Developing adult friendships
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
Are you finding it challenging to build strong friendships? You might be surprised to hear what a common issue this is, especially in later life.
As we all know, having close friend relationships is crucial for people's psychological wellbeing. Unfortunately, as we age it can become more tricky to
develop and uphold meaningful friendships. Time constraints due to work and
family obligations, relocations and a fear of being judged hinders us.
But there are many steps we can take to gain valuable friendships in later life. It often involves being brave, letting our guards down a little, and show some vulnerability.
A helpful strategy can be to let go of preconceived ideas of what people might
think of you and to invest more time and energy into building relationships.
What are the benefits of close friendships?
Strong social support networks such as close friends, colleagues and family are crucial for
people’s psychological wellbeing. Historically we have always been social beings thriving on
interactions. In fact, our survival depended on being part of a group, hunting in groups
watching each other’s backs. This evolutionary context might explain why feeling excluded
can have a detrimental effect on people’s mental state.
We all know how close friends make your life richer and research demonstrates that it can
even improve your life expectancy (Carr, 2015). In fact, friendships provide a strong base, a
sense of security protecting us from stress, anxiety and depression.
Challenges to develop relationships in adulthood.
Our mindset change as we grow older, partly based on biological changes in our brain. As children, our prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. This contains the so called executive functioning ability, (area of the brain that deals with judgment, planning and personality).
As we age we are more concerned about what others might think of us and we start to judge others. It can feel terrifying to be rejected.
This partly explains why it is so easy for children to strike up a conversation and make friends
with strangers, whereas it can be much more challenging as a teenager or adult.
In adulthood, we tend to have less time at our disposal to develop friendships and our priorities might have changed (e.g. work more, busy parenting, looking after elderly parents, partner, etc). Making friends during your educational years is easier as you are naturally forming social groups in rather structured environments, e.g. studying the same subject, living in the same dorm, hobbies, etc.
Meaningful and close friendship bonds in later life prove harder to form. These often revolve around having gone through something life changing together, e.g. a relocation, first time parents, taking a course, trips or working towards something meaningful.
Living in a busy crowded city like Hong Kong, it is natural and common to develop feelings
of loneliness and anonymity. Arriving from abroad and leaving close social networks behind
is tough. It is likely to test even the most socially adept’s confidence in building relationships.
However, there are plenty of opportunities for friendship building in large cities like HK.
People are curious and open to opportunities in meeting new friends, probably due to the
mobility of expats and locals educated or travelling abroad. People who spend time overseas without their close or extended family on hand, seem to rely and build intimate
long lasting friend relationships.
Ten simple steps on how to identify and develop meaningful relationships.
1. Say yes to invites
It sounds obvious, but it is vital to expose yourself to as many different environments as possible, e.g. accepting invites to bbq’s, fundraisers, baby showers, happy hours, networking
events, junks, hikes, etc. Go along even though you don’t know the individual that well and
might not feel like going. You never know, you might make some interesting connections
along the way.
2. Identify your target group
Take a strategic approach, think about and write down where you would be likely to meet up
with potential friends sharing similar interests, values, etc. Have you got a passion that you
would like to pursue? Try to think outside the box, e.g. taking up creative, cooking, language
or exercise classes, new mum groups, cultural associations or activities such as dragon boating, movie clubs, hiking groups, cycling groups, etc.
Hong Kong is a volunteers hub, there is something for everyone, from cooking, teaching
languages, looking after babies in charities, cleaning beaches, to fundraising, workshops, etc. Investing your free time is an excellent way of getting to know people, giving back to the community and perhaps even learning a new skill along the way. Please have a look at the following options for ideas:
4. Pay attention to your surroundings
Start connecting with co-workers, clients, service providers at work, other parents in the
playground, exercise classes, etc. If you are working from home, break the isolation and join
a co-working space for those vital social connections.
5. Utilise your existing contacts
Ask for introductions, e.g. if you are moving to a new location, connect with people and get
them to introduce you to people living there already.
6. Practise makes perfect
Read up on how to improve your social skills, e.g. how to start a conversation and pay
attention to your non-verbal communication; such as your body language. Practice incorporating these skills to make them feel natural. If you are shy, start small with making
small talk in a less threatening place, e.g. the local shop, restaurant, etc. (Moring A., 2018).
Try to stay up to date on current events, but avoid discussing too controversial subjects.
7. Make the most out of Social Media
Use social media to make connections with individuals interested in similar areas to you. Be
brave expand your network through attending talks, workshops, etc., advertised online.
8. Identify and Replace Negative Thoughts
If you hear that critical voice in your head stating, “you're not interesting, funny,” etc.
and “why would anyone like to get to know you”. Challenge that thought with contrary evidence. Replace the voice with more productive thoughts such as, “I might not be hilarious, but I'm good enough and I've got a brilliant sense of humor”. With practice,
this will become second nature. More realistic thoughts will improve your social confidence
and assist you in moving forward.
9. Keep with it
Making new friends is similar to dating in the way that you might click with some at first and
once you get to know them a bit better, you realise you're perhaps not the best match. In
the face of setbacks, try to stay positive and keep on making new connections.
10. Be patient and show vulnerability
In order to develop a deeper friendship with someone, research shows it takes on average
five longer conversations to connect and it is important to share something personable to create a bond (Hendriksen, 2018). Try to relax and let your personality shine through. Thankfully, in general people find it hard to relate to individuals perceived as perfect. Kindness is a trait rated highly in a future friend. Stay attentive; demonstrate strong listening and caring skills and share something personable, as it will make you more relatable.
If you find it challenging to build and maintain relationships in adulthood, try incorporating some of the strategies mentioned above. However, if you're suffering from loneliness, please don't hesitate to reach out to a psychology professional, helpline, etc who can
support and collaboratively identify a strategy that works for you. If you found the blog
helpful and you think it might assist others, please feel free to share it on social media.
Carr, D., (2015), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-third-age/201503/want-live-longer-make-good-friends
Handsonhongkong (2018), Website: http://www.handsonhongkong.com
Hendriksen, E., (2018), “How to Be Yourself”, episode 131, The Psychology Podcast.
Moring, A., (2018), “12 Ways to Improve Social Skills And Make You Sociable Anytime”,