“You need to get better friends.” Few things make my eyes roll back harder in my head than hearing this statement. It’s a comment tossed around more often than you’d think that seems to imply this particular person making that statement has great friends, presumably whom they’ve known since the day they were born. From their POV, anyone who doesn’t have that is clearly unlikeable and has made terrible life choices. It’s a reductive, and even silly, statement that dismisses the reasons why someone would struggle to make friends as an adult.
I can tell you right now, I have struggled to make real, healthy friendships as an adult myself, but not for the reasons statements like these seem to presume. The presumption in the statement “you need to get better friends” is that it’s easy. You just swing by a drive through on the way home and now you have your new good pals Diane and Kevin, so why haven’t you done that already?
So I began to write my second book about this very topic, You Will Find Your People: How To Make Meaningful Friendships As An Adult, because I knew it was not this simple for me, nor was it for so many others. While writing this book, I spent years immersed in all the reasons people find it so hard to make friends as an adult, and the struggles I’d had making friends as a kid, as a teenager, and even now. Sure, I’d always technically had friends, but did I always choose people who were kind, supportive, loving, and treated me well? Unfortunately, I did not. And it wasn’t intentional at all, nor is it for most of us. Most people don’t sit around thinking, “My friends treat me like garbage most of the time, and I rarely feel good around them, but I like that a lot! These are the people for me!”
When I told my friends I was writing a book about how hard it can be to make friends as an adult, I think some part of me assumed at least one of them would make a scrunched-up face of judgment, as if to say, “You’ve struggled to make meaningful friendships? That’s weird, I never have at all. Maybe I shouldn’t be friends with you, since you’re clearly strange.” But the result was very much the opposite with everyone I mentioned it to. Instead, when I talked about writing this book, it was met with, “Whoa, I have struggled with that so much, too!” and always in a hushed, or even stunned, tone — as though we were at a friendship speakeasy and they could finally say how they really felt about struggling with something you’re “not supposed” to struggle with.
There is a very real fear about admitting you’ve struggled to make great friendships as an adult, even if you can identify the reasons why you’ve struggled and know they have nothing to do with your personal worth as a human being. The shameful thought of “it must be because I’m unworthy, unlovable, and I’ve done something wrong, or maybe it’s just too late” is so internalized for so many of us, myself included.
It’s so formidable that even after spending years writing this book about how to make truly good, truly reciprocal friendships as an adult, and how to address that internalized shame, fear, and frustration surrounding not having found your people yet, I realized that shame was still easily remembered, even by me.
All it took was hearing someone brag about how “making friends is easy” and anyone who struggled with it was clearly an idiot, and there was that feeling again. And I knew better! I’d spent countless hours researching and writing about the myriad reasons why it can absolutely be hard to make new friends as an adult. And yet a simple, “Actually, no one struggles with that except you. I sure don’t, so if you don’t have great friends as an adult yet, you’re doing something wrong,” in a stranger’s post online reignited that shame.
Fortunately, because I had heard from so many people who knew I was writing this book and therefore felt safe to share with me that they (or their sibling or friend) had struggled with this topic, I remembered what I knew deep down: The reason you haven’t found your people yet is not because you don’t deserve them or because you did something wrong. You’re not “bad at friendship” if you’ve struggled to get it right, because a lot of us have struggled to get it right.
So why is it so hard to make good friends as an adult? The answer is so many things. Even in our best friendships, there still might be resentment, unexpressed feelings, or differing ways we show love. Or perhaps we’re not the same people at 30 than we were when we met at 18, and so we grew up, and perhaps apart, in very different ways. And when a friendship doesn’t tend to work as well as we’d like, we might want to make new friends, but how do you do that when it’s not as simple as it may have been as a kid?
We tend to think of the childhood model of friendship when we talk about it, which is easy and abundant and your parents setting you up with a random kid on the playground and telling you to be friends, and so you are. But as an adult, friendship involves more effort and outreach, complex adult emotions, lingering pain from past friendship breakups, and a long-term ebb and flow that’s much more akin to a long-term romantic relationship. And because we know that’s complex and intimate and vulnerable, we should know it’s also not easy to come by.
So when we tell people, “You need to get better friends,” we need to stop doing it in a dismissive way that assigns personal blame and, instead, as a form of encouragement that better friends are out there — and you deserve to find them, even though it’s hard.
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