The Ultimate Guide to Fixing Your Social Rut
As we grow older and wiser we find that our friendships suddenly drop off; until our group of, say, twenty high school friends slim down to a close-knit group of four or five people.
While this isn’t something to be concerned about, some people are busy going about their lives unaware of what’s happening, only to be shocked that one day they aren’t hanging out with anyone but their work colleagues and the dog.
If you think you’re a bit thin on friendships or aren’t going out enough, you are not the only one. In this day and age, feeling lonely — even in a city bursting with people from across the globe — is a modern-day phenomenon.
Strangely enough, even in some of the most densely populated countries in the world, people still feel incredibly alone. The problem is so prominent in Japan, for example, that a new service has risen where you can rent a friend to spend time with you, you can check that out here (no judgment).
That said, if you want to blossom into a social butterfly, you may not need to hire someone to hang out with you after all. If you’re currently going through a social rut or you feel like you have no friends, you’re not weird or unlikeable.
Having fewer friends for most people is a natural part of growing up and into yourself. Everyone has become busier with their lives, meaning that more effort is required to find and maintain friendships.
To get your social life going again, you need to create more situations to kick-start the momentum. That involves going out of your way to initiate small talk, reaching out to people you’ve lost touch with, and being resourceful when it comes to your social media profiles or any online communities you belong to. Find new hobbies that include groups of like-minded people if you can.
It means saying yes to a few things that don’t really appeal to you initially but could provide you opportunities to meet people. Looking to make new friends doesn’t mean you have to be a creeper, but it does mean you need to start opening your eyes up to new possibilities.
Keep reading because, in this article, we’re going to break down key areas that you can address along with practical actions to take to improve your social circumstances fast.
As human beings, we have an intrinsic desire to establish connections with others, and we seek to share our experiences. At the very least, we look for people to dine with — and people we could talk to — and express our thoughts on current affairs and how we are feeling at any given time. Supporting this theory, there is plenty of research suggesting that building and maintaining romantic and platonic relationships are one of the vital human needs for our well-being.
Ironically, when it comes to something as fundamental to our happiness as simple friendships, we still have this expectation that they should happen organically without intervention. Sadly, life doesn’t always work this way, especially after we leave education. If you are looking for an article that gives specific instructions on how to make friends as an adult, (we have another article that you might be interested in) but for now, read on to find out how to improve your social life as an adult.
Why Might We End Up In A Social Rut?
If you feel you have no friends, relax- it may not be your fault at all. There are various reasons why people may feel they have no social life, ranging from a lack of opportunities to unfortunate circumstances.
- Excessive use of social media (particularly if we spend a great deal of time scrolling through other people’s profiles) gives us a serious case of FOMO. According to various studies, people with higher levels of activity on social media feel lonelier than those who check in occasionally. We have a theory on this. While social media may help connect us with new people, it doesn’t help develop our communication skills for face-to-face interaction. In addition to this, individuals who spend more time scrolling will naturally be more exposed to images of people ‘living their best lives.’ They’ll be bombarded with posts of people going to parties and traveling, etc. all while they are sat there on their own comparing their lives to what they see online.
- Situational factors. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new city and suddenly found yourself alone. Maybe you always hear about events after they’ve happened, or you live in an area with few chances to socialize or go out at all. You might be immobile meaning you can’t go out as frequently. Maybe your work is too intense for you to have the energy to do anything else, or you’ve just started a new family, etc.
- Dispositional factors. Each person has a unique character with its own personality traits. Some of us are more on an introverted spectrum, which may lead others to misread this as “leave me alone” signals. You might be a shy or private person meaning you don’t readily express what you are thinking and others assume you are not interested in getting to know them better or sharing your experiences with them.
- The natural tendency to start losing friends begins when we are around twenty-five years old, according to this study. Making new friends becomes increasingly more difficult once you graduate from traditional schooling.
- The seasons. We all know it’s not unusual for social occasions to dry up when the weather isn’t too pleasant. The same goes for the months following an expensive time of the year, such as summer vacations and holidays.
What to Do When You Have No Real Friends
Some of us have a different type of issue where we have plenty of contacts and acquaintances (fair-weather friends), yet we still feel astonishingly isolated with no real friends.
These are the people that feel as though their relationships lack authenticity, depth, and purpose. Sadly, these people still feel very lonely even though there are plenty of people to hang out with when it suits them.
If you are one of these people, you need to take into account that close friendships take time and effort to develop, and they all start as acquaintances, people you know the names of, but that’s about it.
You don’t naturally become very close to someone you’ve just met, and you should be concerned about anyone who latches on to you the second they meet you.
Be curious, patient, and nurture the connections you already have. Allow plenty of time, and remain detached from the idea that you ‘have no friends’ it’s not serving you! Desperation will attract people that may not be good for you in the long run so keep a positive mindset.
Some people have a romanticized idea of what friendships should look like, which causes them to feel like other people don’t put enough effort into the relationship. They feel as though they are always putting in the effort with very little return.
But in reality, friendships are rarely perfect — and people have to manage all aspects of their lives. The last thing anybody wants is a demanding friend that requires constant attention instead of bringing value or a sense of fun.
The Benefits of Continual Openness to New Friends
As we have an abundance of choices in the digital era, we are urged to be selective about who we spend time with.
Having one close friend or a tight-knit circle that is always there to emotionally support us has been highly romanticized in books and movies, but, most of us know that this is not how life works. High school doesn’t last forever and even those fortunate individuals who are in this position risk loneliness when everyone starts to live their own lives.
Our circumstances will change frequently as we progress through the seasons of life, therefore, there is no guarantee that the same people will be available in person or emotionally whenever we need them. To combat this, it’s far wiser to not rely heavily on one or a small group of people and have your interpersonal needs shared amongst a network of separate people.
The breakdown of a friendship— for whatever reason — is much like losing a lover in terms of how it can feel.
Many people find it difficult to establish new friendships than to find their next girlfriend or boyfriend because it appears much less awkward to be looking for a date than to be seeking a mate. Why? Because we assume we should have made all the friends we need by the time we make it to adulthood and consequently stop making any effort.
The problems arise because we don’t take into account that it’s normal for people to drift apart over time. Think about it, our interests and concerns shift as we grow and soon we are nothing like the people we were at eighteen. Some people will grow with you, others with less in common will move on. Forming a new friendship group becomes tricky once we leave college or school, couple that with the fact that we start to lose friends around age 25 and suddenly our Saturday nights look different from how they used to (Source).
According to this study by Harvard University, having no friends could have health consequences and could be as detrimental for our well-being as cigarettes. This was supported by the book “Friendships Don’t Just Happen,” by Shasta Nelson, an accomplished friendship expert, where a study was requested by The National Lottery. This study confirmed that higher numbers of friends correlate with higher happiness levels more than higher funds in the bank.
There is another good reason to get out there and meet more people. Each of us has a unique combination of personality characteristics and preferences with specific interests which not all our friends share. If you limit yourself to only one or two relationships, you may feel lonely because nobody around you can relate, or you might find your friendships much less satisfying.
The Action Plan | How to Fix Your Social Rut
The first thing to realize is that being in a social rut is not embarrassing or an indication that something is wrong with you. It happens to many people at numerous points in their lives. It doesn’t mean you are flawed and unlikable; you just weren’t able to meet new friends for some time.
A second point to know is that most people don’t care what your social life is like. No one at drop-in yoga is going to try to figure out how many friends you have.
Even if your colleagues have a passing hunch that you don’t get up to much outside of work, most of them will have bigger things on their plates than judging you. Your past is gone, it’s what you do right now that counts.
Now that we’ve reviewed some of the potential reasons why you might have a lack of active friendships (and have disregarded unrealistic expectations of how friendships should look) it’s time to develop your own action plan to find more significant connections with the people who are already in your life.
Illustrations courtesy of Shutterstock.
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Develop Better Self-Awareness
In the context of this article, self-awareness is knowledge of your character and how you come across. First and foremost, you need to make sure you don’t send any contradicting signals.
For example, you may appear unfriendly without knowing if you appear to turn down several invitations consistently and avoid eye contact. Here are some other behaviors to take into consideration:
- If you don’t share much about yourself people may assume you are secretive
- If you always wait for people to approach you you may be waiting for a long time
- If you behave in a pretentious manner people will think you are egotistical or ‘hard work’
- If you gossip and generally don’t filter what you say you’ll come across as untrustworthy
- If you overreact when people don’t behave the way you would like them to, you’ll come across as controlling
- If you have closed-off body language you’re telling the world “don’t talk to me”
- If you never look up from your phone you’re signaling disinterest
- If you never take the time to listen to others and get to know them you shouldn’t be surprised that you have no friends!
Take the initiative to hang out with people yourself, and don’t take offense when you aren’t invited to everything.
Sometimes you’ll meet someone you get along with, and they’ll make all the effort of getting your contact information and asking you to do something, but you can’t count on it. People are usually pretty busy and already have social lives of their own.
Most of us are waiting for people to show an interest in us- however if we all sit back, what do you think is going to happen? People are often on a kind of autopilot where they won’t think of you as a potential buddy unless you get them thinking that way.
Showing an interest in spending time with them lets you do that. By waiting for them to extend an invitation, and doing nothing to put yourself on the line, you may have been unwittingly implying that you weren’t interested in getting to know them better.
Don’t think inviting someone to do something makes you look weak, desperate, or one down either. Don’t worry about who asks who to do what and what it all means. If you want to get a circle of friends together, assume you have to do all the work to make it happen.
Let Go of Preconceived Notions – Be Open to Meeting Different Types of New People
Because all friendships start as acquaintances, it’s necessary to talk to more people. Most of these contacts will never become your close friends, and that’s normal. Without going out and meeting a lot of people, your chances of finding a solid group of friends are close to none.
As you meet more people, you may feel tempted to dismiss some of them for one reason or another. For example, you may talk yourself out of following up with some people because of they:
- have a very different background,
- too career-oriented,
- too family-oriented,
- don’t belong to the same race or ethnicity as you,
- too insecure, or too many flaws
- have a different marital status,
- better off / worse off financially than you,
- the list goes on.
Although you may not be able to see it immediately, some of these people may have great potential to become your close friends. Unless you already have a lot of great relationships, in most cases, there is no reason to reject them based on these little differences.
Of course, you don’t have to force yourself to spend time with someone you absolutely can’t connect with, but being more flexible and giving people a chance is conducive to acquiring more meaningful friendships.
Now you may be thinking you don’t even have a chance to reject anyone because you don’t meet anyone in the first place. Fear of not meeting anyone is a valid concern, especially for people who are no longer in school or college.
As we’ve said above, according to research, we naturally begin to lose friends after the age of 25, and the lack of a learning environment has a lot to do with it. So, where do we go to meet new people?
Where to Meet New People
- Sports Clubs and Events. Sports are another great way to connect with others. Attend a gym or join walking / running groups on Meetup.com
- Walking Your Dog. Pets provide instant icebreakers and walking your dog at a consistent time every day may offer the opportunity to meet the same people and become more familiar with them.
- Run Your Kids Around. Another great way is to connect with others through your children. Taking your child to a sports class, to a park, or attending a party with your child all provide great opportunities to meet other parents.
- Use Your Existing Friendships. Making friends through friends is one of the easiest ways to bring new people into your inner circle. If you know, a friend of yours who has a friend with mutual interests suggest a get-together.
- Events, Parties, Gatherings. When you receive an invitation, just go and figure out the rest later.
- Meetup Groups. If you don’t know what Meetup is, it’s a service used to organize online groups that host in-person events for people with similar interests. You can check for Meetup groups in your area via the website or the app. Not only will you be able to meet new people, but you will also be able to connect with people who have similar interests.
- Attend Classes. If you aren’t in school or college anymore, attending classes, such as language classes or something like money management seminars, is a great way to build more connections without feeling awkward.
- Get in A Habit of Chatting to People When You’re Out and About. You won’t become best friends with everyone, but it will warm you up and open the doors for new and exciting people to enter your life.
Watch Out For Opportunists
Research shows that cults and scammers prey on vulnerable and lonely people and use their needs to belong and to gain new friendships. Newcomers will typically receive a warm welcome and develop friendships that may seem much more meaningful than they have ever experienced. Later, this could be used to manipulate people to stay in situations that are harmful to them.
Or in another scenario, say, you make a new friend online, next minute you’re sending large sums of money to bail this ‘friend’ who you’ve never met out of a false situation. It sounds obvious, and we won’t go too in-depth about this in this article, but we want to highlight that it’s crucial to avoid anything that looks like a cult or scam.
Nurture Your New Relationships- and Have Some Fun!
Now that you know a lot more people, you need to nurture your relationships for them to have a chance to gain momentum and become close friendships. A lot of friendships never get off the ground because we either don’t initiate contact consistently, or we aren’t sure our potential friends feel the same way about us.
Overcoming our fear of rejection, being patient, starting contact a little more often than we want to all help build quality relationships or, at the very least, improve our chances of transforming those friendly people into our friends.
Building friendships is a gradual process, and rushing it can be counterproductive. If having no friends is too much to bear, it is a good idea to work with a counselor who can help you deal with loneliness and advise you on better ways to connect with other people.
At Never the Right Word, our aim is to give you practical examples of how to handle life’s difficult conversations. If you have an awkward situation that you’d like example templates for, request a topic here.
Lastly, if you found this content helpful or want to share your own examples, let us know in the comments. We’d also be delighted if you shared this article and joined us on social media too!
Never the Right Word
Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation. Learn more about me here.
In 2019 Never the Right Word was born to fill the gap of ‘how-to’ websites with copy and paste examples showing you EXACTLY what you need to say to steer difficult conversations into positive outcomes.
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