Making Friends In Your 30s Is Hard
Disclaimer: This article was written before the current circuit-breaker measures were implemented in Singapore.
Friend groups in Singapore can often feel like a private club established decades ago.
The founding members are likely to have met in an educational institution when they were 13 to 18 years of age. They’ve usually met each other’s parents, and watched each other’s siblings evolve from being nuisances to fully formed adults with jobs.
While the club is generally polite to honorary members who drop by from time to time, a new member is only truly accepted if an existing club member vouches for—or marries—them.
Club members may also leave for a variety of reasons. It could be to move to a new city. It could also be a result of them applying the KonMari method and choosing to let go of a friendship that no longer sparks joy.
Maintaining friendships in your 20s vs 30s
My “club” was established circa 2004 in junior college.
Together, my friends and I navigated a new phase of life. Whether it was making sense of practice papers or checking out (now defunct) iconic clubs for the first time, there was always a feeling that it was us against the world.
We held on to this feeling even as entering university took us down new paths. From different countries and fields of study, to meeting new partners and friends, the “club” was still very much at the centre of our lives. We gravitated towards one another on campus, staying out late on summer breaks, letting our youth play out.
Upon graduation, some of us chose to focus on building our careers. Others focused on finding partners and building foundations for their homes and future families.
As time went on, our worlds continued to grow apart. The feeling of us against the world had chipped away because we no longer defined “the world” with similar eyes.
Nowadays, without the “club” as a common centre, there’s a specific (usually celebratory) reason when we meet. And as hard as we continue to try, “full attendance” for a gathering remains fairly rare given that this means finding a common date for 10 “club” members.
Making friends in your 20s vs 30s
Outside of school, it’s not uncommon to forge friendships at work. With millennials reportedly working 48 hours per week, the sheer amount of time spent together plays a big role in building bonds with your colleagues. It doesn’t hurt to have common goals like a complex project to complete together or common enemies such as micromanaging superiors or difficult clients.
Yet, like maintaining friendships, making friends in your 30s becomes less of a priority as other commitments take centre-stage over time as well.
As a fresh graduate, you would have more time to partake in extracurricular activities like company-led competitions. You wouldn’t have to think twice about spending what’s left of your evenings having drinks with your colleagues.
Fast forward to your late 20s and early 30s: it’s likely you’ll be putting your time toward an important Life Phase such as planning your wedding, furnishing your new home, tending to your children and/or congratulating yourself on making an effort to meet up with your existing friends.
Between all this and a long work week, it’s understandable if you choose to spend what’s left of your limited time binge-watching Netflix.
But what happens when you’ve made it through these Life Phases?
What happens if you find yourself with a little more time on your hands once again but can’t, for the life of you, remember the last new friend you made?
It’s Going To Be Awkward
There’s no way around it. If you choose to make new friends in your 30s, things will be awkward.
You’re no longer in, say, uni surrounded by people around your age.
And, unlike uni where most people actively choose to make friends, you’ll be working to get through to people who think they no longer have the energy to do so.
Like any project (and most things in adulthood), making friends is actually going to take a fair bit of effort. In your attempts, you’ll probably make gestures or comments that are embarrassing. Conversations aren’t just going to “flow”. You might get ghosted. And that’s okay.
Acknowledge that it’s part and parcel of new beginnings and as with most other things, it’ll get better with practise.
Where To Begin
It’s useful to remember that friendships are usually associated with an activity. So choose something you like to do and start from there.
If you like films, join a society. If you like cooking, join a cooking class.
Regular fitness classes (anything from spin classes to yoga) are especially conducive for building friendships. I think it works because you’re literally surrounded by people who, like you, have chosen this specific gym or studio space. You’d have the shared experience of powering through (or dying) in the class.
So say hi to someone at your next class.
And, have faith in people. It’s easy to make snap judgments about others and complain about how much work this process actually is.
Trust yourself to recognise when you’re being lazy and remember why you started on this journey to begin with. Make a consistent effort to extend conversations with each passing week so that you can see how interesting they really are.
Making Friends In Your 30s Is Hard But Not Impossible
Make a choice, whether it’s to have a Frienaissance and bring new life to old friendships or to take on the project of making new friends.
If you’ve chosen the former, pick a friend and set up a date and time to meet.
If you’re feeling brave and have chosen the latter, pick your activity of choice before you lose your nerve.
Vulnerability expert and researcher Brené Brown suggests, “Social media has given us this idea that we should all have a posse of friends when in reality, if we have one or two really good friends, we are lucky.” So go on. Get lucky.
Cover illustration by Asher Mak