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URMC / BHP / BHP Blog / April 2024 / Building Friendships in Adulthood

Building Friendships in Adulthood

By: Melissa Nunes-Harwitt, LCSW

Have you been wondering why it’s so hard to make friends as adults? Research shows that connections grow when people are in close proximity for long or frequent periods of time. As children, we got to know our classmates; in college, we lived in dorms or ate in dining halls that brought us together regularly. But adulthood has different rhythms and schedules that complicate our ability to socialize. 

As friends relocate to new cities or countries, our contact with them becomes virtual. While texting and social media do allow for some closeness, there is something valuable about face-to-face contact. Our nervous systems respond differently when we can see someone’s face, hear their voice, and be physically present in the same room. 

For many of us, our jobs provide most of the time spent with people outside our household. As remote work has increased, those water cooler conversations have been replaced with emails and instant messages, which are less likely to include social content. 

Trends encouraging more hands-on participation with children have also made it harder for parents to find time for themselves. In particular, media images often contribute to mothers feeling guilty when they prioritize their own social and emotional well-being. Additionally, extended family members are not always available to provide the support of a "village," due to distance, age, or mental health issues. 

The combination of these factors can lead to a gap where friends or community should be. And loneliness is not only an emotional state; it affects both mental and physical health. Loneliness is associated with lower life satisfaction and self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression, worse sleep, and higher risk of heart problems. Whether you miss doing things with friends or want to improve your health, it’s clear that having more people in your life is part of wellness. 

Building community has challenges but there are concrete steps you can take to make it happen. These include both maintaining existing relationships and initiating new ones. 

Who would you like to see more often? Maybe this is someone from the gym, that parent you met at your child’s music class, a friend you’ve known since high school, or a coworker. To strengthen the connection, think of a setting that allows you to talk without too much pressure. If you’ve already had a good chat, suggest meeting up for coffee. If you’re feeling uncertain about your conversational skills, ask if they would like to join you for a hike or to see a show, both of which provide ready-made content for a dialogue. 

What if you want to make new friends? It’s helpful to identify activities you enjoy so you can find people who have something in common. Ideally you want something that provides an opportunity for regular contact. There are local groups that meet weekly or monthly for interests such as hiking, trivia, games, karaoke, team sports such as volleyball and pickleball, and many others. It can be challenging to go alone the first time but remember that these events are public precisely so that new people will join in. Once you have talked to someone a couple of times, you can use the tips above to develop the friendship.

Like any other skill, making and building friendships takes practice but does become more rewarding the more you do it. Taking steps to increase your connection with others will benefit your body, mind, and whole self. 

If loneliness is something you are struggling with, engaging in therapy at Behavioral Health Partners may help. Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety and depression. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.


Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Making and Keeping Friends: A Self-Help Guide (Report SMA-3716). Accessed February 15, 2024.

Dahlberg, L., McKee, K.J., Frank, A., Naseer, M. (2022). A systematic review of longitudinal risk factors for loneliness in older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 26(2), 225-249.

Gillath, O., Karantzas, G.C., and Selcuk, E. (2017). A net of friends: Investigating friendship by integrating attachment theory and social network analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 43(11), 1546-1565. DOI: 10.1177/0146167217719731

Thompson, S., Deaner, K., and Franco, M.G. (2023). How to help clients make friends. Journal of Health Service Psychology, 49, 77-85.


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