Finding and maintaining friendships is challenging. But it helps that, for introverts, friendships are about quality over quantity.
Growing up, I knew I was different, never feeling a part of any crowd but rather more like a chameleon: fitting into any group when necessity called. The feeling of never finding that true friend and being a part of that coveted friend group who understood me created anxiety.
As an adult, I thought this anxiety would magically disappear, but the same issues with finding and fitting in with a group remained. However, one thing made all of the difference in curbing my “friend anxieties”: I finally realized I was an introvert and embraced it.
Remarkably, I did not hear the term introvert until I was in adulthood and found myself relating to it all too well through the blogs (like this one) and articles I’d come across on the characteristics of introverts. Much to my relief, I found there were people out there like me, and suddenly I felt less odd and quirky.
Being able to relate to many groups — but not fitting in — now seemed versatile, not terrible. Getting a handle on my introversion, and what I wanted from a friendship, made finding friends as an adult less like a chore. And I also found that I didn’t need as many friends as I thought. After all, introverts are all about quality over quantity. Here are some ways I’ve learned to find — and maintain — friendships as an introverted adult.
5 Ways to Find and Maintain Friendships as an Introverted Adult
1. Find people with the same interests.
Where do you find friends as an adult? I found one of my best adult friends in college and we were only at the same school for one semester. She is an introvert, too, with slightly different traits. For example, she, unlike me, can be a talker, and her whole small town knows her. (Not because of her talking, by the way, but because of her kindness.)
There are still plenty of places to meet adult friends other than college: the workplace, the gym, parents of your kids’ friends, the internet… It sounds cliché, but friends can be found in the most unlikely places and without forcing it. In other words, don’t go purposely looking for friends or go into a situation believing you have to come out of it with a best friend. If crowded bars aren’t your scene — and I’m guessing they’re probably not, my fellow introverts — don’t go searching there, potentially putting yourself in an uneasy situation.
Truthfully, if you are doing something you enjoy (running, art class, whatever), you are more likely to be your wonderful self and will eventually meet people with the same interests as you, sparking a friendship. It could be as easy as just meeting people through everyday tasks. I mean, everyone has to eat and go grocery shopping, right?
Eventually, you have to ask yourself the all-important questions: Do I want a lot of friends or just one or two really good ones? At the adult friend level, it really comes down to quality, not quantity (especially for introverts, as I said before). I mean, seriously, who are you trying to impress? After all, more friends means less alone time, right? And we can’t have that!
2. Establish communication right from the start.
When you are free to be that awesome introvert you are, friendships should come with a certain level of communication. I am speaking of ways to communicate, as well as expressing feelings. As introverts, it’s difficult to put ourselves out there, and sometimes we get burned when we do. (And, really, what have we got to lose?) But sometimes — even as introverts — we have to put ourselves out there to get the desired results.
So if you do meet a potential friend, establish from the start your preferred way to be contacted. (You can tell your existing friends this, too; maybe they have no idea!) If you are not a phone person (ahem, are there any introverts who like to talk on the phone?), then let the person know in good time you’d prefer text, email, Snapchat, whatever. For instance, my friend of 20 years knows I detest phone calls. Sure, I love to hear her voice, but we usually communicate that a phone call will be happening before it actually happens. (We introverts are not fans of surprise calls even more so than calls in general.) So let your friends in on how you feel and don’t try to guess their thoughts. Speaking of which…
3. Don’t try to guess what your friends are thinking.
I don’t know about you, but as an introvert, I overanalyze everything and create possible scenarios in my head (which usually end up being dead wrong). Come on, you know what I’m talking about. Even though introverts are amazingly perceptive, we are not mind readers, so attempting to figure out what your friends are thinking is futile. More than likely, they think you are great, but don’t have nearly as many thoughts running through their minds at one time as you do.
And while it’s easy to dwell on a conversation you didn’t think went well or an activity gone wrong, don’t beat yourself up about it. Creating stories in your head is truly awesome (I’m guilty). However, not when you start to believe your own thoughts are actually how your friends are thinking and feeling about you or a situation. Secret: Most people didn’t think that hard about any of it and moved on way before you did (since they don’t overthink like we do).
Take my advice: If you want to know something, ask. Concerned about an issue? Pursue it. Mad about something? Say so. Yep, this will take some practice (admittedly, I am still learning), but if you cannot express yourself with someone, the person is probably not of friend status. Establishing trust and understanding with adult friends is important. No one should make you feel uncomfortable or hinder you from being you and letting your true self shine.
4. Don’t feel guilty about bowing out of plans.
So you’ve met these friends as an adult and they, like all friends do, get together every once in a while. (Yeah, I know, I know, but that’s what friends do.) I am here to tell you that it’s OK to decline plans with friends or to accept an offer only to repent at the last minute and cancel. Expect to hear coaxing from your friends, but if they understand you and get you, they will eventually let it go (until next time).
When it comes to making plans and canceling, feeling guilty shouldn’t come into play, nor should worrying about what friends are thinking (or will think) of it. If there is an understanding of your boundaries and limits, friends aren’t thinking anything negative. I used to irrationally contemplate the uncertainty of not knowing what my friends thought when I wouldn’t join their plans. But then I came to the realization that if they were upset with me for canceling, then I guess my introversion wasn’t truly accepted and the friendship probably wasn’t genuine. (This is, of course, assuming they know I’m an introvert, which you should tell your friends. It’ll help!) Adult introverts thrive with close, genuine friendships. And when friendships are not, it’ll likely be revealed soon enough; the invites to go out will eventually stop.
Join the introvert revolution. One email, every Friday. The best introvert articles. Subscribe here.
5. Realize that friendships change over time.
Once you have conquered your anxiety over finding friends and have acquired a few, there is always the obstacle of how to keep them. Maintaining friendships as an introverted adult is not an easy task and I wish there was some magical potion or formula to it I could share. But, truthfully, you will be able to keep them if you are true to yourself and realize friendships can change or suddenly end, even healthy ones.
Sometimes, friendships just run their course, even seemingly perfect ones. For example, if your child is a hockey player and you become friends with one of the parents, when the hockey dies out, so might the friendship. The hockey bond that became the glue for your friendship weakened. However, life is a journey, and people need friends at different times in their lives for various reasons. You may not have made it through hockey season without that friend, and it was never a friendship wasted. (Is there such a thing?)
In comes the distance and moving factor. Adults have their own lives, and sometimes a long-distance move can put a sudden halt to a friendship. You might experience a falling out with a very good friend when you can no longer decline invitations in person (joking here), but seriously, a move can impact the dynamics of a friendship, especially if communication is muffled or even lost.
Friendships can also turn one-sided. If there is always one party making the plans or sending the texts, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the friendship or perhaps that friendship has moved on to an acquaintance status. A change in friend dynamics is sometimes puzzling or sad, but if you recognize it and know what you want out of a friendship, things can be easier.
Remember, for Introverts, It’s Quality Over Quantity
Occasionally, you will be lucky enough to find that life-long friend: They not only understand your needs as an introvert, but also your quirky ways and thinking somehow connect with this person. It doesn’t matter if they live right next to you or across the globe, because this person lets you be you and there is a comfortability factor with your introversion. Perhaps this person is introverted themselves, or maybe not, but you get each other. You only need one of these friends.
My best friend and I don’t see each other often, but I can honestly say she is always there for me. As an adult, I am content with who I am, and having an abundance of friends doesn’t suit me. I can celebrate my introverted traits and quirks because I realize they will never go away; to a certain extent, they help define me. My best friend accepts all the introverted idiosyncrasies that come with me. It’s the comfortability factor in full force!
So while finding, and maintaining, friends as an introverted adult may seem like a chore, it’s really not as bad as it seems. And if you adore your alone time, you might find you don’t need a plethora of friends anyway. It comes down to finding a few of the right people in your kind of places who leave you feeling like yourself, and accepting that friendships will change over time, because people evolve. Also remember that being in tune with your friends’ minds and thoughts isn’t the same as being a mind reader, so be wary of trying to fill in the blanks. With time and patience, embrace being an introvert and come to terms with what you need from adult friendships, not what you think (or others think) you need.