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Why is it so hard to make friends in your 20s?

Roamers Therapy | August 2023

As a young person in your twenties, you might be finding yourself struggling to make new friends. Perhaps you just moved to a new city or accepted a new job, and are craving that social connection but you don’t know where to begin. If you are feeling stuck with no new friends, you are not alone; and there are probably lots of other people feeling the same way who want to be your friend!

For many people, our twenties represent periods of transition because we may have left a place we considered home. Up to this point, there has likely been some institutional mechanism like school, a team, a workplace, or an extracurricular group in place to help you find and make connections. Suddenly, we are on our own outside of these institutional structures to guide us and provide us with possible avenues to friendship. 

Our twenties also represent a period of great growth and change. We are exploring our identity and finding ourselves. Maybe that means the connections we made when we were younger don’t feel as fulfilling or authentic to who we are now. We might suddenly feel the pressures that come with “being an adult” and experience an increase in stress or anxiety around finding a job, living on your own, or entering into a relationship. Amidst all these whirlwind new changes, life can start to feel overwhelming and isolating. Beyond this, we now live in the social media era which has empirically shown to contribute to people’s increased loneliness and isolation due to a lack of in-person connection. Social media could also be inhibiting the expression of people’s authentic selves so the virtual connections we make don’t feel as fulfilling. Or perhaps our isolation comes down to an unfortunate case of bad luck and factors that are out of our control. It could be the timing of the global pandemic and its residual isolating effects, or that we find ourselves in a toxic workplace. 

Whatever changes might be affecting us or adding to our feelings of loneliness, taking small steps towards making new friends can help us to grow through these changes. It is simultaneously empowering and vulnerable to let new people into our world to know us and build connections. It may feel daunting and scary, but it can feel so comforting to find our people and be accepted for all parts of ourselves, new and old.

So, if you are someone struggling to make friends, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

Let your interests lead the way: Find something you like to do, whether that be an intramural sports team, an art class, a dance class, a game club, or a dog-owner meetup, and challenge yourself to talk to someone new. Entering into a space that involves something you already enjoy can bring a little bit of comfort to lean on when the rest of the experience feels new and nerve racking. 

Turn inward and practice micro self-care: If you find yourself feeling anxious about entering into an unknown social space,  you can begin with small practices like calling a trusted loved one, going for a walk in the sun, drinking water, or stretching our body. These practices don’t require a lot of additional time or effort and incorporating them into your day on a consistent basis can allow us to feel more energized and regulated before tackling a potentially anxiety-inducing experience. 

Practice self-compassion: Putting yourself out there to make a new friend may also bring up feelings of self-doubt or shame. You can ruminate in these feelings and it can cause you to avoid new situations or believe that you won’t be able to make connections no matter what you do. Remember that if you are not successful in making a new connection on the first try or don’t find yourself clicking with someone, it is not a reflection of your self-worth. Connections take time and it is impossible to get along with everyone you meet. In order to keep yourself encouraged to keep trying, it is important to practice self-compassion. This can be done through small moments of mindfulness and recognizing when the voice of your inner critic is rearing its head. Making friends and doing something new is not easy. Give yourself grace and know that there is likely someone else out there looking to make a connection just like you. 

Connect with a therapist (who is a good match): If you find yourself experiencing overwhelming social anxiety or struggling to make progress in any of these suggested practices, I recommend incorporating regular therapy into your life to process this anxiety. Working with a trusted therapist can help you to further understand yourself, your anxieties, and your triggers. Together, you can develop coping mechanisms and cognitive techniques that will help you reduce your anxiety. 

When showing up to a new space, remember that the good thing is, you already have at least one shared interest! And soon enough, you will make new friends!

While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.