School gets a bad reputation, but it’s pretty easy. Making friends is one reason it’s a breeze. Split between class, recess, the cafeteria, and field trips, most of us connected quickly and effortlessly in a space practically designed for friendships.
Making friends in the real world, however, is not so easy. And the older you get, making and keeping friends gets exponentially more difficult. Why is that the case? Why does it become such a challenging and demanding feat to make and retain friends?
Let’s first differentiate between a couple things.
Most anyone who’s at least somewhat extroverted, or at least not severely introverted, is capable of making acquaintances. What defines an acquaintance? Merriam-Webster defines it as:
“a person whom one knows but who is not a particularly close friend”
You know the type. The person you run into randomly through other friends, have them on your Facebook, maybe store their number in your phone in case you head out on the weekend and want to see where they’re at. The one you tell every time you run into them that you should hang more often, even though you don’t care enough to follow up on that and neither do they.
With that said, a friend in this article refers to someone above and beyond an acquaintance; not just people you go out and drink with. For some people, namely extroverts, socializing and becoming everyone’s best friend just works for them. Everybody and their mother always say the same things about them, to the tune of “I don’t know, I just like him/her”. They make a ton of acquaintances, and they’re content with it. The more people they know, the better they feel. They become energized talking to a random group. For others, namely introverts, it takes time. We don’t open up to just anyone. So what is it about bonding that’s so strange for some and easy for others?
The Idea of Connecting is Weird
Ever wonder how two humans can just vibe, decide that they want to be in each other’s lives a bit more than a random conversation here and there, and suddenly become friends? How is that decided? When is that decided? It’s a two-way street, so at some point up front both parties enter a non-existent, non-binding, invisible, and mutual “let’s be friends contract” to be cool with each other without even thinking about it. Sometimes it takes a bit to warm up to each other, and sometimes it’s an immediate connection. First impressions may not have been the best, but after time you’ve suddenly fast-tracked the friendship and you’re now connected in this thing called life. When you stop to realize how many people you come in contact with in a given day, and each person is living their own life story just like you, ever wonder how you came to be friends?
We Know (Kind of) What We Want
As we get older, patience wears thinner. We decide to start putting up with less and less shit. People who aren’t really contributing in your life begin to stick out like a sore thumb. The phenomenon behind this is simple: what we perceive as important in life becomes fairly clear, and we can tell who in our life contributes to that and who doesn’t. Unfortunately, many of us spend way too long dragging people along for the ride when we should bring down the hammer and cut our losses. But the older we get, the smarter and more strategic we become in who we surround ourselves with. Time and time again, the most successful people out there will tell you the same thing in a few different ways: you are the company you keep. Or you are the average of the five people closest to you. Or you must surround yourself with those who will lift you up, not bring you down. We can say it thirty-nine different ways, but the message stays the same.
Whereas growing up you became fast friends because your respective moms packed you the same Lunchables lunch and you sat at the same table, the threshold for retaining friendships changes as you mature. It no longer becomes a game of whom we don’t want to talk to, but rather a game of whom we want to talk to. Instead of looking for reasons to not be friends with someone, we begin to look for reasons that we should let them in.
And this closed-off attitude is both a detriment and an advantage. Whereas it allows us to be way more selective on who we invite in, it causes us to appear colder and more of an asshole to others who are looking to get in. It takes two to tango, and just like a romantic relationship, both sides have to be willing and engaging to make it work.
We Have a Slightly More Jaded View on Life
Unfortunately, no one is immune to getting fucked over by someone at some point in his or her life. While we didn’t know any better as adolescents or even young adults, there’s a shift in the mindset after it happens on a number of occasions and patterns begin to emerge. The now apparent lack of trust we have for others erodes our desire to even attempt to get too close to new people. Somewhere in the back of our mind, if someone seems so cool up front, we’re looking for a reason that this is too good to be true. Their overly friendly attitude wears thin on us, and we begin to think they want something, have a hidden agenda, or plan to take advantage in some way. And the more successful and more you have to offer, the more we feel someone is just trying to benefit.
It’s Difficult To Get Out and Meet People
Besides work, we don’t spend nearly as much time around a big group of people like we once did in schools. And considering most of us also hate our 9 to 5 jobs that leave us feeling drained, we aren’t clamoring to be surrounded by others outside of it. Last but not least, we don’t exactly have a ton of hobbies or activities outside of work that we’re involved in, which is the icing on the cake. This puts our chances of meeting people at mainly two places – work, in which the people there aren’t really considered friends, and bars/clubs, where liquor-fueled social gatherings leads to nothing but a ton of acquaintances.
This means only one thing – effort is required. The problem is, we don’t really care for effort. The solution then, if this were for the purpose of meeting a romantic partner, is quite simple: you turn to the apps. You swipe, you “connect”, you meet, you get a feel for the person, and you make a decision. Friendships don’t work that way, and while the app idea has been tested and attempted time and time again for friendships, the stigma is high (“why can’t you meet friends in real life?”) and as said before, doesn’t quite work the same as dating.
What’s the Solution?
Everyone should be open to meeting new people that contribute in a positive way in their life. The idea of “no new friends” made popular by Drake is a crock of shit. Yes, those in your life already should get the attention and energy first, provided they contribute to your life in a meaningful way. How many times do we need to say that? On the flip side though, be selective. Don’t play the numbers game just to feel good about yourself. If you’re the person who’s been trying to become friends with someone with limited receptivity, try not to get offended. You might be cool and could provide value in their life, but maybe they’re not ready for it at this time. Or better yet, while you could provide value to them, maybe they can’t really provide much value to you. Remember, it’s a two-way street.
Why put all your energy into making an impact in their life if they can’t do the same?