You gotta have friends: Why is it so hard to make and keep friends as an adult?

With 316.1 million people in the US, there should be plenty of people to hang out with, however making and keeping close friends is easier said than done.

According to the most recent data, the average person has 669 social ties in their personal network, including (approximately) 338 Facebook “friend,” 61 Twitter followers, 230 Pinterest pals, an assortment of LinkedIn acquaintances along with folks that they happen to know in the “real” world.

Despite our ability to connect with one another, Americans are lonelier than ever and studies show that the amount of close friends that one reports has actually decreased over the past 20 years. Researchers at Duke University found that two decades ago, the average American said they had about three close friends to whom they could confide. By 2004, that number has dropped to two, and one in four people said they had no close friends to turn to at all.

This news is not surprising to Andrea Bonior Ph.D author of “The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing and Keeping Up With Your Friends.” Bonior says even though we may have more connections than ever thanks to social media outlets, those platforms are diluting the quality of the relationships that we have.

“We try and feel connected with one another through social media and technology, but it often leads to more feelings of loneliness and sometimes we feel worse after being on Facebook for a while,” she says. “We are digging ourselves into a hole…there is a real difference between seeing someone face-to-face or hearing their voice on the phone as opposed to typing in an LOL after a comment.”

Bonior says throughout elementary school, high school and college, it is fairly easy to make long-lasting friendships. We spend significant amounts of time with our classmates and we develop a camaraderie through shared experiences that changes when we get older. Life transitions split even those most solid of friendships and the opportunity to meet new platonic buddies diminishes.

While meeting new people is a trial and error process that has no script and can be intimidating, Bonior suggests approaching it in the same way one would the dating process. Do not presume that you will meet your new BFF immediately, but be willing to go beyond the idle chit chat and promises to “get together sometime” in order to see if a friendship can develop.

“The best friendships are the ones in which there is continuity and where both parties make the effort to nurture the relationship along. Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t, but if you don’t take a chance, you will never know,” she says.

Andrea Bonior’s tips for making friends:

  • Move beyond superficial small talk. Instead of cutting off conversation after “Hi! How are you?” take the time to try and have a deeper discussion with someone. If she mentions an upcoming trip, ask about her plans. Show her you invested in what she has to say and you are genuinely interested. It will give you a springboard for conversation the next time you meet as well!
  • After establishing a preliminary connection and assessing she is open to a possible friendship, ask her for her phone number so that you can make concrete plans to go out for coffee or to try out a new mani/pedi spa rather than say, “We should get together sometime.”
  • Realize you won’t hit it off with everyone. While some people click, others do not and it’s OK to back off if it appears that you have nothing in common.
  • Be aware of the people trying to be friends with you and give them a chance. You never know what you may be missing out on!

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