When the country went under lockdown last year, there was a great deal of hand-wringing and public angst over how lonely everyone was, what with having to forego all of their accustomed socializing in favor of not-quite-the-same Zoom happy hours. A number of people, however, reacted in different ways, ranging from smug to seething as they talked back to their TV sets (one of the top ten habits of the always alone) and told them, “I don’t have any friends to be missing.” If you find yourself in the latter category, well, you may not be quite so alone on your lonely island as you may think.
According to a 2019 survey by YouGov, nine percent of Baby Boomers, 16 percent of Gen Xers, and 22 percent of millennials report having no friends whatsoever. Yes, those no longer young and carefree millennials (a Financial Post article from that same year describes the generation as “hurtling into their 40s”) may be the loneliest group of all, despite all those beer commercials showing herds of happy, high-fiving 30-somethings. Making friends in elementary school is as easy as sharing the red crayon with your desk mate, and even up through your college years it’s just as easy to make new friends as it is to outgrow the old ones. Once you pass this point, however, you won’t believe how quickly “easy come, easy go” turns into “never come, always go.”
Why we can't make friends as we get older
Okay, new friend-making isn’t exactly impossible. YouGov pollsters did say that around 40 percent of the people they surveyed (millennials included) had managed to make a new friend in the previous six months. Where did they make those friends? The usual pre-pandemic suspects: Work, church, or neighborhood activities. Some even managed to make friends by way of their children. (The survey data didn’t break it down for us, but we’re guessing these friendship-facilitating kids were on the younger side. Once your offspring hit their teen years, much of their hanging out may occur online in a world that’s virtually parent-free.)
So what about the other 60 percent who didn’t find a new buddy? YouGov lists shyness, lack of time, and lack of opportunity as the top reasons so many of us have no social lives. As to why the friendless factor kicks in as we hit adulthood, Bustle spoke to several experts about this. Once we’re out of school, therapist Miriam Kirmayer says, “we’re no longer surrounded by a group of same-age peers who happen to be in a similar life stage and with whom we have things in common.” While Dr. William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, points out, “Life gets a little more complicated when you’re an adult” (jobs, relationships, kids, etc.) and asks, “What time does that leave to make friends?”
Making friends may take some work
Yes, it would be nice to have more friends, or so those beer commercials tell us, as well as all of the friendship experts determined to bombard us with scary statistics about how lack of social connection is literally going to kill us (via Harvard Health Publishing). It seems, though, as if making new friends is going to require a lot of effort — and having a skin thicker than a rhino’s probably wouldn’t hurt much, either. It would be easiest, of course, if you still have some old friends, as YouGov says over half of us do. Still, if by “friends” you mean someone from your distant past you’ve re-connected with on social media, but that connection is limited to a few random likes once or twice a year and perhaps a HBD post if you get a reminder in time, well … it could be kind of weird if you suddenly start pushing to deepen the relationship. If you’d rather start afresh, well, Bustle says there are apps for that. Wow, such fun — now you can get to experience all of the awkwardness of online dating even if you’re just looking for a platonic connection.
Forcing new friendships might not be the best approach
Maybe, though, friendship apps and meetups aren’t your thing. If the thought of these makes you uncomfortable, don’t worry, there may be a better way to find new friends than pursuing it like you’re networking to find a new job. As author James Clear Tweeted, “Friendship happens on the way to something else.” He goes on to explain, “If you ‘try to meet new people’ it feels weird and forced. The more you aim for friendship, the more it eludes you. But if you aim to learn or achieve something with others, friendship happens naturally during the shared pursuit.”
One Lifehacker contributor very much agrees with this sentiment. She stated that joining an exercise class didn’t really net her too many new pals, since everyone was focused on their individual goals. When she joined a choir, however, she was working alongside others in pursuit of a common goal and closeness ensued.
Or … you could just embrace the upside of being alone
Okay, you know all those scary stats out there meant to prove that if you don’t go out and make a bunch of new friends immediately you’ll die before you even hit retirement age and will inevitably be eaten by your pets before anyone even notices? The dangers of loneliness, it seems, may have been a teensy bit exaggerated. A 2018 study published in the medical journal, Heart, found that when you looked at social isolation as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and you then also took into account other factors such as study subjects’ socioeconomic levels, preexisting health conditions, levels of physical fitness, smoking, drinking, etc., loneliness itself played a far less significant role than was previously thought to be the case.
According to Healthline, there’s no need to feel bad about having a social circle consisting of you and maybe a few furry friends. While “the norm” may be to have close interpersonal relationships, everyone’s wired differently, and, for some, being alone may be the most desirable state. Time spent by yourself can make you more creative, more fulfilled, and more able to pursue your own dreams and goals, whereas forcing yourself into ill-fitting friendships does more harm than good. Let your instincts be your guide, they say. If you feel the need for friends, try to pursue this via whatever avenue feels most comfortable, but if you don’t, there is no shame in solitude.
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