. If someone smiles at you or tries to strike up a conversation on the street, or in a shopping centre etc, so often our first reaction is of suspicion- are they trying to sell something, is there something wrong with them, why is this person approaching me? I know for myself, the window of welcomeness is often jammed tightly shut, when I’m out and about, busy with day to day life, or if I’m simply not in the mindset for meeting new people (and yes, I do have to psych myself up to be that person!), so approaching me without warning in the street isn’t always something I’m prepared for, and I have been known (on occasion) to react negatively when someone does.

As we age, our stories deepen, our roots spread further. To meet someone new generally involves turning around on that path, and revealing where those stories originated, where those roots first started. In other words, you have to go back in time and let people in to who you were before today. I don’t mean in the sense that you have to uncover all of your deepest darkest secrets, or dredge up your old school report cards, but to start a friendship with someone, you have to tell them about who you are, and sometimes, that just seems like too much work. It’s like when you catch up with family members for that annual family gathering, and you have to answer all the same questions- what are you doing for work, how’s your dog/cat/hippo, have you met anyone special yet etc. It’s exhausting just thinking about it, isn’t it?

With friends we’ve already known for years, these things don’t have to be done. The groundwork is already there. They know you, they know your story. There’s a familiarity and a safety in that. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course! You keep them by your side! But what if you want to branch out your friend circle, and meet new people?

I think they say public speaking is one of the most feared tasks that most people can think of. I reckon trying to strike up a new friendship comes under the same umbrella as public speaking. Putting yourself out, extending a hand, asking someone if they’re interested in not only discovering your weirdness, but if they’re interested in having that weirdness in their lives for an extended period of time- or forever. It’s incredibly daunting. And it’s hard work.

My closest girlfriends and I have relationships of silent understanding. Aka, we might not chat or catch up for days, weeks, months at a time, but we are equally aware that a) life is busy, and b) we’re each always there for the other if needed, and we’ll catch up when life gives us a chance to pause. So there’s no pressure on those relationships. But a new friendship requires a lot more man hours. You need to see each other fairly regularly, to discover each other, see if your personalities match, see if conversation is easy, see if your outlooks and goals for life are somewhat aligned (you don’t necessarily need to be doing/loving/working exactly the same as someone you’re trying to start a friendship with, but it’s going to have a better chance of sticking if you have something in common!). It’s a crucial step in making a friendship that works, and that lasts.

But life is busy. Life as a mum is even busier. We don’t always have time to engage in small talk- although there’s a lot to be said for ditching the small talk altogether, which I love the concept of, but how do you initiate that if they’re not engaging in the first contact? I’d love to know your experiences with connecting straight into the deep end. With a toddler on the move, and work and a business and trying to work out what’s next for my life, I know even my time is limited. Sometimes, the only way to attempt to make friends is through social media- because a lot of people hang out there! It can also be easier to accept defeat over social media- if someone declines you, it’s easier on the embarrassment level than if it was face-to-face, but I think it definitely limits the opportunities to find soul connections if it’s all online.

For me, I try to reach out, make contact. I engage with their outputs (be it on social media, or at catch ups or events), I check in, see how they’re going, make suggestions for coffee or play dates, and show legitimate interest in the things that they care about, because I care about them. It can be slow work- and sometimes, it doesn’t pay off, or the match isn’t quite right- but I feel that if I keep allowing myself to be open to potential friends, that they might recognise there’s a chance for a new friend for them too. Ideally, in-person catch ups would be amazing- what better way to fill your cup with joy and social interaction than to be in the presence of someone you actually like!- but I also maintain purely online friendships as best I can too.

So how can you increase your adult friendships, or better the ones you already have?

  • Connect with one friend (or someone new) every day. It doesn’t need to be huge- just a message to say you’re thinking of them- but commit to reaching out to someone every day.

  • Make time to catch up with someone at least once a week. Go for coffee, take a walk along the beach, meet at the local shops for a window shop, whatever you enjoy.

  • Interact with people you think you might like to start a friendship with via their social media accounts. Be sensible about it- you’re not necessarily going to be able to become BFFs with a top celebrity, but if you follow someone who you feel a connection to- perhaps you laugh at their posts, see that they like the same things you do, perhaps your kids are similar ages, or you have friends in common- start the ball rolling by liking, commenting, perhaps even sharing.

  • TELL someone you would like to be friends! Life can get in the way, sometimes people might not notice you’re trying to strike up a conversation.

  • But always remember your own worth. If someone repeatedly ignores, or provides only minimal reciprocation over time, then let it be. This goes for starting new friendships, and maintaining existing ones. Friendships can get toxic sometimes, and you don’t need that in your life. Don’t give your everything if it’s not equal.

I don’t have the answers to this problem, except to say- and this is based off my own ever-deepening understanding of myself- be aware of how open YOU are to the advances of other people who might be reaching out. Not everyone does it in the same way- sometimes, a potential friendship could be presenting itself in very subtle ways. I don’t believe it’s about making friends with every single person you meet- for starters, that’s an impossible task to keep up with- but try not to discredit opportunities until you’ve given them a chance. If you’re the one reaching out, trust in who you are and what you’re offering, because you do have a lot to offer. And if you find your attempts are staying or becoming too one-sided, let it go, and move on, because you want your circle to be equal, supportive, and a joy to be a part of.

And don’t be afraid to reach out and say hi to me. I do my best to respond to everyone who messages me, for the exact same reasons. True, I won’t necessarily find everlasting friendship with every person I come into contact with, but who knows, perhaps another member of my circle is out there just waiting to join in.


Life, ALLFelicity Cook