Friendship as an adult

Adults need more time to make new friends than kids do, with less time to spare
As kids, making a best friend takes the length of recess and a bus ride home. How come it’s not that simple, or fast, for adults? After all, we need new friends as life changes. Priorities shift; friends move away or have children. Our family and work duties take their toll on energy and time.Recent research confirms that it’s tougher for adults to make friends. It’s not that we’re unwilling. It just takes more time. Much, much more time.

University of Kansas researcher Jeffrey Hall found in one small study that it took 50 to 200 hours for an adult acquaintance to grow into a deeper level of friendship. To become a casual friend, it took about 50 hours, or a long work week of hanging out. For a real friend, about 90 hours. For a close friend, it takes a whopping 200 hours. For those still counting, that’s five full-time work weeks before you might feel safe sharing your most intimate secrets. Hall’s two-part study looked at two sets of people. The first, adults who had moved to a new town and wanted to make friends. The second, first-year students who had just started college. He found similar results in both studies: it takes time to grow a friendship. “You can’t make people spend time with you, but you can invite them,” Hall said. “Make it a priority to spend time with potential friends.”

So, if you’re struggling to find new friends at this stage of life, know that it isn’t your imagination. But fear not: It can still be done. (Pro tip for the guys out there: Watch I Love You, Man to get an idea of what it takes.)

Discovering new friendships can start with you. There are myriad methods to meet new people.

Common activities that help you open up and be more social include:

  • Friend apps designed to match you with people near you
  • Online meetups
  • Sporting leagues
  • Hobbies
  • Networking groups
  • Community volunteering

Author of Startup Your Life, sociologist Anna Akbari, PhD, points out in a Women’s Health article that we don’t need to put all our friendship focus on a person who doesn’t have time for us or is unhealthy for us.

After that, look for people who represent traits you most like in yourself. Some folks compare making new friends to dating. But Akbari said traits in a new friend may not be the same as those you want in a partner.

However, like dating, it takes putting yourself out there. Assume that you are a likeable person (which helps your self-confidence and willingness to reach out). Start asking questions beyond the weather.

Yes, there might be awkward moments. But as adults, you can joke about your own feelings of awkwardness and have a laugh—always a good sign for new friends.

Summary: Making adult friends

  • Research shows that making friends as an adult is more complex than it is for kids.
  • A study showed that it takes an adult 50 hours of time spent with an acquaintance to become casual friends, 90 hours to become real friends, and 200 hours to become close friends.
  • There are many ways to make new friends as an adult, including friend apps, online meetups, sporting leagues, hobbies, volunteering, or networking groups.
  • Readjust your focus so that you have time and energy in your schedule for the types of friendships you want most.
  • Identify the traits you want in a friend, which may not be the same as the traits you’d want in a partner.
  • To make a friend, you may want to be more vulnerable, listen more, and share meaningful ideas so they get to know the real you. The real you showing up is key to building a strong friendship.

“To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.” – Dr. Seuss