Michael Bruce

Michael Bruce


Friendship After College

Why is it so hard to make friends after college?

Posted Oct 23, 2011

"Friendship is a kaleidoscope and [a] complicated thing." - Cicero

Have you noticed that the older you get, the harder it is to make friends? That your once large, and expanding circle of confidants has ceased growing and even shrunk?

How many friends do/did your parents have? And by friends I mean the kind of friend that will come help you move, for example. If your parents are like mine, you may have noticed that meeting new people and creating meaningful relationships is quite a feat for them.

Friendship has been a topic of philosophical concern since the ancient Greeks. Aristotle wrote, "For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods." Having friends is therefore a relationship that we should value and work for. Making friends is something that young people typically do all the time. However the older one gets, the more one asks oneself, "When was the last time I met some new people?" I have a theory that it takes a specific kind of event to engender making friends on a medium sized scale. I think that friends are often made when the group goes through a traumatic, or potentially traumatic, experience. The idea that intense experiences bond people together is nothing new. However, I want to use this approach to contextualize why it gets harder as one gets older to make new friends. Doing so will also help, indirectly, to highlight why it becomes increasingly more difficult to find a love interest over time.

I remember growing up adding new friends to my circle each new school year. Kindergarten and freshman year of college were particularly noteworthy—sharing toys in the sandbox, or looking for keg parties. Something seems to happen after college that makes it challenging to make new friends. Is it just that people do not encounter the same amount of new people? (How could that be with the rise of social media and online "friends?" (I've touched on that before, arguing that social media counterintuitively distances people from relationships at hand.)

For some people it is as if their personality changed when they hit "the real world." Some folks are simply content with the friends they have and don't feel the need to reach out to others. For those in a relationship, it may be simply a matter of not having enough time. "I spend the weekends with my boyfriend/husband; I barely have time for the friends I already have." The single crowd is often so focused on finding a mate that no energy is directed towards creating friends. This may be a huge misstep if you consider that the more friends you make the larger the "net" of potential dates you can cast. Meeting people through your friends is sound advice—"Can't one of your friend's introduce you to someone?"—granted that blind dates are often full of awkward and embarrassing circumstances.

I call my theory the "boot camp" theory of making friends. I recall the stories I have heard of soldiers going through boot camp together, an experience that bonded the troops for life. I think there are mini boot camp like adventures that happen frequently growing up, but not as adults. For many people the first day of school is a clear example of this. The first day of school can be overwhelming. Finding someone to hang out with instantly bonds a group through a sheer sense of terror and anxiety. It is that element of dread and nervous excitement that is the catalyst for the comradery. First day of camp, sports try-outs, advanced calculus—whenever the stress and vulnerability levels spike there is an opportunity for bromance and hoemance (Yes, "hoemance" it what they are calling it these days).


The history of our friendships are often punctuated by these types events. Perhaps by definition, anyone who goes through something traumatic with you and is still there afterwards is what we deem a friend in the first place. Consider the phrase, "That's how you can tell who your friends are." I just heard Mike, "The Situation" on Jersey Shore, say something like, "In a fight, you see who your friends are." Starting a career post college provides very few opportunities for group bonding and the friends that result afterwards. So how can you make new friends and reconnect with old ones? Do something terrifying together. Find something that sounds fun but that scares the hell of you, something that challenges you in a new way, and go after it. Use the common experience of the people going through it alongside you as a foundation to launch the friendship. Sign up for group skydiving lessons, go whitewater rafting, volunteer to work with at-risk youth, start a band—whatever ignites nervous energy in you and the group will be fruitful. It is in the shared sense of fear and anxiety that the opportunity for great friendships reside.

How many new friends do you make a year? How do you meet them? What activities or events have you found to be helpful?



Michael Bruce ©







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