I really thought I’d have friends by now. Don’t get me wrong, I have people I talk to who I really like. I have people I laugh with and see once every six months, people who text me and say we should do something soon, and we might even make plans, but then we each hope the other will cancel because we’re both tired. I have those, yes. But I really thought I’d have friends by now, in the way I understood friendship to mean as a child.
My earliest memories from childhood are watching, in awe, the depictions of tight-knit friend groups in TV and movies. I’d watch them excitedly on-screen, as though it was a fortune teller showing me a glimpse into my future great-friend-having life. I always assumed that even if I didn’t have the friendships that I saw on TV at that very moment, once I became an adult, they would surely materialize. And maybe you did too.
As I got older, though, that didn’t turn out to be the case. It didn’t stop me from trying, though: I needed all these types of friends, because society told me I did, so I clung to the people I met who even remotely fit these descriptions like hard-won Girl Scout badges, no matter how unhealthy the dynamic was, as proof I could do it. I could be just like everyone else in this one way, since I couldn’t be like everyone else who had perfect families. (Please see my first book: How to Be Alone.) That was very much out of my hands. But friendships? I could do that. Contort myself to make a bunch of people like me and never leave? Can’t wait! There’s no way you could go wrong when that is your very upsetting view of friendship!
Perhaps this was a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because this is what I thought friendship was, it always devolved into nightmare territory. As close as I’d get to having a best friend, the relationships were always short-lived. No matter how promising the beginning was, something would invariably throw a wrench into the intimacy I’d craved so deeply and needed like air. My junior high best friend decided we were both acting “too into each other” (we were into each other), so she ended the friendship. My high school best friend’s family moved far away, and I grieved the loss of her like a death. Replace, repeat, and never stop trying and then grieving, trying and then grieving.
We don’t teach people how to do this, how to create friendships, how to nurture them, how to choose better, and then when and how to end them if they’re not working. And because of that, so many of us are just fumbling around, hoping one day we’ll stumble into the friendships of our dreams because we want them, because we deserve them.
Even if you ask someone how to do it, most people just tell you, “Join a club!” or “Join a gym!” But if you’re like me and you have no idea what kind of club you would join (a club for people obsessed with watching the same TV show over and over again? Those people are at home watching the same TV show over and over again) and either you already belong to a gym and you go there to exercise quietly and then leave, or you just really, really don’t want to join a gym, here are some places to start.
Message someone you constantly interact with online.
If you’re on social media or in any groups online, odds are you have someone who always replies to you, sends you messages, or likes all your posts. These are a lot of subtle interactions that could easily turn into “dude, we should be friends maybe?” messages. So why not try?
Write to a mutual friend who you’ve always felt like you’d get along with.
You already have your friend in common, so it’s worth it to see if you’d get along when it’s just the two of you. I once knew a guy who had really cool friends, but honestly I was not that into the guy himself. One day, I ran into some of his friends on the subway and it turns out they all thought I was really awesome and also didn’t like that other guy. It was a beautiful moment.
Go to shows or restaurants alone.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people tell me they came to my comedy shows by themselves and met really cool people they became friends with. And if the idea of this terrifies you, it’s so helpful to see this less as, “Oh no, I’m gonna look like a loser who is alone” and more like, “What if I meet another cool person who is also there alone and we bond, and because I went alone, I created space for that to happen?”
Make plans outside of work with that coworker who you think is cool.
I once worked with a woman who was basically my best friend in the office and then, one day, it dawned on me: Who says she couldn’t be my best friend in general? And lucky for me, she was just as hilarious and fun outside of work, if not more so.
Reach out to someone you only see in drinking situations to do something non-drinking during the day.
Cool Drunk Sara is also probably Cool Sober Sara Who Loves Getting Tapas After Work. You won’t know until you try.
Invite your friends’ significant others to stuff.
This can be touchy depending on the situation, so obviously don’t do this if you know it could pose a problem, but if you think your friend’s girlfriend is really cool and there’s a possible friendship there, go for it and see if you’re right.
Go to a dog park.
Dog or not, dog parks are such great ways to meet other really friendly people (well, mostly, sometimes there is someone there who is such a dick and you’re like, “Why are you bringing this energy to such a holy place? Why?”), and worst case, you get to play with dogs. But in general, dogs are such a great icebreaker. When I’m with my dog, I meet multiple people every day who are extremely kind and cool to chat with. We might not become best friends just because our dogs played together for 10 minutes, but it can satisfy that need for connection in a really beautiful way.
Try putting more effort into the friendships you have.
It can be easy to think your current friends aren’t good enough for you or not giving you the things you want in the relationship and you should find new people, and sometimes that’s true. But before you go off thinking it’s not you, it’s them (which it might be!), try reaching out, and communicating, and putting some more effort in and see if that helps things.
Encourage yourself to make/keep plans with your friends, even though sitting inside alone watching friendships on TV seems way better.
Sometimes you genuinely need to recharge and reschedule, which I fully encourage, but other times I need to remind myself to actually keep plans and take a chance that this might be exactly what I needed, even if solitude seems safer. And then I come home feeling so happy that I took the risk and left my cocoon for a bit.
Does all of this take more effort than sitting there waiting for your dream friends to show up like UPS packages? Yes. Is that scary because there might be rejection or disappointment? Yes. But often the only way for things to be different is for us to start doing things differently, and putting all that we’re learning into practice.
Because you deserve to have friendships in which the conversation is easy, and you feel seen. You deserve to have those days where you get in the car, and you pick that person up, or they pick you up, and they got you a coffee exactly the way you like it, aw thanks. You deserve to pick up ice cream on the way because oh man that place looks so good, you wanna stop? And sing along to whatever’s on the radio, one hand out the window. And that is all it is. No asterisks, no fine print, just purely good.
You deserve to have friendships where there’s an equal give and take. Friends who understand you, and you have fun, true, silly little kid fun (even if, and especially if, you never got to truly have fun as a kid, because you were already basically an adult). Friends who allow and encourage you to have healthy boundaries, as they work to establish their own.
And then maybe what happens next isn’t tragic this time. Maybe it’s just good.
Lane Moore is a writer, actor, comedian, and musician. She is the host of the show “Tinder Live” as well as the podcast I Thought It Was Just Me. Her first book, How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t, was published in 2018. Her second book, You Will Find Your People: How To Make Meaningful Friendships As An Adult, from which this piece was adapted, is out now from Abrams Image. She can be found online at @hellolanemoore.