time for new friends

You Answered: The Most Challenging Part of Making New Friends

This post is written by Katrina Emery, a member of GirlFriendCircles.com who lives in Portland, OR.

One of the most popular questions in GirlFriendCircles, that our new members answer is “What specific aspect of making new friends feels the most challenging to you?”

I read through all 750+ answers (I promise, I did!), and am here to report with your answers. Because this friendship thing is hard, we all know that. There are aspects of it that we all struggle with, so while 750 of you out there may have commented about how hard it is to make new friends, you’re not the only ones. Solidarity, sister. We’re here to figure it out together.

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Top 5 Challenges:

#1: Time.

Let’s be honest, this one’s a bit boring. Everyone’s got time constraints, we all know we’re busy, there are a million apps promising to fix that, and none of them do. But we’re all here because we know that friendship is important anyway.

#2: Meeting People Initially.

The hardest part for a lot of you is the simple act of figuring out how to meet someone. You’ve carved out your time, but aren’t sure where to go. Or you’ve figured out where to go, but can’t tell what to say. Many of you also noted how hard it is to break into an established circle of friends. And a lot of you mentioned how hard it is to combat shyness and gather the courage to speak up.

“Just meeting people can be a challenge--and it sometimes seems that everyone already has friend group and isn't really looking for new friends to add.” - D

“The most challenging aspect for me is the initial putting myself out there. “ -T

#3: Moving Deeper.

Lots of commenters said how much they hate small talk, and how difficult it can be to move past an initial meeting into something more meaningful. Shasta would describe it as moving circles, and it’s tough to bump folks up from acquaintances to something better. Even someone who can blaze through the first two challenges might get stopped up here. There were so many thoughtful and poignant comments around this topic, which shows that we all spend a lot of time really thinking about this.

L says, “It’s that invisible wall that seems to stand between friendly chit-chat with other women and becoming actual friends - how does that happen?”

And J put it nicely: “Keeping a momentum of friendship other than “Hey how are you?” back and forth all the time.”

And another L noted, “The actual approach to making new friends is very hard. I've met people who I thought "OK, I could totally see being friends with this person."  However, I never make the transition to friendship because I don't know how.”

#4: Finding the Right Kind of Friend

This was an interesting category to me. A lot of commenters mentioned that they were looking for a certain type of friend--one who fits with their own idea of what they’re looking for, or one that shares all the right interests.

One commenter, A, summed this up nicely: “Finding people I like.”

This makes sense. We all want people we like, who understands where we are in life. Because we’re all going through struggles, and we think that no one can help unless they’re going through that same struggle. Many commenters wrote about how challenging their own situations were, and their barriers to making friends. And here’s what I noticed: they were all different, and often contradictory. Having a demanding job, working a weird schedule, not working at all, working as a stay at home mom, having teenage kids, having kids under 3, being a single mom, being single with no kids, being married with no kids,… everyone mentioned how hard it was for them. Which just goes to show… it’s hard for us all. It really is. We’re all kind of freaked out by it.

So, what if, instead of looking to make friends who are in our same situation, we branch out and open up? Don’t get me wrong-- I know this is crazy hard. And I understand many times it’s a matter of practicality rather than preference. But it might be worth it. Here’s what M. had to say about it:

“[I’m challenged by] making new friends with people who are different from me — like a whole lot different. They have a different culture, different ways of doing things, different dialect...this has been a challenge for me for so many years. I feel like I don't "click"...but this year, I am determined to be more open and welcoming.”

To sum up...

#5: Fear.

Other than time (though, we could make an argument for that), this one sums up all of the above challenges. They’re all about being afraid of being judged, of being not enough, or too much. That’s why I thought #4 was especially tragic. We’re all looking for a specific kind of friend and telling ourselves that those who don’t fit our categories aren’t good enough for us, while being inwardly terrified that we’re not good enough for other people’s categories.

“When opening up to new people I feel vulnerable to judgment from others.” -A

“Being vulnerable and wondering ‘will they like ME?’ “ - S

“Reaching out. Initiating. Suggesting a get-together and having the other person say no or cancel. Rejection in all of its many forms.” -C

“Feeling like I am too much. Being fully accepted. Feeling like I’ll let others down.” -A

First, let’s all take a moment to congratulate ourselves on admitting that stuff. Good job!

Now that we’ve done that, let’s congratulate ourselves on being here, wanting to do something to tackle those challenges. It won’t happen immediately, but the more we reach out, send an invite, risk chatting to a new person, or move past our shyness to be a little vulnerable, the better we’ll get at it.

And while you practice those things, read up on the Friendship University-- it’s loaded with all sorts of tips to tackle these challenges and more, such as:

Making Time for Our Friendships, with author Samantha Ettus

Friend-Making Overwhelm? 5 Strategies for Starting Right Where You Are, with author Sam Bennet

The 3 Requirements for Starting Friendships or How to Make a New BFF with our own Shasta Nelson

How to Connect with Others: The 4 Laws of Authentic Conversation, with author Michelle Tillis Lederman

Because if there’s anything that reading these 750 comments taught me, it’s that these challenges aren’t so unique, after all.

The Cost of the Constant Catch-Up Cycle

Lunch with a friend? Yeah it was okay.... nothing amazing. Phone call with a friend? Glad we got that out-of-the-way for another 2 months....

Dinner with an out-of-town friend? Meh.

She's texting me to see when we can get together next?  hmmm.... three weeks from now is fine.

For many, the time with our friends isn't all that meaningful and amazing.  I mean it feels good to know we got together and caught up, but it's not like we're clearing our calendar in excitement for our next get-together.  We feel good about ourselves for keeping up with them, but it's hard to always be sure it's worth the extra money spent on drinks or the time away from ______ (the kids, the TV series you're currently bingeing, or the hot romance).

When the time together isn't super meaningful, it makes sense that we'd pull away a bit over time, let more time pass in between catch-ups, or not prioritize that friendship over everything that keeps us busy.

But for some of our friendships the answer may not be pulling away and spending less time with each other as much as it is to lean in and spend more time together.

For far too many of us, our friendships are caught in a vicious cycle of not spending enough time together to feel really meaningful. I call it the Constant Catch-Up Cycle.

This vicious Cycle is what happens when our time together is either too infrequent or too short to even get us across the line into really meaningful time together. It has less to do with her and more to do with the fact that the two of you aren't spending enough time together to get to that place where deeper conversations can happen.

Constant Catch Up Cycle

What is the Constant Catch-Up Cycle?

This Constant Catch-Up Cycle is what happens when we get together with friends and spend the whole time catching up (Read: updating and reporting) with each other since the last time we met, be it a month ago or a year ago. How are you? How's work going? How's your family? How's so-and-so? Are you dating? By the time we both give a cliff notes version to our lives, the check has come (or the commute is over so the phone call is too) and our time together is over, until next time.

What does feel good about this experience is that we can check that person off our list of people we need to "catch up with" and we feel accomplished in some way that we've now fulfilled a friendship responsibility.  Furthermore, and this is no small thing, it does keep us in touch which helps us feel like we're a wee bit closer to each other if we, or they, ever needed it.

Unfortunately, what doesn't feel good about this all-too-common experience is that these drive-by catch-ups rarely touch our hearts or enhance our lives.  Chances are high that we drove home, or got off the phone, and felt relief, but not necessarily love and joy.  It's more likely we alleviated some guilt than found ourselves excited to repeat it again. In other words, while they may now know how we feel about our job and we may know how their kids are doing, there are many things we simply can't experience when the time is too infrequent or too rushed.

The Price of Catching Up

Getting caught up in the Constant Catch-Up Cycle means that every time we're together we're focused on what has happened in our lives, which means that there are many feelings, topics, and experiences (usually all the ones we most crave!) that aren't as likely to happen.

Here are some of the things we often sacrifice when our time is limited or infrequent:

  • Pursuing the Transcendental and Philosophical Themes: We probably don't take the time to meander into topics like fears, ideas, politics, injustice, creative process, or personal growth since those don't come up in the first three questions we ask and answer. And even if we did mention them as part of an update... when was the last time we got into a long conversation where we both were sharing, prodding, growing, and learning?
  • Sharing the Unspoken Vulnerabilities: We are less likely to share our secret worries or dreams because we tend to stay on what's concrete and has happened, rather than on what really matters and what might happen. And the shorter our time together is, the less willing we will be to open something that feels big to us. We may have withheld something that is unfolding in our lives because we reasoned that it would take too long to catch them up on the back story.
  • The Opportunity for New Memories: We rarely create new memories together or have genuine fun together when we're "just grabbing a meal" or "calling real quick."  When was the last time we actually did something together that felt fulfilling, fun, and something to put in the memory bank?
  • The Feeling of Being in the Flow: We may not have been present enough to be ready to laugh, to pause, or to feel whatever needed to be felt since those things so often come from the part of us that is present, relaxed and open, not the part of us that is multi-tasking, rushed, and thinking about where we have to be next. When was the last time we were together without needing to do something or be somewhere afterward? When were we just sitting back ready to let our time together unfold and flow?
  • The Probability of Feeling Relaxed and Easy: If we don't see each other often then we have to spend our time "catching up" instead of watching movies, relaxing together, or just hanging out in each others homes. If we haven't talked in a while then it feels weird to call for 10 minutes while we're making dinner to ask her what she's cooking tonight. The more rare our time together is the less likely it is to feel like we're doing life together in a relaxed and easy manner. Sometimes talking about "nothing" is a hallmark of intimate type of friendship.

Chances are high that when most of us crave more meaningful friendships-- that it includes some of the things on that list above? I rarely am thinking, "Wow I wish I had someone to just call and update!" Instead, we're pining for laughter, long and deep conversations about life, the feeling of safety and ease, the relaxed feeling that spaciousness and intimacy creates.

The Invitation to Move Beyond Catching Up

I call this tendency a Cycle because just as it can be true that the less we see each other, the less meaningful our time together will often feel, which then reinforces the infrequency; so too is the opposite: the more consistent we are or the more we allow longer periods of time with those friends-- the more meaningful those friendships can often feel.  All it takes is one amazing long evening of laughter and authentic sharing and we'll be more excited to schedule it into our lives with a "yes please! I want more of that!"

We obviously can't do deep and consistent time with every friend in our lives, but we most certainly need it with a few.  Which friendship in your life isn't feeling super meaningful right now because you two are caught up in the Constant Catch-Up Cycle? And what might you do to increase the odds of the two of you getting past the "catch-up" so you can actually move into the enjoying of this friendship?