Making friends in midlife can be tough, but people are hungry for connection
Research says the average age an American will meet their best friends is 21.
“Growing up, my best friend was a guy named Luke Goldberg,” said DJ Taylor, a 38-year-old Des Moines resident. “We were very close. Our birthdays were three days apart, we celebrated together every year.”
But the further one creeps into adulthood, making new friends can be more of a challenge.
“The year that we turned 26, Luke died in a climbing accident on Mt. Hood,” Taylor said. “His death sent reverberations through our friend group. Predictable, unfortunately, after he passed away that friend group splintered and scattered to the winds. As an adult, if you don’t have, not just things in common, but really common time and presence with people, it’s really hard to keep in touch, and it’s certainly hard to make new friends.”
In January 2022, The Atlantic published an article titled “Why Making Friends in Midlife Is So Hard,” by writer Katharine Smyth.
“I’ve written quite a few essays, but I haven’t heard from as many readers with anything else I’ve written than with this,” Smyth said. “I heard from so many people saying, ‘oh my gosh, this is exactly my experience!'”
After 18 years living in Brooklyn, Smyth left her tight group of friends behind to move in with her long-distance partner — a professor in Bozeman, Montana. Her friends sent messages with offers to introduce her to people in Bozeman. So she reached out to an Iraq war veteran, an equine healer, a local politician.
“It’s sort of like dating,” Smyth said. “I met a few of them, had some awkward afternoons, but didn’t really hit it off with anyone. The politician sent back this formulaic message saying that I should get in touch with her campaign manager.”
The popular women’s lifestyle website Cup of Jo reposted Smyth’s article.
“A reader commented on the post, saying, ‘I live in Portland, I’ve lived here for more than a year and I haven’t made a single friend. I’m 30. I like books, I like browsing Target, would you want to meet up for a walk?'” said Joanna Goddard, founder of Cup of Jo.
“She ended up having a huge group meet her — 26 people showed up and they all went for a walk in Portland in a park,” Goddard said.
Cup of Jo wrote a story about the walk, and that article now has 2,373 comments from women who publicly posted their email addresses, in hopes of making a new friend in their city. The comment section got so long, they created a spreadsheet where thousands of women filled in their city, contact information, and interests.
“People started sending us photos from reader walks in Paris, Brazil, Florida, Detroit, Colorado,” Goddard said. “It was really amazing.”
When Taylor’s son went off to kindergarten, he got serious about finding a new close friend.
“I felt that starting with things that were relevant to being a father was actually a pretty good starting place, so I started with PTA,” Taylor laughed.
Taylor went to a multi-day, statewide PTA conference and was introduced to a dad named Jason, a man he now calls his hetero life partner.
“We bonded over some shared entertainment industry experience and the fact that he’s an East Coast Jew, and I’m a West Coast Jew,” Taylor said. “Over the course of a few days, we discovered that our vibe was pretty instantaneous. It was one of those things where we felt like we were long-lost kin. That was going on the better part of a decade ago, and we’re still good friends.”
Smyth made a friend in a very unexpected way that she still finds embarrassing. She used the dating app Bumble, which has a friend-making function, and met a woman named Steph who was also new to town. They had, what I call, friend pheromones.
“We totally had that,” Smyth laughed. “And she’s now my best friend here. The first time we met, we talked and talked and talked, and I looked at the time, and three hours had passed.”
Goddard says the most common question they get at Cup of Jo is about how to make friends as an adult, and she has some tips.
“First of all, I would say just ask,” Goddard said. “People do want to hang out, and if you ask, more often than not, someone will say yes and be psyched. Number two, I think this is weirdly important, you should suggest a specific activity and a date because if you say, ‘Want to grab coffee sometime?’ it just kind of fades into the black hole of future scheduling.”
“Last, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Your house can be messy, you can just go for a neighborhood walk, it doesn’t have to be some big thing,” she added. “People really underestimate the errand hang. If you have to go to Sephora and get a new eyeliner, ask somebody to go with you — that’s a fun hang!”
Struggling to make friends in midlife is not just a female problem either; Smyth says most of the emails she received in response to her article in The Atlantic were from divorced men.
She also notes that one in five Americans either moved or know someone who moved during the pandemic, so there are a lot of people out there looking for connection.
Listen to Rachel Belle’s interviews with people in their 30s and 40s who struggled to make new friends, but eventually found their person:
- Tune in to KIRO Newsradio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
- Rachel Belle hosts the James Beard Award nominated podcast Your Last Meal and she's an Edward R Murrow award winning feature reporter. Follow Rachel on Instagram.