Have you ever thought about the phrase “making friends” and mused at how odd the verb choice is? To “make a friend” is to form an interpersonal alliance that normally includes freedom of vulnerability, trust, humor, reliability, and love. We don’t create our friends, though. We simply engage in an unspoken social agreement with other people for mutual benefit. To be honest, I’m describing friendship in a very dry way. In contrast, “making a friend” sounds more amusing. I guess there really is no better way to put it. Making friends is part of the human experience.
But friendship is more complicated than the common phrase suggests. When we think of the word “make,” we think about construction or creation. Since we’re not gods, we probably aren’t able to consolidate flesh, bone, and soul into a human friend. There is no instruction manual to make a friend the way you might find a recipe to make a cake. There is no formula for friendship since the way to any person’s heart is as unique as the snowflakes that fall in winter. You just can’t break friendship down into a science.
And for people who prefer predictability, instructions, directions, and order in the chaos, this characteristic of friendship makes for some choppy waters. When I was growing up, I didn’t know how to make a friend. In fact, my first years of education were rife with anxiety I didn’t recognize. My best friend for a while was named “Survival.” Because if I could just get out of school and go home where I felt safest, that was my success. My parents, at the time, seemed to be enough. I also had a brother. But because fear and anxiety took over, I didn’t have room to even desire a friendship.
Somehow, someway, I made my first friend in elementary school. We seemed to bond over the things little kids liked back in the day. In particular, though, we drew comics. He came up with a concept and I took it and ran with it. I remember he used to draw Mega Man characters. Anyway, I can’t tell you exactly when our social contract was signed. I can’t even tell you exactly how. As silent as I was, how did I even begin to talk, to engage?
There’s no easy answer. Like I said, friendship isn’t a science. Where comics may have paved the way toward my friendship with my first friend, the bonding between other friends took different routes. Of course, not entirely different routes. As a young boy growing up, I was interested in the things you’d expect–namely, video games. Say what you will about games, but I promise there’s nothing that glues friends together quite like them.
As we age, I think the way we see friendship changes. As kids, I think we focus on the label. No, we’re not saying, “Hey, let’s agree to be friends.” Such explicit terms don’t exist. Even as kids, friendship isn’t something typically spoken. It just . . . happens. Still, I think kids view friendship as a position or a role. Think about the power a child feels knowing that this other person they’re fond of is their friend. Now that the friendship is “activated,” the possibilities are endless. Now, you have sleepovers, video game sessions, and other chances to cultivate fondness, humor, and friendly competition.
As we grow, friendship is less of a label and more of a vague sensation with, just as when we were younger, an unspoken agreement to be socially beneficial to one another. When I was in middle school, there was no one person I considered a close friend. Instead, I was just on the periphery of a group of pals who liked games, anime, and the the more nerdy things. I was somewhere in the middle of the nerd spectrum and typically got along with most everyone. Was anyone a true friend? That’s hard to say. I liked them and got along with them. That counts for something, right?
But in truth, making friends is hard as an adult. Why? Well, the concept of “making friends” is juvenile at that point. As an adult, friendship is less of a goal to accomplish and more of an incidental status we collect. Most adults wouldn’t admit or act as if they want to make a friend. Instead, what we do is mingle and chat in the hopes that a connection will be made. And if we’ve successfully made a friend, we simply know it and assume they feel the same way.
Maybe the tactic of making our aims more explicit worked as children. But as adults, we’re kinda forced to be more creative. If someone appears desperate, then they tend to repel people. In keeping with the norms of adulthood, we communicate our desire to make a friend by never actually making it verbally clear. I have never heard a grown adult ask another, “Do you want to be my friend?” And because we aren’t comfortable being too explicit in our aims, we are left to navigate the world with uncertainty. We want friends, but we’re not always sure where to start. And no one can really give you an answer.
Maybe this is why loneliness is the pandemic that we’ve had long before COVID-19. Making friends as adults is even harder when our childhoods were lacking in the friends department. I don’t know that “making friends” is something that can be taught. I mean, sure, we can be taught how to be decent humans, but being decent isn’t enough to make a friend. I have never made a friend with good manners, alone. No, it takes more.
I think what separates friendship from simply “getting along” with others is vulnerability. I like a lot of people, but there are things I wouldn’t share. I would have to build that bond and form that level of trust before I could even begin to be vulnerable. With true friends, you can shed the armor. Friends allow you to be yourself and accept you along with your emotions, struggles, etc. Friends will help you or at least listen to you. And even when they disagree, the mark of friendship is the ability to bounce back. The hardest part is choosing when, if ever, to shed the armor.
Rejection hurts. As adults, we go through a lot as it is. Work may drain us. Obligations weigh us down. But then, to try to make a friend only to receive rejection feels like a knife through the heart. We discern that the pain of rejection is greater than the pain of loneliness. Of course, that’s a myth, but we tell ourselves that we need to find happiness in ourselves. To some extent, that’s true–we do need to be comfortable in solitude and we do need to love ourselves. At the same time, we aren’t meant to be islands without bridges to connect to other islands. What is life without the context of other people? No one can say, “I don’t need friends” and be correct.
So, how does one make friends as an adult?
I don’t know. My best guess is that work will connect people, and sometimes two acquaintances become two friends. In addition, there are “meetup” opportunities in big cities. Oftentimes, it seems people make friends by engaging in activities of mutual interest. Also, the Internet is still a valuable tool in finding people to talk to. In fact, the Internet may be the best bet for those with social anxiety or who have no idea where to start.
I’m going to be honest here. My motivation to make a new friend is stagnant. I have a close friend and we’ve been chatting online for a long time. The friendship we have is one built on support of one another, no matter the circumstance. I am grateful for the fact that we’re still friends after all this time. My friendship with her is solid to the point where I don’t much feel the need to make any other friends. The problem is that this line of thinking is restrictive. While I do believe that quality means more than quantity when it comes to friends, I’m not too sure that closing myself off to making more friends is a healthy mindset.
The reason I say this is that mental illnesses thrive off of foregone conclusions. “I’ll never do X” or “I’ll never achieve X” are just some of the restrictive thoughts we might encounter. If we can’t make friends, then it’s much easier to think, Well, I’m not really looking for friends, anyway. But if we’re being honest, that’s often a cop out. In my mind, I have closed myself off. I’m not letting others in. My closest friend allows me to feel more human, more social, more honest in my interactions. But the danger is making her my sole source of opening up and sharing. The problem will become, at its extreme, a dependency on my friend. And that’s just not healthy.
I am the only one to blame for the fact that I don’t have more friends. I say this and make it clear to put accountability on myself. My closest friend will remain close and I will continue to be a good friend to her. But, closing myself off to friendship with others by default is something that’s going to take work. And if I’m being honest, I don’t want to work. For years, I’ve found ways to sabotage any chances I could be friends with more people. On the outside, it would seem like bad luck. But on the inside, I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m running from people until they finally let me be. I go silent. I get dull. I escape anxiety by refusing to open up.
I don’t write in this blog because I have it all figured out. I am still struggling. When I have chances to reveal more about myself or get closer, I silence myself. The spark eventually dies out. An idea becomes nothing but a distant memory. Silence prevails.
See, I’m sure people could give me advice. That’s great and all. But my motivation is low. It’s kinda the same with dating. Sure, I could get an app for singles. I could meet people. But I don’t want to. Is it because I genuinely don’t have the desire and am completely closed off? Or, is it because I just can’t bear the thought of trying? And the anxiety and fear is so great that it masks itself as disinterest? These are things to think about.
Either way, I am grateful for the people in my life, no matter where they fall on the friend scale. I can’t literally “make” a friend, but I do know some great people who, at the very least, I get along with. To “make” anything is to imply that work is needed. I guess that friendship is no different. It does require work, even after it’s established.
We don’t create our friends, but we do make connections.