For the first 21 or so years of your life, you have a built-in tool to help you make friends: school. In school, you’re constantly surrounded by your immediate peers who are going through the same struggles as you. You can bond over study sessions and spend afternoons together when school lets out. You can stay by each other’s side for years—up until graduation, when everyone goes their separate ways and you’re left to fend for yourself in the real world.
After college, making friends seems to become a silly pipe dream. Where would you meet them? What would you do, and when would you even have time to do it? And yes, it is incredibly difficult to make friends, especially if you’re an introvert, without the benefit of a school setting. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Social scientists have long identified three factors that are crucial to making friends: repeated unplanned interactions, proximity and letting your guard down. Here are three reasons you’re not making friends after college, and what you can do about it.
1. You have a narrow understanding of friendship
When you’re in school, it’s clear what you mean by friend: someone who you spend much of your free time with, who you attend events with and regularly share deep and personal conversations with. In the adult world, you may have to learn to adjust your definition of friend—or adjust the expectation that a friend provide all of that at once—in order to learn how to form bonds. Due to the nature of post-college friendships, there is less immediate pressure from all sides to solidify a bond.
“Friendships after college require a lot more effort because people are on completely different schedules, have commitments to work and family and just don’t share the proximity they once did,” explains Louise Mensch, who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2014. “In the years that follow, things get worse as you find yourself and everyone around you moving cities because of a job or other reasons.”
The fact is, you aren’t going to have the level of proximity and unplanned interactions you did in college, which means your relationships will likely take more time to develop. You can learn to adjust your expectations by beginning to consider someone who you interact with on a regular basis, such as the members of the football squad you play with on weekends, your friend. Over time, you will begin to open up, share personal stories and struggles and see each other more regularly if you enjoy each other’s company.
One of the most critical things to remember is while in school, the pressure to make friends is enormous and immediate. But once you leave, no one is feeling such an intense urge. That means the speed at which your relationship develops will slow down too. Embrace this. Learn to identify casual friendly acquaintances as friendships in the making.
Broaden your understanding of what friendship is. Social contacts take many forms and friendships can come in different guises. The people at your gym will become familiar to you over time so get to know them slowly. The more commitments you develop in real life the more chance you'll have of finding new and different sorts of friendships.
2. You’re too picky about where to find them
School allowed us an easy answer to the question, “Where and when can you make friends?” because the answer was always, “In school, when you’re in or near it.” After college, it’s a little different. After all, certain dynamics keep you from befriending your co-workers in the office—you can’t get too personal with them—and that’s where you spend most of your day. When you get home, particularly if you have a family to attend to, you have just a small amount of time to take care of your needs, and most people will prioritize that time for themselves. And besides work and home, where else can you possibly spend time with people?
But the truth is you can make friends anywhere, by going for regular walks in your neighborhood, visiting a local cafe at the same time every week or joining a local book club. You don’t have to limit potential friendships to where you spend an inordinate amount of time, just places you might bump into the same people regularly.
“After college I spent six months traveling around southeast Asia,” says Dominique Kowlessar, who graduated from Colombia University’s School of Journalism in 2015. “Because I come from a big city like New York, I met several people out there from my city who are now firm friends.”
Work is stressful and will take up most of your time. I get it; there's a reason most of your future friendships will develop at work. As you and your colleagues continue to change jobs, you'll notice that you hold on to a few close co-workers that you've developed a bond with.But it's also important to cultivate hobbies outside of work that put you into contact with other people. In particular, look for hobbies that will allow you to meet and get to know the same group of people over a period of time so long lasting friendships can develop.
3. You don’t put yourself out there
Even if it’s hard to face, the truth is you’re never going to make a lot of friends if you continue to behave like an introvert. Even if you are, you won’t be able to meet anyone if you don’t ever put yourself out of your comfort zone. That means being willing to break your routine and join a class you’ve never considered before, or stopping by a local fitness class you’ve been intimidated by. If you refuse to do something social, you’re never going to have a robust social life. This doesn’t mean attend something popular that you don’t like. Be sure you participate in things related to your interest. You can join a local book club, which won’t necessarily just be filled with older people. You can start participating in a community garden, take a yoga class or volunteer for charity—all of which can put you in touch with a diverse array of new acquaintances. Just don’t be afraid to start participating in the first place.
The internet is one obvious way you can put yourself out there and meet a diverse group of people. Start by using Facebook to stay connected with people you meet while travelling or through friends. This will give you a group of people you can always hang out with. With an active life on social media, and websites and apps like MeetUp and Bumble BFF, you will always have a chance to connect with like-minded people who can become your close friends.
When you leave college, you leave behind an institution that helped you form some of your most significant friendships. But you don’t leave behind the ability to make friends at all—you just have to mature your way of thinking about it.