No one ever tells you how to make friends in your thirties

As the bus pulled off from my apartment complex, I found my usual favorite standing spot towards the back of the bus and scrolled through the morning onslaught of text messages streaming into my Sidekick. As we drove toward Lake Park Avenue we stopped at a crosswalk and that’s when I saw her.

A slender gazelle of a woman my age whose elegance and lady-like grace was electrified by a fiery plume of a brightly colored auburn fro-hawk, that sat on top of her head like a crown. Judging by the way she walked- chin up, neck straight, gaze forward, I was convinced she’d had this crown since birth. She was being led by a fluffy little puppy whose prance along the concrete was just as royal as hers. At that moment, as the bus turned toward Lakeshore Drive, I knew I had to meet her, and I knew she and I would be friends. The year was 2009.

They don’t tell you when you’re a child that making new friends stops being a possibility as you age. As children, friends just came naturally as we existed in planned circles of like-individuals, forced to socialize with our parents encouraging us to say hello, say our names and to tell people how old we were. It’s all very easy when someone is delivering communication prompts to you as you hide behind their legs and suck on your fingers as a means of comfort.

Eventually, as we progress in school and get jobs, we learn the natural cadences and rhythms of socializing and can create new connections all on our own. However these connections are still often created in controlled environments until at least the age of 25. If we’re lucky the connections we make within that time frame last for the rest of our lives, but this often isn’t the case as things change, people change and our friendship-needs change.

No one ever tells you how to make friends in your thirties. There’s an unspoken expectation that you’ll just manage and figure it out.

I learned at an early age that I preferred a smaller group of friends which I maintained and was fiercely loyal to, even after going away to a different college. So when I moved away from Virginia at age 23 on my own, I assumed that this friendship group and a sense of home, was all that I’d ever need on my journey into the next phase of life.

I could have never anticipated how the death of my mother, less than a year later, would crack open a hole in my heart that I’d struggle to fill for the rest of my life. Nor could I have anticipated the eventual loss and dissolution of my core, solid friendships from home and the impact that would continue to have on me as I grew and became the woman I am today.

Thankfully, my tendency to city-hop for the past ten years has made me well experienced in the art of making new friends, and finding my tribe wherever I go. Jess, the woman I spotted on the bus, eventually ended up being a great friend of mine for more than 10 years now. As it turned out, I was right- we did become great friends. But not every potential new connection turns out this way.

We don’t always get to choose our friends, but sometimes we do have a role to play in making the magic happen.

As my friends have evolved and grown into phenomenal women themselves, some have found themselves in new cities, detached from the comfort of familiarity for the first time, with no clue how to navigate loneliness and the desire for meaningful connections. Below is a quick summary of how I’ve advised them to do so. Brace yourself- it’s a lot like dating.

1.Follow Your Gut

By the time we reach our thirties, we usually have a laundry list of the things we love and look for in other people based on the failed and successful friendships of our past. But it is equally as important to assess and connect with people who have the right kind of energy for your life. Those randomly organic, all night-lasting, soul-stirring, energy boosting conversations that we accidentally find ourselves in, tend to leave a lasting mark on us. I believe this is the universes’ way of introducing us to the right people at the right time. It’s just your job to determine if they should be there for a season, or for a lifetime.

It’s also important to assess your own energy as well to make sure that you’re attracting someone who will be more of a light in your life, rather than an unintended darkness. In addition to her being fly, I vividly remember Jess having a bright, magnetic aura when I first saw her walking her dog in Hyde Park. It was the same light I saw when we just so happened to find ourselves sitting next to each other on that same bus several weeks later. It was what ultimately compelled me to get the nerve to speak and introduce myself.

When you know you have the potential to have a great connection with someone, don’t hesitate to suggest an information exchange. But also know, this is just the first step.

2. Pursuit is a Necessary Evil

Introducing myself to Jess was one thing. But getting her to make time for me was an entirely different kind of challenge. We exchanged information that day but wouldn’t actually hang out until months later, well after several missed connections, busy schedules and lack of time.

This is the process of pursuit- something that most women are unfamiliar with as the only time we think of this concept is in romantic situations where we expect men to approach us. Being the aggressor, putting ourselves out there for the sake of a friendship is not only unfamiliar, it can feel weird and uncomfortable. The best way to make this go as smoothly as possible is to invite your new friend-to-be out for something you know they like, or that you know they’d enjoy. For Jess, it was a small gathering at a friend’s place, but for my other friend Lauren, it was an art installation in a trendy Brooklyn park.

I call these “first friendship-dates” as the goal is to see if the connection you thought was there at first can truly sustain itself. Is this person who you thought she was? Is there still a desire to know more about her? Does she seem to have the qualities you typically desire in a friend? What does she offer that’s just as valuable but different? What aspects can you contribute to her life ?

3. Be Okay with Rejection

Listen. Women do NOT like rejection. We are simply not socialized for it. But, if you really want to make new friends, you have to prepare yourself for it. Both Lauren and Jess said no to me many times before they ever said yes to an invite out- and that was okay!

Usually there is a set amount of times we will allow ourselves to be deprioritized, before we completely take people off of our “going out” list which, is understandable. But in situations where we are living in new places we will need to get over this frustration and simply continue to try.

Often, we are so set in our routines and our current friendship circles that we don’t seek out opportunities to disrupt our lives by adding a new friends to our well established circles. This was definitely the case for many of the friendships I chose to pursue over time. It took me being persistent and patient for them to come around and see me as an asset to their lives. I’m not saying become a stalker, but I am suggesting that being consistent and following-up is key to getting on their radars- just make the sure it’s truly mutual.

4. Give Yourself Time

I say this to everyone I speak to when it comes to making new friends, especially in new or different cities. It takes at least two years to make one good, solid friend.

For both Lauren and Jess it took several months for us to actually hang out which, between our work schedules, personal obligations and managing our social circles made sense. Even after our “first friendship-dates” it still took several weeks for us to make time to connect again.

Typically in the second year of knowing someone, a turning point happens and turns the relationship into something more meaningful- secrets are shared, favors are executed, and vulnerabilities are exposed. The friendship begins to grow roots and starts to create a foundation. If your friend-to-be makes it to the two year mark, you can likely consider them a true new friend.


Relearning Friendship — A Great Millennial Dilemma

Whitney Dunlap-Fowler is a Cultural Strategist specializing in semiotics, culture & brand strategy.

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