I was recently chatting with a colleague whose son just started ninth grade at a new school. He had a tight group of pals in elementary and middle school. Now, at 14, he was starting over, the new kid trying to make new friends.
colleague described how she’d been coaching her son through the
uncomfortable process of finding his people, telling him it takes time,
that it might be uncomfortable for a while.
|We agreed that this particular discomfort isn’t limited to adolescence. “Every time a shift happens, you have to relearn,” she said. That shift could be starting a new job, moving to a new city, returning to in-person work, acclimating to life after a divorce.
As children, we have school and, if we’re lucky, some combination of parent-negotiated play dates, sports teams and after-school activities that create favorable conditions for making friends. The indignities of finding a new group with whom to eat lunch notwithstanding, your environment is tailored to the cultivation of new ties.
But once we leave formal schooling, we don’t find ourselves in cohorts or situations like these as frequently. The advice for adults wishing to make friends is often to join a club, to find a group of people who are into what you’re into. We have to seek out the grown-up equivalent of a sandbox, a place where people are oriented toward making connections.
Finding the running club or knitting circle is the administrative part of friendmaking. The greater challenge is moving through the awkwardness and fears of rejection that we may have thought we left in the high school cafeteria. Marisa Franco, a psychologist and the author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends,” recently spoke with The Times about strategies for getting over such anxieties. She mentioned a few theories about the dynamics of meeting new people that I found especially intriguing.
The liking gap: We tend to underestimate others’ esteem. “When strangers interact, they’re usually more liked by the other person than they assume,” Dr. Franco said.
The acceptance prophecy: “When people assume others like them, they tend to become warmer and friendlier,” she said. And that leads others to respond warmly in turn.
The theory of inferred attraction: People tend to like people who they think like them. “So the more you can show people that you like and value them, the better,” Dr. Franco said.
Have you found yourself in a situation where you were trying to make new friends as an adult? How did it go? Tell me about it.
- Why is it hard to make friends when you’re over 30?
- “Even if our relationship-building muscles have atrophied, with a bit of work they’ll regain their strength.” Brad Stulberg on pandemic-era socializing.
- One potential benefit of returning to in-person work: office friends.
- On using a relationship app to make platonic friends.