Monica and Rachel. Molly and Issa. Harry, Ron and Hermione.
We’re drawn to iconic friendships, and it’s no wonder why. Friends add meaning to our lives and support us through the highs, lows and humdrum in-betweens. And believe it or not, friendships can also add years to your life.
“No matter how you slice it, you find our social relationships influence how long we live,” says Sarah Campbell, assistant professor in the UW School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Researchers have found that strong social relationships increase lifespan, lower inflammation (and in turn help prevent the development of disease), reduce stress hormones like cortisol, and help combat loneliness and bolster mental health, Campbell says.
But you probably didn’t need research to know friendships make you feel better.
If we desire friendship and it’s good for us, why is it still so hard to make friends as an adult?
Why it’s hard to make friends as an adult (especially in Seattle)
Yep, we’re looking at you, Seattle Freeze.
The term refers to the difficulty many people face making new friends here. (References to the city’s socially chilly nature date back to the 1920s).
“People are pretty private here and pretty polite. They don’t intrude themselves, as they would see it, as opposed to Southern cities where people feel freedom to get to know you pretty quickly,” says Pepper Schwartz, a professor in the UW Department of Sociology.
This means it can be hard to casually form relationships in Seattle because you aren’t likely to strike up a conversation with someone on the bus or in line at the grocery store and become friends.
Another complicating factor is the long, dark winters. The dreary weather can cause seasonal affective disorder and in general causes people to spend more time indoors and at home. Plus, a past study found Washington state scored 48 out of 51 states plus D.C. on introversion, meaning regardless of gray skies, residents participate in fewer social activities and work in less social occupations than folks in other states.
The fact that adults have busier schedules, more responsibility and less willingness to try new things — including being vulnerable and meeting new people — all make it hard to form connections. And the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped.
But this doesn’t mean your friendship dreams are doomed.
While you might feel lonely, and that can be agonizing, you aren’t alone in this feeling. There are people out there looking for friendship. You just need to find them.
4 ways to meet new people and make friends
“Humans are meant to be in connection. It’s not optional for our mental and physical health,” Schwartz says.
Yes, it is hard to make friends. And yes, it is scary to put yourself out there. But friendship is worth the effort and the risk. You can do this; you just have to start.
1. Be willing to be a beginner
When it comes to making friends, you might be rusty, and that’s OK.
“In terms of making friends as adults, we’re a little out of practice. We do that regularly in grade school and college, but as adults we don’t put ourselves out there as often,” Campbell says.
The reality is you have to start where you are. If you are waiting to reach out to new people until you’ve mastered small talk, overcome social anxiety or perfected the art of the dinner party, you might not ever get to creating meaningful relationships.
Acknowledge if meeting new people feels uncomfortable, allow yourself the space to make mistakes and then begin.
2. Make the first move
How do you begin? Start by thinking about what you value and then finding ways to get involved.
This might mean getting involved with a political or social cause you care about, volunteering with an organization that inspires you, or joining a club of your interest, be it running, reading, climbing, cooking or any number of other activities. There are also apps and meet up groups that can help you connect with other people looking to make friends.
Entering these spaces can help you meet people, and from there you can ask someone you find interesting to grab coffee after a meeting or drinks after a run.
“It’s up to us to make the first move. You’ll be surprised how pleased people are when you do,” Schwartz says.
3. Build on your acquaintances
It also helps to think about who is already in your life that you’d like to reconnect with or get to know better.
In sociology there’s a concept called weak ties, which refers to your acquaintances, like the barista you chat with on your morning coffee run or a colleague you only see at quarterly conferences, Campbell says. These connections are a rich resource of people you already know and like.
“Weak ties can serve as a launching point for deeper connections. You may notice you’re really connecting with one of those people and it can turn into a closer relationship,” she says.
Even if you don’t forge deeper relationships with all of your acquaintances, having those small interactions is still extremely beneficial. While you probably aren’t calling your weak ties at 2 a.m. to talk about deep-seated fears (or even at 2 p.m. when you get a flat tire) research has shown these connections still serve to boost your health and well-being.
4. Put in effort (and give it time)
Friendships take time and effort, so while they’re worthwhile, they’re not easy.
“Making friends has to be an active process, not a passive process. You really do have to put the work in; friendship isn’t something that usually falls into your lap,” Campbell says.
Try to remind yourself that friendships develop over time as you have conversations, disclose information about yourself and bond over shared experiences.
Especially if you’re lonely, it can be hard to be patient with the process. Sometimes simply naming that you’re frustrated with how long it’s taking to make friends can help, and other times remembering how previous friendships formed with time is reassuring.
You also want to balance making new friends with your other goals, wants and needs. This means connecting with the people already in your life and practicing self-care.
Living in Seattle and making friendships can feel overwhelming but you can build your community here.
“You want to make big cities into small towns by having people you interact with, and you do that by investing in people,” Schwartz says.