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  • Larissa Parson

Navigating Connection in the Midst of Life's Chaos: How to make and keep friends as an adult

Navigating Connection in the Midst of Life's Chaos: How to make and keep friends as an adult by Larissa Parson for SOULACY Magazine

One of my favorite people and closest friends is, on the surface, my polar opposite. She’s pearls and heels and dresses, I’m t-shirts and leggings and barefoot as often as possible. But we have such good conversations with each other that we started a podcast. Most of our texts look like this: “I’m reading this interesting thing, can we talk about it on our next walk?” I don’t start podcasts with all my friends, thank goodness, but doing so has led me to reflect on how we make friends, once we’re adults. I’m not alone in this pondering. There have been a bunch of essays published recently bemoaning why it’s so hard to make friends once you’re past the age of living in a college dorm, or if you have kids, once kids are school-age. Two years of an isolating pandemic on top of a polarized political environment will certainly make you think more deeply about who your friends are.

I’m defining “friend” narrowly for the purposes of this article: I don’t mean that person you’re Facebook friends with. I don’t mean that neighbor you chat to when you both happen to be in line at the coffee shop. I mean it to describe someone you deliberately make time to connect with, in whatever way works for y’all. That person who seems to always judge everything you do, or you worry they’re judging everything you do? They’re not your friend.

I’m going to tell you the terrible truth up front: Making and keeping friends in middle age requires a lot of something we all seem to lack - time. And it takes work. Overwhelmingly, when I asked around on Instagram last week, lack of time was the number one culprit of destroyed friendships. Number two? Getting tired of always being the one reaching out or making plans. And of course there’s “we just grew apart.” 

Let me tackle the third one first: It’s normal and healthy to grow and change as you move through life. And sometimes that means losing friends and making new friends. Your friends are people you can trust to see you as you are now, not only as you were when you were 12 (or 24, or 38…). That doesn’t mean you can’t have a meaningful friendship with that one friend you see every six months; but you probably put in the time to establish your relationship at some point, and the person you are now still vibes with the person they’ve grown into, too. And it’s okay to mourn friendships that seem to have expired. Feeling sad and growing apart aren’t inherently bad things; relationships don’t always last forever, and it hurts when they’re over.

As far as working on your friendships goes, I’m not saying you need to go to therapy with your friends, like Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman did. But if you don’t have time for your friends, you might need to get creative. Most of my local friends are walking partners. I take at least three, sometimes four walks with different friends every week, because I’m going to go for a walk anyway. Some folks do things like train for marathons with their friends, or meet up for playdates with kids and adult friends (and this is honestly the other big component of my social life, as a homeschooling mom). Or have a monthly “book club” meeting. Cultivating friendships takes time. And! Not every friend needs to be your closest friend. It’s okay to have different circles and levels of intimacy. 

My podcast partner, Elizabeth M. Johnson, speaks and writes about an idea that’s worth sharing here: Your Right People. These are the people whom you can trust to both have your back and call you on your bullshit, with love. (That’s not how Elizabeth puts it, but it’s how I understand it.)

Our best friendships often last longer than our romantic relationships. And sometimes they don’t. Our Right People, our close friends, are people whom we love, who also love us back, in the way that bell hooks defines love in All About Love – with “a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge, and responsibility” (54). 

Your Right People are people you can be vulnerable with, and who will show up for you when you need them. “They’re safe and healthy for you,” as Elizabeth puts it. There is also reciprocity in these relationships: though sometimes they might look lopsided (e.g., when one friend gets a cancer diagnosis and needs to lean on the support of her friends), there is a mutuality of care and love for each other; you don’t have to second-guess whether your Right People will respond to your text asking for help, and you know they’re going to listen first before leaping to judgment.

All that doesn’t mean that your Right People can read your mind or anticipate that you want to hang out. Ideally, it’s a mutually delightful relationship, and you’ll reach out to each other. But there’s no shame in making a list of people to reconnect with, especially among those friends who aren’t in your innermost circle. (Mia Birdsong, author of How We Show Up, does this with sticky notes.)

Of course, the hardest part of making and keeping friends is the making friends part. I’m sad to say that this takes effort, too:

  1. You’ll make the best friends when you have something in common. Book club, hiking group, Facebook group, yoga class, shared values and causes. Keep an eye out for people who seem like the kind of people you’d like. I met Elizabeth through a local business networking group, and we attended each other’s workshops before we went on a walk. One of my besties, I met because our kids had matching shoes (seriously, and she is one of my ride-or-die friends). It doesn’t take much. Just anything that starts a conversation.

  2. Be brave – Reach for the connection. It can be a statement: “I love how you enjoy hiking on the Eno like I do.” Or it can include a question: “Hi! I love how you talked about XYZ at the book club meeting. Do you want to talk more about it over coffee?” or “Zoom/phone date sometime?” or “Want to meet up again with our kids?” It might feel as scary as dating, and it is because you’re being vulnerable.

  3. Take it slow – Maybe you just exchange texts or emails for a while, maybe sharing a “I thought about you when I saw this.” Sometimes, you really hit it off with someone. And that’s great. Slow can just mean making sure you are still making time for other people in your life.

  4. When you’re ready, take it to the next level: Meet up for a walk or a coffee, or make that Zoom chat happen. Or just plan to connect the next time that group you’re in meets (I’m a big fan of the private Zoom chat “Hey! Let’s connect soon!” message). Something low stakes. If the chemistry isn’t there, you’ve lost nothing.

  5. Vulnerability exchanges (h/t to Elizabeth for this language): A friendship can’t deepen and last without allowing yourself to be seen for who you really are. Sometimes these look small: “I really don’t like chocolate at all.” Or sometimes they’re big: “I’m anxious about my child’s recent diagnosis.” What to look for: Good friends will really listen; you can ask for help or just vent and both are fine. 

  6. Keep going: It’s often going to be easier to maintain friendships with people you can connect with more often. Keep finding ways to connect. Maybe you check in via text, or set up a weekly/monthly phone or walking date. If they’re really right, they’ll do the same with you–and if they’re your friend, you can talk about what your needs are around inviting and responding to invitations, if you find yourself in the “I’m always the one extending invites” position. This is the hard work part, but it’s so worthwhile.

We need other people in order to thrive. I realize that this is antithetical to the American myth of bootstrapped individualism. Friendships bring things into your life that romantic relationships don’t. Or as Birdsong puts it, “friendships are part of what keep my marriage working. I get a range of love, affirmation, inspiration, perspective, and engagement that isn’t dependent on my husband or the state of our relationship” (75).

Our primary relationships in life do not need to be our romantic relationships. If we rely only on our romantic partners to provide us with emotional support and engagement in what lights us up, we’re doing ourselves and our partners a disservice. Humans are meant to live in community, not isolated family pods, and if we can’t all gather around the fire at night, then the next best thing is cultivating deep relationships with individuals or small groups.

Last weekend, I went to my book club for the first time since the Omicron surge, after a day that was full of frustration, rage, and exhaustion. In my book club we don’t just talk about books. Actually, we mostly don’t talk about books. Sometimes we watch a show together. We always eat something delicious. Our conversation last week ranged from Ukraine and imperialism, to the complexities of living in a capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal society, feminism and intersectionality, and, yes, books. I came home feeling whole. Lit up, joyful, and deliciously tired, and no longer filled with rage. This is one of the beauties of friendship. It’s about the conversations that connect us, about being able to show up and be seen and loved just as we are, without needing to put up a front. About being able to wrestle with the complexities and uncertainties of our world without losing hope, because we have each other.


TLDR: Making and keeping friends as an adult requires effort and time. It's important to have common interests, be brave in reaching out, take it slow, and engage in vulnerability exchanges. Maintaining friendships involves regular connection and mutual effort. Deep friendships provide support, perspective, and joy beyond romantic relationships.


Larissa Parson (she/her) is a joy and justice coach, podcaster, and writer. She helps her clients move toward radical self-love, body liberation, and joy, so they can live delight-filled, justice-oriented lives.



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