Try Not To Bring An 'Adult Dating' Mentality To Making Friends When You're Older
What do I mean by that title? I'll start by explaining why you can develop a different mindset toward dating when you're an adult vs. when you're younger, then cover how a similar attitude can crop up when you're older and trying to make friends.
Dating as a high school or college student vs. dating as an adult
When we're still in high school or our early-twenties it's much easier to stumble into romantic relationships. Younger people can obviously still struggle with dating, but on the whole their life circumstances are slanted in their favor.
First, it's easier to meet people. School throws you together with hundreds of peers for a good chunk of the day. Aside from classes there are plenty of free, convenient clubs, teams, and associations to join. The part-time jobs you have when you're young often involve working with a bunch of staff close to your age. In college students usually live in dorms, apartments with several roommates, or fraternities or sororities. In university there are lots of parties and nights out where you can make even more connections.
It's also easier to get to know many of the people you meet. You're in settings where you're in their company day after day, month after month. You can't help but get to know them in a gradual, low-pressure way as you do things you were going to do anyway. There might be someone cute at your part-time job. You chat to them here and there over a few weeks, realize there's a spark, and start dating. Sometimes someone doesn't catch your attention right away, but grows on you as you get to know them better. Again, not all high school and college relationships develop effortlessly, but there are more opportunities for it to happen.
A lot of people find that once they're past their mid-twenties it's harder to fall into a relationship. It can still happen for sure, but it's not something you can take for granted. For one, it's tougher to naturally meet potential partners. You may spend your days at a small office with a half-dozen older co-workers, then go home to your one-bedroom apartment. More people are already settled down and off the market. Some of the single ones may as well be, because they're preoccupied with things like their career or kids from a previous relationship. Most nightlife venues are geared toward people in their twenties, and there are fewer spots for the older crowd.
As well, some older people put more pressure on themselves to get into a relationship. They want to start a family, or they're feeling the damaging societal belief that people are worth less if they're on their own. It's not like being in high school where you can enjoy dating around, and maybe hope it gets serious with someone, but you're not feeling an immediate demand to settle down.
The Harder To Meet People factor and the Pressure To Get Into A Relationship factor mean dating can feel different as an adult. Many people realize they won't meet enough potential partners by going about their lives, so they turn to more deliberate, goal-oriented methods like dating apps and websites, or signing up for classes or attending events mainly to try to meet someone.
Then, once they're on a date they can feel like they should make up their mind about the person right away. They purposely got together to check them out as a potential partner, and wouldn't run across them otherwise. They don't feel like they have the time to go out with them for a few weeks to see if any feelings eventually develop. There are a bunch of other people they're chatting to on their dating app. They fall into a pattern where they meet people and think, "Do they meet my requirements? Do I feel a 'click' already? Nope? Okay, then onto the next prospect."
Making friends as an adult
When you're trying to make friends as an adult you can unintentionally fall into the same mentality. The life circumstances that helps young people date also makes it easier for them to make friends. Once you're out of school it's harder to meet people in your day-to-day life, let alone in settings where you can slowly get to know them. Because of this, adults who want to improve their social lives can turn to more deliberate strategies for making friends. They may go to lots of meetup.com events, or sign up for teams or classes, with meeting people as their main goal and enjoying the activity second. They might try out a dedicated friend-making app. They may invite many of their neighbors, colleagues, or acquaintances to hang out, from a mentality where they want to try on lots of potential friends for size.
There's nothing wrong with doing these things. Like I said, it's trickier to meet people as an adult. Ideally you'd meet everyone in a setting where you can get to know them in a slow, relaxed manner, but that isn't always possible, and you should do what it takes create a social life you're happy with. However, when you're consciously working at making friends you can get into that headspace where you feel you have to make up your mind about everyone quickly.
This can partially be due to context. If you meet someone at a meet up, drop-in class, or one-off event you know you may not see them again any time soon. You can feel pressured to make a decision about them that day - "Should I ask for their contact information? Is this someone I could see myself being friends with?"
If you do meet someone just once, swap contact info, then arrange to get together, that outing can feel a bit like a first date; You can have a sense you're evaluating them as a possible friend, and should make a decision. You aren't getting to know them as a side effect of being in the same after-school club or part-time job. You're deliberately setting aside a few hours to hang out with them, so you can start thinking, "Could this go anywhere? Do we have enough in common? I don't have as much spare time as I used to. Would it be worth it to spend another few hours with them next week?"
The thing is, you don't have to approach making friends this way. It's just a thinking pattern you can slip into without realizing. Friends aren't the same as traditional romantic partners. You can have several of them at once. You don't have to have a deep, serious bond with all of them. One friend doesn't have to meet all your needs. You're not wasting some of your prime marriage years if you hang out with a buddy for a few months then decide to go your separate ways.
If you're trying to make new friends, ask yourself if you're unintentionally applying a "must decide now" mindset to the process. If you are, realize you don't have to make up your mind about anyone after one or two hangouts. Obviously, don't force yourself to spend time with people you're blatantly incompatible with, but if you more or less enjoy someone's company, give them a few more chances. It won't cost you that much time or energy in the long run. Try to go in with the assumption that many people will grow on you with time. If you're feeling lonely I know it can be hard to be patient, but try to slow down and enjoy the process of meeting a mix of people and seeing what comes of it.
There are more barriers to making friends as an adult, but it's still a very achievable goal. I don't want to this article to discourage anyone. I just wanted to warn people off a way to accidentally make the process more difficult than it has to be.