Humans are hard-wired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Unfortunately, when it comes to making friends as an adult, our self-protective instincts can be our worst enemies.
By the time we reach our 60th birthdays, most of us have experienced our share of emotional pain. We have seen betrayal, even from people close to us. We have witnessed the dark side of human nature. We have been deceived more times than we care to remember. In short, we have earned our emotional battle-scars.
In response, many of us build up walls. Unfortunately, these protective behaviors keep us isolated and stop us from making friends as an adult. Why? Because making friends requires a certain amount of vulnerability.
As Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, said in a recent interview:
Vulnerability is the key to emotional bonding, without which relationships tend to feel superficial and meaningless.
Everyone wants to protect themselves from emotional pain, but, not everyone has the same protective behaviors. What are you afraid of? Are you worried about getting hurt again? Are you afraid of rejection? Are you concerned about looking stupid, while trying a new activity or learning a new skill?
The first step to making friends as an adult is to understand how your own behaviors may be preventing you from getting out into the world. Once you do, you will be able to take small steps to increase your tolerance for feeling vulnerable.
Overcoming your social fears should be slightly uncomfortable, but, never terrifying. As with so many aspects of life, the trick is to start small and increase your commitment as your confidence grows. For example, if you want to join a yoga class, but are too nervous to jump right in, you might break down the problem as follows.
On the first day, walk past the gym. On the second day, go into the building and spend a few minutes watching the class through the small window on the door. On the third day, wait until the class leaves and have a chat with the instructor. If it makes you feel more comfortable, ask her which of her classes has the fewest students. Spend the next few days, practicing gentle yoga at home. Finally, attend your first class.
Don’t be embarrassed to follow this kind of incremental approach. Most people fail because they try to do too much too quickly. Don’t forget: you’re trying to build healthy habits, not demonstrate your willpower.
When it comes to making friends as an adult, the trick is to find the sweet spot that allows you to feel vulnerable, not terrified. Forget the advice to “just get out there and make friends.” Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your social live won’t be either.
Do you agree or disagree that being a little vulnerable is essential to making friends as an adult? Why or why not? Have you recently made any friends through an activity that you were scared to try at first? Please join the conversation.
Here is a short video that I recorded on making friends as an adult. I hope that you find it useful.