Friendship In Adulthood: What Do You Look For?

I saw an old friend over the holidays while I was back in the States. She moved to a new town a few years back and has slowly sunk roots there, buying a house…putting her kids in school…joining a synagogue. You know, the usual.

When I asked her if she’d made any close friends in her new town, she answered matter-of-factly: “I click about 85% with four or five women I’ve met. And I think that’s pretty good.”

She went on: “And I’ve finally realized what I look for in a friend: ‘Negativity.'”

I laughed out loud. But I knew exactly what she meant, both about the “85%” figure and about the negativity.

The fact is, it’s really hard to find people you connect with. I once wrote a commentary for Chicago Public Radio about the elusive search for female friends in adulthood. The thrust of the piece was to illustrate – by example – what a nightmare it is to have to “date” for friends once you grow up and have kids. So if you’re batting at 75% or over, like my friend is, I’d say that’s a pretty good average.

I can also relate to the negativity point. Despite my penchant for dark films about family dysfunction and self-destructive behavior, I don’t actually look for negativity in fellow friends. But I do look for some combination of intelligence coupled with a sense of humor, preferably on the self-deprecating side (which is actually what I think my friend meant by “negativity.”)

The problem is – even if you know what you’re looking for in a friend – how do you find those friends when you’re starting from scratch? And even if they’re out there…will you take the time and effort out of your busy life to “date” them?

In the hyper-connected world which we all inhabit these days, it’s easy to fall back on virtual friends. Women, in particular, are drawn to Online networking and community-building. I, myself, have made loads of friends Online in the past two years, of all different shapes and sizes.

But you can’t have coffee with a computer. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) And the internet can’t yield the sort of benefits that derive from close, real-life female friendships.

In case you’re wondering whether this entire discussion is academic, it isn’t. I myself, had to dip my toe back into the friendship-dating waters recently.

For months, I’d been trying to have coffee with a close friend of one of my cousins back in New Jersey, who moved to London last summer. My cousin spoke really highly of this guy, but between his schedule and mine, there just wasn’t a ton of overlap, despite the fact that we live about 10 minutes from one another.

And let’s face it. I knew that the probability that we’d hit it off was close to zero. So while I was happy to get together with this guy, I figured that this would be more of a “getting him oriented” in London kind of coffee, not the start of something beautiful.

Well, needless to say I LOVED him. Absolutely adored. He was cool and funny and smart. And we had tons of stuff in common. Not just the surface demographic-y type stuff, but a deeper appreciation for the same jokes, the same cultural references, the same reactions to British education. He was, in short, my people.

I was lucky that I happened upon my new BFF through my cousin. But close friends can just as easily sneak up on you at a book club, or that school function you dreaded going to, or that wine tasting that was so much better than you expected.

The point is to get out there. And experiment.

Who knows?

You might just find your soul mate.

Image: Making Friends by behang via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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  • Reply Elizabeth

    January 24, 2011, 4:13 pm

    Really interesting post. I find the older I get, I make friends more through doing something together (a walk, playing tennis or the dreaded volunteer activity) rather than just talking, whereas, as a younger woman it was really just all about the talking and talking. Maybe its just easier to find the time if it’s scheduled as something else (exercise, or volunteering) rather than just time with a friend. Always it just comes back to time.

  • Reply Patricia

    January 24, 2011, 7:26 pm

    If have found as I get older finding friends is a bit of work. The women of my age, 60+, I think are pretty boring and hard to get along with and unwilling to learn new thing. Most of my friends are 10-20 years younger than me and some are in their 30’s.

    These younger women are fun and willing to go places and try new things. They are for the most part very busy with families but a couple I see a couple of times a week, others once a month or so.

  • Reply delialloyd

    January 24, 2011, 7:56 pm

    @Patricia-ha! You are clearly on to something-well done for figuring this out!

  • Reply middleagecranky

    January 25, 2011, 12:02 am

    I’ve realized for a long time that it’s extremely hard to make new friends. It’s much easier — and more fulfilling — to cultivate old friends, which I’ve started doing at class reunions and through Facebook. There is a bond that develops when you have a common time and place together that’s hard to find with others. (Of course, I’m extremely lucky that people tend to stay in this area.)

    I went to a holiday party recently thrown by a classmate whom I didn’t know well in school, but got to know better through reunions and FB. Instead of it being one of those affairs where everyone is trying to impress everyone else, our common bonds turned the conversation to sad but meaningful topics — divorce, financial iasues, aging parents, emotionally troubled siblings. It was draining and fulfilling at the same time.

    • Reply delialloyd

      January 25, 2011, 9:57 am

      @Middleagecranky – you make a good point. Reunions are a great way to reconnect with old friends and remember what drew you together back in the day. Agree that some of the classic things of ‘adulthood’ – e.g. divorce/money/parents etc can be a real bond even when you’ve had very dif’t life experiences. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Reply Lisa

    January 25, 2011, 1:04 am

    In some ways doesn’t she just mean Not Overly Cheerful? Because who wants a friend who can’t relate when we suffer?

  • Reply delialloyd

    January 25, 2011, 9:59 am

    @Lisa-yes, quite possibly. I think she doesn’t like people who are endlessly upbeat b/c then you can’t talk about real-life problems. I know that’s a deal-breaker for me. I like cheerful people, but only if they are able to leaven it with some darkness/depth.

  • Reply Cecilia

    January 25, 2011, 3:22 pm

    We’re new to our city/neighborhood, and I suppose I am still at the age where most of the adults I meet are the parents of my son. The one adult friend I spend the most time with is fun, and we connect in some ways but not in others. I had a hard time with this at first until I finally accepted that I don’t have to “love” and be 100% in synch with someone in order to be her friend. This helped me open up to the possibility of friendship more and, wouldn’t you know it, I like her so much better than I ever expected to! I suppose in my own way I was being judgmental and judging my friend-book by its cover. But I agree with you. It is hard and we need to get out, especially once we have kids and it becomes so much easier to fall back on just family…

    Great post!

    • Reply delialloyd

      January 26, 2011, 6:01 am

      yes, @cecilia. I agree. Sometimes 80% really is enough. When kids are young it is definitely the #1 way we get to meet new people. I have found that to make things easier (instant friends!) but also harder (just b/c your kids are friends doesn’t mean you’ll be.)

  • Reply Jay

    January 25, 2011, 4:15 pm

    It’s nice to know I’m not the only struggling to make friends. As I approach 40, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to a solitary friendship with my partner. I suspect that many women I meet assume they will have nothing in common with me: I’m not single, yet not married. I don’t have children. It’s hard to find something to hang your hat on.

  • Reply Shari

    January 25, 2011, 6:46 pm

    There is a woman who is writing an entire blog about this subject – complete with research :) Very enjoyable read.

  • Reply Daryl Boylan

    January 25, 2011, 8:23 pm

    One never knows (in advance of meeting), do one?

  • Reply Patricia

    January 25, 2011, 10:00 pm

    I have never really had a close friend and now when I leave my house because of my professional role, I play that role when I leave home. I thought maybe in college or grad. school, but they all fell away.

    Several years ago I got very jealous because a group of women clergy all bought season tickets to the Mariner’s Baseball game for sisterhood and enjoying a beer and chili cheese dogs and fun time to unwind together. I did not make enough money and had a special needs child so I could not join in and once a year – too much bonding had taken place.

    I think my online friends are great and several of us do lots with emails and phone calls, but wow I still think it would be great to connect for a movie. Book group is nice, but they don’t connect either. There is one great gal at Yin- Yoga with a special needs child (grown) also. I invited her to lunch on payday….and she invited me to her book group on the 15th….maybe this will work out? I hope so
    It is one reason I got a puppy – just to have a cuddle sometimes.
    (Husband bike rides and vacuums but hardly talks and never cuddles! I don’t think a BFF would do that either but great conversations in person – now that would be tops.)

    • Reply delialloyd

      January 26, 2011, 6:03 am

      Patricia-Your story about the baseball game made me sad. But I think that was a story more about the constraints on going out with friends/bonding than having the capacity to make friends-which I bet you do. And I’m so glad you were invited! I like that you are getting back in the game with yoga-gal…you have to put yourself out there. It really is like dating!!

  • Reply robyn

    January 26, 2011, 3:10 pm

    The best way for me to find new friends has been through mutual interests, especially through charity/nonprofit causes and activities. More recently, I joined a weaving guild, which is filled mostly with amazing women in their later years — a beautiful contrast to my 36. The bulk of my social circle is actually gay men, met mostly through my activism against HIV (and also the boutique gym to which I belong). Being married and childless, I learned long ago that most women in their 20s/30s simply don’t have time for me — they have children, husbands, careers that all rank higher. For a long time, this left me feeling lonely and mad. But now I realize it was more of a blessing; my diverse circle is truly amazing. And when I need a female point of view, I have my mom, a couple friends, or inspiring bloggers like Delia to which to refer!

    • Reply delialloyd

      January 26, 2011, 7:25 pm

      thanks robyn! what , pray tell, is a weaving guild? do you need to be a professional weaver to join? Agree that it’s v. hard if you don’t have kids, tho several women in my book club don’t have kids and it seems to work out ok…

      • Reply robyn

        January 26, 2011, 10:20 pm

        I can’t speak for all guilds, but the weavers guild to which I belong is both a member-based organization and a physical place devoted to weavers and those new to weaving. Similar to a knitting group, book club, or community education class (etc.), but with its own home base. Classes are offered at all levels, including absolute beginner!

  • Reply Vicki

    January 30, 2011, 11:57 am

    It is so hard to make friends as an adult. In school, you always had a reason to talk to people bit the world can be scary for a shy person.
    I think it takes 3 years of livIng in a place and actively engaging to really feel like you have friends. I have yoga friends, work friends, synagogue friends and now perhaps baby/mom friends. But most are not really close or high percentage. But I’ve only lived here 2 years so I have high hopes for this coming year!

  • Reply utahlondon

    February 11, 2011, 11:10 am

    I usually look for friends who have a lot of money and spare time on their hands, especially when I’m hungry.

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