It’s hard to make new friends as an adult.
You make friends in the places where you spend your time. Because most adults lose track of hobbies, spending their days at the office and their nights and weekends with spouses and immediate family, we spend time in only a few places: home, the office, the mall, the grocery store, the movie theatre, maybe a favourite restaurant or two.
It’s not like it was in your teens and twenties when your social calendar was very busy and your obligations were few. As a result, friendship researchers find most people find and make their lifelong friends in college or high school. When shopping, watching movies or eating at restaurants you pass by a lot of people, but you usually talk to very few. At the office, people change jobs frequently, which can limit the number of repeated interactions. Sensitivities to competition, income differences and job pressures make the office a poor setting to let your guard down and share intimate confidences with cubicle pals.
We are lucky in New Westminster. The community here is very good at creating the conditions that help friendships form and grow.
There is a science of friendship dating back to the ’50s and holding up through the new millennium. The elements of friendship are these:
- Repeated, unplanned interactions
- A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other
We tend to underestimate the role of proximity in making new friends. As a parent, it’s obvious that it makes a difference in my kids’ friendships: neighbours, the kids of my friends and classmates become ‘best’ friends, while those who attend different schools or live even a few blocks farther away tend to be farther away from their hearts. But as adults, we assume that friendship has more to do with shared interest than how physically close we are to a person.
You can walk New Westminster from end to end in about an hour. Our six square miles is dotted with bus stops and SkyTrain stations that make it easy to leave the car at home when you go out and our tree-shaded boulevards are a pleasure to walk. The simple fact that we live in a smallish town within the larger Metro Vancouver district provides us with the physical closeness to neighbours that helps make friends.
Repeated, unplanned interactions
Our retail districts are concentrated in just a few areas, so if you work or shop locally, you find yourself in the same haunts again and again. Once you become connected with the New West community through social media, parties and events, schools or involvement in one of the many local organizations, you start seeing the same people all around town – particularly in hot spots like River Market, the Uptown nexus of Sixth and Sixth and coffee shops all around town.
Many New West folk park on the street instead of garages, and even this simple act brings us closer. And, in many of our neighbourhoods yards are not just decorative; families gather with neighbours in yards as common spaces. In New Westminster, we actually see our neighbours, and over time, in many neighbourhoods, neighbours become friends.
A setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other
This is the trickiest factor to overcome. Aside from the political social scene, in which a certain amount of gossip and backbiting is sadly to be expected, I have found the New West social scene to be very welcoming and open. Most people here still suffer from the cultural reticence to ask for help or admit to vulnerable feelings, but with the first two ingredients in place (proximity and repeated interaction) we can gradually become comfortable enough with people to open up a little. When that goes well, a little can quickly turn into a lot.
What of shared interests?
What you don’t see in here is connections based on shared interests. As I mentioned, people tend to assume friends will be people who share their taste in music, film, activities or other interests. This isn’t wrong, exactly, but it doesn’t work the way people think. It isn’t the shared interests that bring people together. Rather, the share interests provide a reason to interact on a regular basis, and a starting point to open conversations that can build trust over time. I see this happen in two ways in New Westminster:
- People gather together in activities related to shared interests: wine tastings, the Farmers Market, foodie events, board game nights, curling club, artists’ organizations, and more. When the same people consistently attend these events, they develop a rapport that opens the door to trust. Over time, they transition from smalltalk to conversation about ideas, opinions and feelings, and from there they may become friends.
- Friends who first gathered together because of proximity (neighbours, local Twitterati, or NEXT New West social club members) uncover shared interests through conversation and develop new hobbies and activities together. A number of friends who met via Tenth to the Fraser activity, tweetups or other local activities have taken up new hobbies (archery, canning, beer and wine-making, and more) and participating in these events provides them with new opportunities to get to know each other better, deepening trust and friendship.
We here a lot about how our modern society can be very isolating, and when you look at the elements of friendship it’s no wonder:
- We isolate ourselves in our cars, reducing opportunities to interact with neighbours. We spend too much of our limited leisure time in front of the television, further limiting the number of people we interact with in a day.
- We over-schedule and, feeling exhausted from the 9-5 grind, spend time at home or with existing friends instead of in places where we can encounter new friends.
- Flimsy friendships based on fleeting encounters, often in socially charged situations (such as at the office), don’t inspire sharing deep thoughts or feelings. We stick to smalltalk and feel unsatisfied with these interactions as a result.
If you are looking to make new friends in New West, the conditions are all there to support you.
If you want to make new friends, here’s what you need to do:
- Be out in the community, in person and online. Shake hands, introduce yourself and show up to the same events over and over so you can get to know the regulars, and they can get to know you. The first key to friendship is showing up. You won’t meet anyone new in front of your TV.
- Spend time in your yard and walking around the neighbourhood. Shop and eat locally. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll see acquaintances out and about around town. Go up to them, say hi and see if they have time to join you for an unplanned coffee chat.
- Talk about things that matter. Ask questions, debate issues, share feelings. Invite friends to try new experiences: go to an event, learn a new skill, or go somewhere you’ve never been before. In my experience, participating in doing something together can really open up a friendship.
Ultimately, what you want to do is move from people who inhabit the same space, to people who do things together, to people who trust and care for each other. In other words, to become friends.