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The Scientific Reason It’s So Hard to Make Friends as an Adult (and What to Do About It)

Jessica Stillman


For years, the surgeon general has been warning that America is in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and the forced physical separation of the pandemic certainly didn’t help us stay in touch. Surveys show that many Americans lost friends thanks to two years of shutdowns and restrictions, with older Americans more likely to have lost touch with friends.

Some see this as a positive change, a matter of pruning back our social lives to fewer but stronger ties. But for lots of folks the pandemic has simply been lonely. If you’ve moved into or beyond middle age, what are your prospects for growing your circle of friendships again on the other side of covid craziness?

The bad news

I’ll hit you with the bad news first. You’re not just crazy. If you get the sense that it’s way harder to make friends as an adult than it was when you were younger, you’re on to something. The difficulty isn’t that you’re uncool or awkward. It’s that the essential building blocks of friendship are harder to come by when you’re older.

“Sociologists have kind of identified the ingredients that need to be in place for us to make friends organically, and they are continuous unplanned interaction and shared vulnerability,” University of Maryland psychologist Marisa Franco told Boston’s NPR news station, WBUR. “As we become adults, we have less and less environments where those ingredients are at play.”

Adults with jobs, kids, and a collection of other responsibilities also simply have less time available for making friends. And research shows making a casual friend takes 50 hours on average, while close friendships take 200 hours.

The good news

That figure might sound depressing for adults who wish they had more friends in their lives — after all, finding a spare two hours can seem difficult for busy professionals, never mind 200 — but Franco insists that while making friends later in life largely doesn’t happen organically like it did back when you were in school, it’s far from impossible.

They key, she tells WBUR, is not to rely on chance and instead to organize regularly scheduled group activities like a book…



Jessica Stillman

Top columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast.