On loneliness and adult friendship

I’ve had two big moves over the past few years — from New York to North Carolina, and then from North Carolina to California. Both times, after the initial exhilaration of a new home wore off, I looked around and realized I had very few, or no, friends where I lived.  

So I started to try to make more friends. I started going to more events, but every time I met someone who I was interested in getting to know more, it seemed like they already had plenty of friends. Why would they want to be friends with me?

I felt kind of needy, as I tried to initiate spending more time with interesting people.

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But it turns out that lots of us need more friends! In Friendships Don’t Just Happen: The Guide to Creating A Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends, Shasta Nelson pointed out two things that really surprised me:

  1. People, on average, replace half of their close friends every seven years, according to researchers in the Netherlands. Half! So most people you meet will probably be looking to meet at least a friend or two.

  2. Many of us aren’t doing a great job of finding the new friends we need. A quarter of us have no one with whom we share deeply. Another quarter have only one person — likely a significant other or spouse — so we’re deeply vulnerable to a potential break-up, divorce, or death. That’s about half of us with one or zero close confidants or friends. The other half of us have an average of two.*

Nelson’s book is mostly a how-to guide for making meaningful adult friendships. And if I’m being honest: at first, admitting that I was reading a book like that seemed, well, embarrassing. Does admitting that I need more friends make me seem needy?

And yet, here’s something else that Nelson wrote, which I really needed to hear:   

“Loneliness is not about social skills, likability, or the kind of friend we can be to others.”

I realized, in reading it, that I’d been subconsciously judging myself for being lonely. On a subtle level that I’d hadn’t been able to name until I read the book, I’d been assuming that people who are likable enough, who have strong enough social skills, who are great friends, don’t get lonely. Have you ever felt that way?

But everyone needs new friends — frequently! And everyone gets lonely! If we’re going to replace half of our friends every seven years, we’re definitely to feel twinges of loneliness sometimes. 

Nelson’s book had a couple of good, practical points about how to actually make more friends, which I’ll share next week. But for today, I just want to remind you:

Just like hunger tells you that it’s time to eat,
Or fatigue tells you it’s time to sleep,
Loneliness tells you that it’s time to put in some effort to generate new, meaningful relationships.  

None of those experiences — hunger or tiredness or loneliness — necessarily have anything to do with you as a person: your worth or value or likeability.

It’s okay to be lonely. It’s normal to need new friends. And if you meet a new person who seems interesting, there’s a good chance they might be looking for a new friend, too.

 

 

 

*this data is from researched published the American Sociological Review in 2006, cited in Friendships Don’t Just Happen.