Is your social group feeling stale? If so, you're far from the only one. A recent study by OnePoll in collaboration with Evite looked at the social habits of 2,000 American adults and found that on average, no one had made a new friend in the past five years. Reasons varied from shyness to a lack of hobbies to family commitments to cross-country moves, but the general consensus, according to nearly half of the study's respondents, was that making friends was simply "difficult."
It's certainly true that post-college adulthood isn't always conducive to forming new connections. While in school, you're surrounded by people who likely share your interests or experiences and are easier to bond with due to proximity, that's rarely true of the real world — especially if you've relocated to new city and have to start socializing from scratch, don't have any co-workers in your age range, or work remotely in a place separate from other people.
To make matters worse, the study also found that popularity tends to peak at age 23, a rough age to stop having a plethora of social connections considering the average American lives to be 79. And with loneliness on the rise and politics continuing to divide people nationwide, our lack of connections with others feels especially daunting.
Yet just because we're making fewer friends these days doesn't mean there's something wrong with us. "There is a stigma around the need to make new friends as an adult, but in reality, people are moving farther away and moving more often, which creates a natural need to find new friends in your new community," Alex Williamson, Chief Brand Officer at Bumble says. You might feel guilty for losing touch with your friends from childhood or college, but it's a totally normal thing to happen; after all, most people don't end up marrying their fifth-grade crushes or having their kindergarten buddies at their wedding.
While staying close with old friends can be great, it doesn't mean that the people from your past are all you need for social support. "It’s natural and normal to evolve and become distant from friends with the natural transitions and phases of life," Williamson says.
Moving on from old friendships is a perfectly normal thing, as is the struggle to replace them with new bonds — particularly for women, who've long faced another societal challenge: misogyny. "Historically, women have been pitted against each other and taught to see each other as competition in both their personal and professional lives," Williamson says.
Yet through apps like Bumble BFF, an extension of the dating app that helps women meet and make platonic friends, women can often find support systems more easily than in real life, Williamson says. "It’s become the norm to find a date online, and we think that it can be normal to find a friend online, too," she explains. This can also apply to men, for whom making new friendships or maintaining old ones can be tough due to issues surrounding toxic masculinity and stigma around emotional vulnerability.
To turn a casual introduction into a true friendship, whether online or in real life, Williamson says she encourages people to make the first move. "If you’re bonding over your love of exercise with your new connection, try taking the friendship offline by suggesting a yoga class or go hiking together at one of your favorite trails," she says.
She also advocates consistently spending time with friends to avoid letting the new connects fade out like the old ones. "As we get older, it can become more difficult to carve out quality time with our friends, but making time to cultivate our friendships is incredibly important," explains Williamson. "Sneak in small ways to keep up the momentum in our friendships, whether that’s running errands together, grabbing coffee before work, or going to an exercise class together."
And when you can't make time to get drinks or go to Target with a pal, Williamson suggests relying on technology, whether that's a quick FaceTime catchup or birthday video message. "Technology certainly isn’t a replacement for those in-person conversations, but it can help remind our friends that we are thinking of them, which helps to continue fostering strong and healthy friendships," she says.
For some people, maintaining a small network of close connections can be socially satisfying, and just because you haven't made a new friend in years doesn't mean your life isn't fulfilling, of course. But if you are looking to open up your social circle, consider stepping outside your comfort zone to make new connections and putting in more effort with the friendships you already have.