We all remember how good and happy we felt as kids when we had friends to play with on the playground. There’s something extra special about knowing that someone cares about you, somebody invited you along, somebody wants you in their group. As we grow into adults, though, it’s easy to think that we can do it all on our own. If we’re paying our own bills and working on our career—and especially if we have families or committed romantic relationships of our own—there’s no need to expend further time and energy on friendships, right? Wrong!
Grownups, even when they’re married and have kids, have a psychological core to socialize with others, and friends play a different role than family members do. For one thing, these relationships usually place fewer demands on us, so they’re not as draining. They also can work as a sounding board for fresh, new ideas and can give us a break from home life for a bit. For me personally, I adore my family, but sometimes it’s so refreshing and energizing to go out to lunch with a girlfriend.
There’s some really compelling social science evidence making the case for the importance of grownups having friends. In the past few years, there have been several research studies conducted that illustrate how adults with close friendships thrive better than those without them.
One of the more comprehensive and revealing research projects on this topic came out of Australia, where 1,500 seniors were closely followed for 15 years. The results? Those who spent a significant amount of time with friends lived about 22 percent longer than those who spent time only with family. This and other studies illustrate how maintaining close friendships can ward off loneliness and depression, increase enjoyment and satisfaction, and even make us more likely to fend off disease. So yes, friends are incredibly important to your physical and emotional health!
But let’s say you examine your life and realize you might be coming up a bit short in this department. It can be intimidating to get out of your comfort zone and forge new friendships, especially since so many other adults seem to be pretty well established in their social groups. How do you expand your circle of friends in a way that doesn’t come off as desperate or needy?
It’s actually okay to send the message that you’re looking for a friend or in need of some company (the individuals who do this in a way that turns people off don’t own up to what they want and may try to manipulate or guilt trip you into spending time together). I encourage you to be assertive and express directly that you’d like to get to know someone better.
I can think of several instances in my own life where I was at a gathering and crossed paths with someone who I could tell was a very interesting and engaging person, so I went up to her and said that I’d really like to be her friend! Don’t shy away from doing this; it’s really quite a compliment to someone that you’d be bold enough to say something like that.
And if you don’t get the response you’re hoping for, or the other person doesn’t seem to reciprocate? We all understand that adults are busy people, so I suggest reaching out three times. If you still aren’t getting feedback from the other person, it’s time to move on. But don’t stress! You can create a new friendship bond with someone else.
Another way to access the benefits that come with close adult relationships is to use the ones you already have! We get busy, we get married, we change jobs, we move around, etc., so it’s natural to lose touch and connection with people in our lives who once played a bigger role. Technology really is such a gift in that it helps us keep in touch. While we still need those face-to-face interactions, don’t underestimate the power of staying in contact via Facebook, email, blogging, etc. Some of my very dearest friends are those whom I don’t see very often, but we use social media to stay updated on each others’ lives!
And remember that there are different levels of friendship; not everyone is going to be our best friend, and that’s okay. So some people you might communicate with quite frequently, while others you choose to touch base with occasionally. Whatever your specific circumstances, make sure you are devoting at least some of yourself to those friendships. You’ll be happier and better off for it!
I’m very grateful for my adult friendships; they have enriched my life and also given me much-needed support at times. I invite you to consider the state of your own friendships. Have they taken a back seat to other responsibilities? We’re all very busy, but perhaps it’s time you reached out to rekindle a connection with a long-lost friend. Or maybe branch out and create new connections. Adult friendships can play a crucial role in your life; don’t neglect them!