Making friends. It’s an area where kids and adults can struggle (myself included). Friendship in your 30s is especially complicated by busy schedules, kid’s activities and the three “socials” – social media, social pressure and social anxiety.
I was raised in a small town surrounded by the same people for my first 18 years of life. I didn’t realize until I went to college that a skill I never fully developed was friend-making. I was an only child who had just grown up around friends (some of whom are still my most cherished friends to this day).
Making friends in college was a challenge for me. I was separated from my lifelong friends, so every bit of self-doubt I ever had crept into my mind when interacting with new people. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, rarely allowed myself to let loose and have fun, and tended to overthink every social interaction. Quite frankly, I wasn’t being the kind of friend many people wanted. Anxiety was impeding my ability to make the big group of friends I so desperately wanted in my 20s.
Thankfully, everything has changed in my 30s. Rather than a secret formula for finding and making friends, the biggest transformation from age 29 to 39 for me is in my mindset.
Here are my 8 keys to friendship in your 30s.
Nurture long-time relationships. If you’ve had someone by your side for years, cherish it. You’ll have seasons of life when you only see each other occasionally and that’s okay, but find a way to stay in touch even as you make new friends. You never know when you’ll need to find comfort in someone who has known you for years.
- You have to plan ahead. Friendship in your 30s takes a little effort, especially if you’re trying to connect with other busy moms. Avoid saying, “let’s get together sometime” and ask “when can we get together” instead. Toss out dates, pick one and put it on your calendars. Make a commitment to getting together (even if it takes a reschedule or two to make an outing happen).
- Get together without kids, when possible. I love kids, but women in their 30s need time alone sometimes. Real talk and real connection happens when there aren’t little ears (and lots of distractions) in the room.
- Ask people to hang out. Sounds simple, right? I’ll tell you what, though, this was the hardest thing for me when trying to make new friends in college and beyond. I’d think of every reason NOT to ask someone to hang out. Some of my favorite excuses include: I’m sure they’re already busy, we’re not good enough friends, they’ll think whatever I ask them to do is lame… and the list goes on. I’ve learned, though, that you won’t get asked to do anything if you don’t also ask other people to do things.
- Accept that people will say no sometimes. This is the natural follow up to #4. Don’t get discouraged when you get up the nerve to ask someone to hang out and they say no. I mean, how many times have you had to decline an invitation? Probably a lot. If someone says they can’t get together, don’t jump to the worst possible reason why (like “guess this means they hate me”). Assume positive intent and recognize that the most likely reason they said no is because it just won’t work out this time.
- You won’t always be included. You will inevitably find out about gatherings that didn’t include you. That feeling can sting, but resist the urge to feel jealous or angry. I’d encourage you to do one of three things… chat with someone in the group about possibly being included next time, ignore it all together, or consider it a sign that it might be time to find new friends. If you’re always making an effort in a friendship and it’s not reciprocated, it may not be the right relationship to foster. And that’s okay, especially if it’s stressing you out. As Elsa would say, “let it go”.
- Everyone is awkward. Pretty much everyone feels at least a little awkward when it comes to social situations. I’ve accepted and embraced that. Asking a new friend to hang out can feel a little like you’re dating. You don’t know each other super well, but you know you want to try spending a little time together. So, you awkwardly navigate the first few months of friendship to see if something is there. Don’t worry, your new friend is probably feeling the exact same way, so embrace the awkward!
- Watch out for the three “socials”. Social pressure, social anxiety and social media can all present challenges to friendship in your 30s. You might be someone who tries to conform to what others are doing in order to fit in, succumbing to social pressure. Or, perhaps you’re overcome with nerves when you’re out with others, affected by social anxiety. And of course, we can all relate to the filtered lives we see on social media and how they can affect our mental health. Be aware of the three “socials” and how they impact your ability to form thriving, authentic friendships.
No matter how many people you see on social media shining a spotlight on their “village” or the people they’re “doing life with”, I’ve learned that there are many, many more moms out there who are longing for a village or even one close friend.
So if you’re struggling to forge new friendships in your 30s, stay the course. Keep asking people to get together. Accept invitations when you’re asked to hang out with others. Join community groups or get active in your children’s school to expand your network. Do something kind for someone in your circle. Start a group text and share funny memes. Try to be the kind of person you’d befriend and go places where you might encounter like-minded people.
And more than anything, be comfortable being you (even if you’re awkward… because we all are).