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Building friendships in adulthood is a new, but critical, skill to develop.

Growing up, your friends are built-in. Your peers are automatically in community with you, doing the same things and facing similar challenges more or less. It can be easy in a sense to find your friends when you’re growing up because you have a lot of leisure time you can invest into relationships, built-in proximity and a wide selection of like-minded peers. 

The onset of adulthood, particularly once you’re done with school, brings about a significant challenge when it comes to building friendships and finding community.

When we’re growing up, no one teaches us how to make friends, it just happens to us in most cases, give or take some lonely years. But often adults aren’t in situations where they’re in proximity to a wide pool of potential friends, and the realities and responsibilities of adulthood can significantly limit the time we have to pour into our friendships.

Friends are vital to our wellbeing. Each friendship brings a new dynamic, a new flavor to our lives. Our community of friends underscore the best years of our lives, supporting us through hard times and sharing laughs through the normal days. They provide advice and perspective where our own lacks, they supplement the limitations of ourselves and our families.

Our community gives us a purpose outside of ourselves, an outlet for our energy and an opportunity to accept love and help from those outside our family.

Getting plugged into a community of friends often starts with just one person, but ultimately requires going a bit outside of your comfort zone.

I met a woman a couple of years younger than me through work two years ago. At the time, I thought she seemed really cool, but client work was new for me and I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate to reach out to her to hang out as friends. One day, however, she reached out to me and we grabbed coffee. 

In my experience, one of the best ways to jump into a friendship is to ask people real, open-ended questions, listen and then ask them follow-up questions.

One of my favorite things to ask a new friend is to “tell me your life story.” As my new friend shared her story with me, I was able to return the conversation with my own stories, and we quickly found that we had numerous points of connection. 

When my friend had initially reached out, she had shared that she was still somewhat new in town and had just started attending my church, and asked if I might help her plug in. Soon after, I invited her to join me at a women’s group I attend with other women from our church, and later we started a book club with other women in town. Her network, and my own, quickly grew.

The incredible thing about this story to me is the way my friend took the risk of asking me to consider being a “church friend” as she settled in. Our friendship a year and a half later is one of the dearest in my life in this season, and I’m so grateful she reached out that day.

If we, as adults, seek to build our network and our friendships, we have to bear the onus of that desire and step a bit outside of our comfort zones to find that first person. I think sometimes we imagine that a big group of friends shows up all at once, when in reality friendships come one at a time.

From there, we need to find opportunities to share experiences and have meaningful conversations with people in which we truly listen and share thoughts and ideas and build trust.

The best friendships take time to nurture, but even the tiny sprouts of friendship feel incredibly hopeful and promising.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.