Daisy Buchanan gives us her guide to grown-up friendship
For me, the best, most unexpected discovery of adulthood is that I’m always meeting new friends. Finding new friends is like running, or public speaking, or making mayonnaise. It seems impossibly difficult and daunting, until you realise you don’t need any special talents or skills. You just have to be willing to give it a try.
Many of us believe that our best friends are our oldest friends, and hopefully most of us are close to people who have been in our lives for a long time. We form intense bonds with people we meet during our formative years at school, college or university. However, I also suspect some of us struggle to maintain those connections, and sometimes feel lonely. The YouGov 2020 Personality Study revealed that half of the UK population feel lonely at least a few times a month, with one in four feeling lonely several times a week.
It can affect you no matter how old you are, what you do or where you live. The pandemic has significantly changed the way we interact with each other, too. IT consultant Rachel*, 33, told me that she used to love the social side of work, but has struggled to feel close to colleagues now that they only talk to each other on Zoom. ‘I think we’ve all grown apart,’ she says.
For film editor Maria*, 41, she has had to come to the gradual realisation that she has little in common with old uni friends anymore. ‘Everyone is very opinionated, and we don’t laugh and joke together anymore,’ she says. ‘When we’ve met up, it’s felt awkward. How can I make new friends in my forties?’
For the first 20 years of my life, I found it very hard to make friends. I felt self-conscious and lacked confidence. On more than one occasion, I ate lunch while hiding in the girls’ toilets. Like many late bloomers, I started to find my tribe when I went to university. Working on the student paper brought me out of my shell.
As a passionate, aspiring journalist, I realised I couldn’t afford to let my shyness get in the way when I was interviewing a pop star or politician. If I could ask celebrities difficult questions, I could ask anyone anything. Quickly, I realised that the best cure for shyness is curiosity – and that if you make an effort to get to know someone, they’ll usually make an effort to get to know you.
Ellie, 38, explains that she stumbled across a friendship-making method by accident. ‘Like a lot of people, I found myself feeling a bit restless, confused and unhappy during lockdown. I knew I was really lucky – I could do my job remotely, I live in a nice house with my partner, but it felt as though something was missing, and I couldn’t put my finger on it,’ she says. ‘I saw that our local food bank was looking for volunteers, so I thought I’d give it a go. I was quite nervous about it. I imagined the other volunteers would be incredibly efficient, and I’d worry about getting in the way, but everyone was so friendly and kind. I started to hang out with a couple of the volunteers socially.’
‘The best thing about it was making new friends whose lives were totally different from mine, and spending time with people in their twenties and in their sixties. It made me realise how narrow my circle was. It even improved my relationship with my partner. I was relying on him less, and because we weren’t spending all our time together, I had more news to share with him.’
In 2017, not long after going freelance, I moved to the Kent coast, and over the past two years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who wanted to make the same changes and reached out for advice. Like Ellie, I realised my social circle had become quite narrow. Nearly all my friends were about my age and had the same background as me.
I decided to use my journalism skills and volunteered for the local arts paper. I met chefs, sculptors and equine therapists. I discovered our postman kept a photography archive for the local theatre. My rule was to say yes to everything and keep an open mind. I thought about it like dating. Instead of expecting instant, profound connections, I embraced the idea of the slow burn, and gave the chemistry a chance to develop.
The hardest, wisest thing I learned was to stay in the moment. I had to be patient, embrace the awkward moments, and allow the relationships to unfold and unfurl. Not breathlessly interrogate a new acquaintance then ask if we were going to be friends forever.
Widening your circle
Claire Cohen, author of upcoming book BFF?: The truth about female friendship, explains: ‘Not every person is destined to become a close confidante or best friend forever. If you think of it more as widening your social circle, it becomes much easier to ask someone for a coffee after yoga or a post-work drink. Some might just become casual contacts, others might not stick at all – but the good ones will. If you’re brave enough to put yourself out there, and can be yourself, people will respond.’
Making new friends is fun and thrilling, but it can be terrifying, too. I was shocked to discover how vulnerable and exposed I felt as I was trying to get to know new people. Even when I thought I was feeling confident and secure, I worried about being rejected. After I’d moved, there were moments when I felt exactly like I’d gone back to school, and that everyone in my new town was in a little gang apart from me.
Maggie, 36, moved during the pandemic, and her daughter started school last autumn. ‘I really struggled,’ she says. ‘It felt as though everyone else knew each other, and I couldn’t find the confidence to start chatting. Drop off and pick up made me feel so anxious.’ Maggie found an unlikely source of support – Instagram. ‘I followed a couple of the mums and I really liked their posts. They seemed friendly and approachable, and I started talking to them on the comments, which made it seem natural to start talking to them in real life. Soon, I realised nearly everyone had only just met and I wasn’t an outsider. I’d assumed I was going to be excluded, but those feelings were in my head.’
Friendship expert Dr Melanie Ross Mills says that instead of hiding our vulnerability, we should embrace it. ‘Be open, be open, be open. It’s healthy to protect your heart in ways that allow for trust to develop, but walls prevent friends from getting to know the real you,’ she says. Humans are social animals. We need each other for connection, support – and fun. There are few things more daunting than admitting that we’re all people who need people, yet I think that over the past couple of years, we’ve realised it doesn’t matter how confident or happy everyone else seems.
Careering by Daisy Buchanan (£14.99) is published by Sphere and out now
*Names have been changed