I have some advice on making friends in your 30s, or, rather, I have an addendum to a standard piece of advice (“just join a club!”). Join a club, yes. But when you do, do it with patience. So much has been written about how hard it is to make friends as an adult, and I think some of that angst might be caused by underestimating just how long it can take to really feel like part of a group.
It might take a long time to feel accepted. It might take longer than you think. But it will happen.
Last fall, I was a runner with zero running friends. I was training for my fourth marathon, and my coach had designed an aggressive plan that left me with little time or energy for anything but running. I was so lonely. I said as much in a long, emo series of texts to my coach, who nicely wrote back suggesting that I should A) get a grip and B) come to the track workout she leads on Tuesday mornings.
The very next Tuesday, I went. The Tuesday after that, I went again.
And then I kept going. I showed up even when I’d barely slept the night before. I showed up the day after returning from a disastrous long weekend away, with flight delays on either end. I showed up when it was 14 degrees outside, and the track was so icy I nearly slipped every time I rounded the last corner.
It was hard. Sometimes I felt like a ghost, drifting in and out, invisible. I would watch as people showed up and gave each other hugs and asked about each others’ lives. It sometimes felt cliquish, and other times downright hopeless, like this group was secretly not open to new members and no one told me. I’d hear them reminisce about previous Tuesday track workouts, and it felt like I was too late, like everyone shared so many memories already, and I’d already missed all of them.
Earlier this year, The Atlantic published a piece written by a woman who, at 40, left her vibrant social life in Brooklyn to start over in Bozeman, Montana. She writes mournfully of many friendship fits and starts, including her attempt to infiltrate an already-formed group of friends, with a librarian and a comedy writer at the core:
“I heard through the grapevine that they had gone to a Halloween party without me, and then they invited me to the town’s Christmas Stroll by accident,” she recalls. “‘You got included on this thread by mistake, but we’re happy to be chatting!’ the librarian texted.”
The writer’s response to this mishap makes me so sad. “Only then did I realize that I had greatly underestimated the difficulty of breaking into a long-established group,” she writes. “I get it: I, too, used to think that I had all the friends I needed.”
I wish I could tell her: I get it, too! It is difficult to break into a long-established group. There was recently a study published about exactly this, actually — the journal article itself was titled, “How many hours does it take to make a friend?” According to this research, it takes 50 hours to make a casual friend, 90 hours to make a real friend, and 200 hours to become close friends. It’s a lot of time! But the weirdest part is that once something clicks, and you’re in, it feels like it happened overnight.
One morning a few months ago, the leader of my pace group gave me a fist bump after a tough workout and asked my name. The next week, he said hello to me (by name! I was so charmed!), and every week after that. Also somewhere around this time, I got a notification on my phone that someone had added me to the club’s group chat, called, adorably, Friendship Track Club. I guess I’d put in my 50 hours.
Everything is so different now compared to when I first started going last fall. This morning, for instance, I greeted my friend Shelby with a hug and asked her how her wedding dress shopping had gone this weekend. Instead of using the 90-second rest breaks between intervals to catch my breath, I was using them to catch up with my new friends’ lives and make plans for the weekend.
Now I’m one of the regulars I used to watch with envy. I hope I’m not making newcomers feel like the club is cliquey or that they’ll never find their place. But I get it now. People weren’t being cliquey — they were excited to chat with their friends. Also: You can’t tell which new people are worth investing in until they’ve proven themselves by consistently showing up. It just takes time.