4 Ways to End Isolation and Build Friendships
My family and I moved to Charleston, SC a little over 5 years ago. Charleston is a little strange, in that most of the people that we’ve met here are also “transplants.” Like us, they are from somewhere else, and moved here for a) the weather, b) a job, c) because they are a military family, or d) just because it’s Charleston.
It’s tough making friends as an adult. Especially an adult with a family.
When you’re a kid and you move to a new place, you have built-in activities that help you meet people – school, sports, extra-curriculars.
When you’re an adult, you have life in the way. Work, family time, household responsibilities, rest. Most adults with families do a pretty crappy job of doing fun things for themselves. We do great with planning family activities, but doing things where we really get to meet and get to know other adults is a whole different story.
Why is this?
Generally, it’s because we make assumptions for other people. And a lot – a lot!! – of those assumptions are based on what we see on social media.
We say “I really like Jeremy, but he is always so busy. Look at all of the stuff that he has going on. He wouldn’t have any time to hang out.”
“Jen already has a really great group of friends. She doesn’t need another one.”
“They have a baby, they are way too tired to hang out.”
And then there are the assumptions that we make about ourselves.
“I don’t have anything in common with them.”
“All I would have to talk about is my kids, I’m so boring.”
“I wouldn’t even know what to invite them to.”
The ironic part is that Jeremy and Jen are probably saying the same thing about you, so everybody in the equation is really lonely, and no one is ever going to do anything about it.
Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash
In counseling, I find that much of the anxiety and depression that I see in my clients is due to isolation. And most of the isolation that adults experience is due to the conversation above that happens in their head.
So what can we do about it?
1. Choose your friends.
When you are an adult with a family, it’s important to really think through who you want to spend your time with, because your time is truly limited.
You may start by joining groups, or attending events with large groups of people, but from those events, be particular about who you invest your time in from there. Trying to get to know every single person in attendance may leave you feeling more lonely than when you first came.
Choose to build friendships with people - neighbors, coworkers, church friends, acquaintances, friends of friends - that you want to know, and that want to know you. Choose friends that after spending some time with them, you feel like you have been heard, and are a little bit more known in the world.
2. Be understanding.
You’re not a kid anymore. You don’t have unlimited time, you do still have responsibilities, and you ARE tired. Those are all reasons that you have turned down invites before, even for things you really wanted to do. So when you decide to reach out and try to build a relationship with someone, those are all things that they are dealing with too.
Understand that, and be honest with yourself that it has very little to do with you, and a lot with just dealing with adults.
Planning around a family is hard sometimes. So go into it knowing that you may have to plan things out more in advance than you’re used to, or that you’d like. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be spontaneous – but it does mean that you shouldn’t take it personally when last-minute invites are declined.
3. Be the person that says yes. And show up!
I’ll be honest – this is the hardest one for me. As an introvert, I’m really good at not committing to things, and backing out and holing up in my house instead. About six months after moving here, I remember having a conversation with my husband (also an introvert) about how hard it was to meet people.
We (truthfully) took stock of our activities, and realized that we just didn’t make opportunities to meet people. We were in church, but we rushed out the door after service instead of talking to people. We didn’t join a small group. We walked past our neighbors instead of saying hi when we saw them right after work. No wonder we didn’t even know their names!
We began making ourselves available to other people, joining conversations and groups, and it made a world of difference. But we had to be intentional about it, or it would’ve never happened.
Instead, commit so that you show up. Say yes to things that sound different, or new. Join groups for activities that you enjoy. Participate!
4. Make the ask.
Here it is – the part where we risk rejection. For most people, the idea of rejection is a lot more common than it actually happening. In fact, asking someone to coffee, or lunch, or any other number of things – is generally a welcome request.
Photo by Nani Williams on Unsplash
A bit of warning – this will feel one-sided at first. Until you establish a real friendship with someone, you may feel like you initiate everything. That can feel like rejection in itself.
But if they show up, if you have fun and feel less isolated, and you start to build a friendship – that will change, and it will get better. But it will take time, and in the meantime you will need to be persistent.
They are fighting their own thoughts about business, tiredness, and responsibilities, too.
Working through the loneliness of isolation - especially in a new area - can be really hard. It takes time, commitment, understanding - and most of all, telling yourself the truth about what is happening. Get out of your head, and go build some friendships!
Brooke Williams, MA, LPC, is a counselor licensed to practice in South Carolina. She specializes in making relationships thrive – whether working on marriages, parenting, friendships, or conflict in the workplace. You can read more about her here.