How to Make Friends in Your Twenties
advice from a lonely teenager turned somewhat social butterfly
From my childhood, I have this distinct memory of visiting the village with my mother and baking sandcakes with other children. Our adventures were wild and fun. We would enter into bushes seeking snails, then risk being caught by the adults who had been assigned to keep an eye on us as we roasted them in the firewood kitchen. Those brief stints of friendship encapsulate what making friends as a child feels like — it’s effortless, conjured by a joint desire to fulfil an end: have fun. As a child, friendship is full of activity, stories and songs. Friendship is a verb, not a noun. It’s an easy thing to do.
You get older, and you become more aware of yourself and your environment, and I think this self-consciousness breaks down the ability to easily connect with others. Instead of seeing ourselves as a collective — as teenagers seeking connection — we become individuals. We look at other young people our age, and we see beyond them, noticing the things they carry—class, beauty, money, skill—and what these things can mean for us. It’s a no-brainer why most teen movies have that one cafeteria scene where the ‘cool’ friend breaks down the cliques sitting table to table to the new girl (whose presence would inevitably stir things up at school).
Teenagehood is scary, and the problems that come with it can be very peculiar. Soon, making friends becomes an activity that fills our brains with anxiety. Do they like me? Did I say something wrong? Am I just being tolerated? These questions plague us until we reach adulthood and new things come into play — like building a career and needing to prove ourselves as valuable to network with.
So how do we navigate making friends in our adulthood? If I were being honest, I’m still learning. My teenage years were awkward and lonely, and making friends filled me with so much anxiety. In my adulthood, there have been some struggles, but I have also had a good share of successes, and so I will be sharing some tips/advice that has helped me along the way, and I hope they are able to help you too!
Friendship is by Choice, not by Force: I remember using this phrase a lot when my younger brother misbehaved as a child. I would tell him that I didn’t want to be friends anymore, and when he protested, I used it as a gavel: Friendship is by Choice, not by Force. It’s funny, but it’s true. Not everyone can be your person or be as close as you want them to be with you, and realising this will make it a lot easier to handle friendship-related disappointments. People don’t always click on an intimate level, and a lot of the time, it has nothing to do with either party. It’s just life. Don’t force things. Know when to let go of a connection you’re trying to build, especially when you’re not getting the energy you deserve. Value yourself. You deserve people who would be excited to get to know you.
Have a Life: It sounds very basic, but to connect with people, you need hooks — things they can affix on that will serve as connecting factors. Pegs you can hang clothes on, so to speak; and this is one of the reasons why cultivating your interests and your hobbies is very important. I have become friends with people simply because I wrote, and they were writers as well, and we were able to connect on that one thing. Having something to offer not only helps with attracting potential friends, it also helps you nurture conversations, which is the best tool for bonding with others. I mean, think about it. What will your conversation be like with someone who you have no shared interests with? If it does not feel like a one-sided interview, it will be boring, and you don’t want that. So nurture experiences, learn skills, do things worth sharing. You will be happy you did.
Be Where People Are: Every last Thursday of the month, I try to visit The Open Mic event at Ouida Lagos. Not only is it fun and inspiring to be in the midst of other writers and creatives, but it’s also a great avenue to meet and mingle with writers, and truthfully, it’s given me some of my closest friends. How would you make friends if you’re always at home and your social media accounts are on private? If you want to make friends, you have to put yourself where the people you are trying to meet are. Do you think your parents only attend church because they are religious? No, they also go there to socialize. Attending events and introducing yourself to people is a good avenue to make friends. Exchange contacts if you vibe, and try to reach out within the first 48 hours of meeting, so they don’t forget.
Be Open: Newsflash — you’re not the only person who feels anxious about connecting with others. A study in the US revealed that about 75% of people had experienced some form of social anxiety at some point in their lives. We’re all given to vulnerability in public spaces, so please don’t feel so alone. Making friends is a lot easier when you seem friendly, open and confident. As much as you can, try not to merely answer questions thrown at you or take compliments; return the energy and keep it going!
Don’t Overthink It: Trust me, nobody remembers that you stuttered, or you made a mistake when pronouncing a word, or your shirt is missing a button. They are thinking about whether or not they are leaving a good impression, like you! I think there is some comfort in that, don’t you think? And even if they remember your blunders, so what? You are not the first person to ever make a mistake, so don’t hold it over your head. I have also found that addressing the elephant in the room, your anxiety, generally makes people more sympathetic and understanding. Saying, “I’m shy” or “I’m nervous,” can really go a long way.
Be Interested in What People Have to Say: I have found that being interested in what people have to say is one of the easiest ways to make friends. It works like magic. Why? Because people love themselves and are usually more comfortable speaking than listening or asking questions. If you’re an introvert, this is great because you most likely have the inbuilt skill of listening. So ask questions, and pay attention to details. Trust me, it works!
Patient Dog and Fattest Bone: I have people I have known and admired for a few years that I only got to connect with this year, randomly. Not all connections are instantaneous or are placed for the season of life you’re in, so give good things time. If it’s meant to be, it will be.
Also, sometimes the problem is not that we don’t know how to make new friends. Sometimes it is that we don’t rate the friends we already have, and we are searching for “greener” pastures. So be sure to check your motivations for wanting to be friends with certain people. You might be letting go of genuine connections to be in crowds you consider “happening” or “cool” and they might not even rate you like that. If you are friends with people who love you and whose values align with yours, then treat them with respect. Friendships are like romantic relationships, so develop the habit of cultivating your own. Go out, make memories, grow together. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Thank you for reading this week’s newsletter.
I love you. Have a great week.
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Media I Consumed Last Week
Watched: One Piece (Live Action). I watched this for one reason, and one reason only — Zoro. What a beautiful, beautiful man. I think it was a really fun watch tbh, and a great live adaptation.
Read: Still reading a Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I love Harold and his chapters.
I also read this article written by Kendrick Lamar, where he interviewed Tems on her background and her work as an artist. It’s so vulnerable and imbued with lessons. You should read it, too.
And this article by Daisy Schofield on how money can be a dividing line in friendships, especially as we get older. I think it is an insightful read, and you should check it out.