Community is Key. Even When You're Busy
It seems like I hear it every day: People are having a tough time making friends. I'm not the first one to notice this; sociologists like Robert Putnam have noted this phenomenon for some time now. It's an American trend, but I suspect it may be worse here in tech booming San Francisco, with its high concentration of transplants and itinerant tech workers.
Most of the clients I work with are between 20 and 45. Those in their 20's often find that they have far fewer "natural" opportunities for socializing than they did in college or grad school. And those in their 30's or 40's often identify lack of free time--either their own or their friends'--as an insurmountable obstacle.
This is a real problem. Although social support is not strongly predictive of poorer health outcomes, research suggests that having a strong social network is crucial to staving off and recovering from depression. And, if for no other reason, having a network of friends improves quality of life. We need people in our lives. We need to feel like we belong to communities.
So, what can be done? I don't know if there are research-based answers. But I help people with this all the time. And I've dealt with it myself. As an adult, I've moved to new cities or states six times, and I eaach time I have had to cultivate a social life and a sense of belonging.
I can't offer an easy solution (though if somebody in this town could cook up a website or app that solves this problem, they'll make a mint), but I do have a few ideas:
Take responsibility for making friends. It's true; once you're past college, friendships don't occur "naturally." You have to get out there and make the effort. Which also requires you to...
Be willing to waste some time. This is hard for people to accept. People often tell me that they've tried to make friends. They went to a few Meetup groups, a few running clubs, one or two book club meetings, but they soon gave up after a few "wasted" weeknights. But building a network of friends is like building a professional network. It takes sustained time and effort.
Put in just a little time. Some people let friendships die because they overestimate the demands of a "good" friendship. Bur friendships don't need to be "deep" to be good. You can maintain a long friendship over occasional lunches or phone conversations.
Use social media to stay in touch. Sure, some people love to hate Facebook. But it can be a useful tool for keeping up with people. I'm not arguing that Facebook is a substitute for offline friendships, but it's much better than no contact at all.
Remember that other people are in your shoes. The drive to form community is part of human nature. There are plenty of good people out there who would appreciate your company.
I wish our culture offered adults more opportunities to form friendships spontanteously. But since it doesn't, we have to take it upon ourselves to try.