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How to Forge Rock-Solid Friendships in Your 30s and 40s (That Last a Lifetime)

Subhajit Banerjee

April 21, 2024

“The greatest miracle that Jesus performed was having 12 close friends in his 30s.”
— John Mulaney

Let’s be honest.

Making friends as an adult isn’t easy.

Most people today only have a few work acquaintances they consider friends.

They might keep in touch with some people from school or college.

And maybe they invite a neighbor over occasionally.

These are just “proximity friends”.

But rarely does one of them become a friend you can have deep, heartfelt conversations with. Or trust to have your back when needed.

However, this doesn’t mean the need for friends disappears.

Instead, the burden falls on the shoulders of their spouses.

I’ve struggled in this area for a long time.

But I am now determined to improve it and have started taking concrete steps for that (more on that soon).

Why, you ask?

Because having good friends in your life is a blessing.

One friend might help you move. Another provides emotional support. And yet another pushes you to grow.

It benefits your marriage. Your spouse won’t have to play the roles of your support pillar, cheerleader, coach, therapist, or playmate all alone.

Friends can also serve as your advisory board.

Surrounding yourself with good friends makes you a better person. The saying that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with still holds true.

And last but not least, here’s another reason to cultivate good friendships — your biochemistry.

According to the Huberman Lab podcast, our body punishes us when we lack social interactions.

When you feel lonely and isolated, your body produces neuropeptides called tachykinins.

These act as a wake-up call to seek out social interactions and make friends.

What happens when tachykinins build up? You become stressed, anxious, fearful, and even aggressive.

People often ignore these signs and seek short-term stress release like smoking a cigarette or having a drink at the bar.

But in the long term, the cascade of stressors multiplies and does untold damage to your body and mind.

So, friendship is not a topic you can take lightly or leave to chance.

Why is making friends as an adult so difficult?

But what stops us from making friends as an adult?

One of the reasons is that we’re cooped up at home or work. We don’t carve out enough time to develop and nurture friendships.

Like anything worthwhile, friendships take time to build. It’s tough to build when you’re not physically interacting with people.

This can be fixed easily though – just make some time to go out.

But there are 3 barriers that aren’t that obvious. And they are harder to overcome…

Friendship barrier 1: broken attachment

Attachment is how you give and receive love and get your needs met. The more secure your attachment, the better the quality of your relationships.

You learn attachment from how your parents treated you. How they met your needs—or didn’t—shaped your expectations of others.

Good attachment feels warm and secure. You express your needs and have them met without fear of rejection, punishment, or abandonment.

You feel relaxed in your relationships and enjoy social engagements.

But what if your parents didn’t (or couldn’t) give you the care, nurture, and protection you needed?

What if you were pushed away whenever you failed to please them or didn’t act as they expected?

What if you had to suppress your identity, impulses, and desires to meet your parents’ expectations, just to get by?

Then you grow up with broken attachment.

You feel there’s something wrong with you. You feel there’s something wrong with everyone else.

So you can’t trust others.

You believe you don’t fit in because you never experienced belonging. You doubt anyone would even want to be your friend.

You can’t ask to get your needs met, because you think no one cares. You think you need to figure out on your own how to get your needs met, without getting hurt.

You feel isolated, abandoned, and ostracized at the edge of a village – with an unknown wilderness lying before you.

It’s terrifying.

Sometimes, you attract damaged people and end up in one-sided, toxic, or exhausting “friendships”.

You believe that’s the best you can do. So you latch on to these “friends”, put up with their shenanigans, and bear it all with a grin – even when you’re seething inside.

But soon you grow disillusioned.

You start pushing good people away, believing them too good to be true.

You ignore them. You take them for granted.

They feel you don’t value them. So, they turn away or leave, confirming your fear that you don’t belong anywhere.

What happens after a lifetime on this edge?

You succumb to the second barrier of friendship: anxiety.

Friendship barrier 2: anxiety

It was autumn.

The Indians on the remote reservation asked their new Chief if the winter would be cold or mild.

But the Chief was never taught the old secrets. To be cautious, he predicted a cold winter and advised the villagers to gather firewood to prepare.

But he was practical as well. He called the National Weather Service (NWS) a week later and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?”

“The winter will indeed be quite cold,” the meteorologist answered.

Hearing this, the Chief told his people to collect even more wood.

A week later, he called the NWS again. “Is it going to be a very cold winter?”

“Yes,” the response came, “it’s definitely going to be a very cold winter.”

The Chief then urged his people to gather every piece of wood they could find.

Two weeks later, he called the NWS once more. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”

“Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s going to be one of the coldest winters ever.”

“How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked.

The weatherman said, “The Indians are collecting wood like crazy.”

This is how anxiety works.

It’s an alarm system in your body, alerting you to potential dangers. It’s designed to protect you.

So, what happens when you’re hurt, betrayed, or neglected by your parents, the two most crucial people in your life?

Your body internalizes that connections are painful, and relationships bring hurt.

Whenever you try to connect with others, it tries to protect you. It activates your stress response, pumps you full of adrenaline, increases your heart rate, and prepares you for fight or flight.

You interpret that as anxiety.

So, your body is doing exactly what it’s designed to do. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Now, it’s up to you to retrain it.

Each time you listen to your body and flee, you reinforce your brain’s prediction.

It confirms that it was right. You wouldn’t have fled otherwise.

And it concludes that ramping up anxiety the next time you attempt to connect is the correct response.

This is the essence of social anxiety. And your brain finds convincing reasons for behaving this way.

How does it manage that?

Enter the third barrier to friendship — judgment.

Friendship barrier 3: judgement

Sometimes, you manage to overcome the first two barriers.

You ignore the internal screams of a lifetime’s worth of conditioning, silence the alarm of anxiety, and manage to connect with someone.

Then, the third barrier rears its ugly head: you begin to judge them.

You see them as superior.

You feel defenseless against their “authority”. It reminds you of the coercive authority figure from your childhood.

This triggers your anxiety and stress response.

You envisage yielding to them, giving up your freedom.

But you promised yourself you’d be caught dead before you repeat such a dynamic.

So you push them away.

Or sometimes, you see them as inferior.

You judge them based on their flaws. You use these judgments to boost your self-esteem.

You push them away out of contempt. Or you continue using them to feel better at their expense.

In either case, you dare not be authentic or show vulnerability.

Because you fear you’ll lose leverage.

These dynamics, as psychologist Alfred Adler described, are called vertical or hierarchical relationships — like those between a boss and employee, a parent and child, or a coach and player.

They are transactional relationships, where the other person is not even aware of the terms.

It’s not friendship.

Some things gotta go

These barriers make it hard to form meaningful friendships. They are the root of much pain and suffering in our world.

You needed them at one point in your life. They kept you safe.

But that season of your life is over.

Now you need nourishing, enriching relationships and friendships that help you realize your full potential and thrive.

So these barriers gotta go.

How do you start doing that?

You stop trying to fit in.

If you feel you need to present a fake version of yourself, you’re in the wrong place.

Show up as your true, authentic self, instead. That’s when you’ll attract people who really belong with you.

Retrain your brain and body to not see others as threats. Sure, mom and dad were, but that’s not the whole truth about the world.

Realize that no one is in a position to judge others.

There is no one correct way to live life. What’s right for you might not be right for everyone else.

You don’t know what they are going through. You can’t comprehend their histories. You are not in their shoes.

I’ve struggled with these lessons for a long time. It took me a while to realize and accept this truth.

Only after it sunk in could I start making real friends.

I’ve come to see my judgment as my ego’s way of pushing people away, keeping me isolated and “protected” in my bubble.

I viewed all relationships as vertical. I was either superior, where I felt the need to teach, or inferior, where I felt I needed to learn.

However, I lacked confidence in giving advice one-on-one unless asked. I was also uncomfortable asking for help, fearing rejection.

But the good thing is – once you stop isolating yourself and start socializing, your perspective broadens. The judgment starts to dissipate.

I’ve been working on recognizing these biases and reactions. That awareness helps me reach out and make good friends today. (To learn how to do the same, book a free strategy call here.)

I have stopped pushing people away. Instead, I ask myself how I can make others feel they belong.

One way is by looking for similarities.

In today’s divisive social media climate, the “us vs them” mindset has become the norm.

Everyone is on the lookout for differences.

Differences are threats. They make you feel distanced and isolated. They lead to abandonment and loneliness.

Be the one who strives to find similarities instead.

I promise they’re there.

Red flags in friendship

Now you understand the importance of real friendships. And you also have an idea of what’s holding you back from building them.

Before we explore methods to remove these barriers, let’s first understand what healthy friendships look like.

A good starting point is knowing what to avoid.

Sometimes, you attract people who aren’t good for you. So early on, it’s crucial to watch for red flags in friendships.

A useful test is to check from time to time if the friendship feeds you or bleeds you.

Beware of the bleeders. They always seek attention, praise, and time for themselves. They are high-maintenance, self-centered, and fussy.

For example, I have a friend who always tries to dominate the conversation. He always wants to be the center of attention and shows only surface-level interest in others’ lives.

Keep an eye out for such behaviors.

In healthy friendships, there’s a balanced give and take.

Both you and your friend feel enriched and nourished by the relationship. Neither of you feels deflated, exhausted, or used after spending time together.

If you’re not experiencing that with someone, consider them acquaintances instead of friends.

Then make room for new, healthier connections.

What good friendships look like

Now, let’s focus on what a good friendship looks like.

Good friends align with your values. They are principled and act out of conviction rather than fear.

They are reliable, kind, compassionate, and brave. You can consistently trust and respect them.

They share your values and interests. They support you. They challenge you to push boundaries and grow along with you.

They are open, authentic, and willing to face and solve problems together.

They welcome feedback and are not afraid to adjust their behavior if necessary.

They make time for face-to-face interaction, not just digital ones.

These friendships offer deep companionship. They hold a space to share your wins, losses, and struggles. Or as John Deloney puts it “the good stuff, the bad stuff, and the dark stuff”.

Good friends hold a kind of contradiction…

They call on your bullshit and hold you accountable, yet they’re there for you when you screw up.

They expect the most out of you, yet they expect nothing from you.

They know your flaws, yet they are most forgiving of them.

This is the friendship blueprint you should go by. The more of these qualities present, the better.

“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”
— Tennessee Williams

How to build friendships as adults

Put Yourself out there

So where do you start finding these great friends?

It’s simpler than you think.

Think back to your kindergarten days. You connected over common interests, like favorite comic characters.

Why complicate it now?

Develop a hobby. Discover places where people with the same hobby as you gather.

I’m deep into coaching, solopreneurship, and health optimization. So these days I’m always on the lookout for gatherings around these topics.

Once you’re there, meet new people and engage with them. Chances are, they’re also seeking new friends.

Don’t overthink it.

Start conversations around your hobby and, if you click, expand the discussion to other topics.

Be curious about them, ask questions, then share a bit about yourself.

A quick caveat though…

When you share too much, they will probably get bored. But ask too many questions without revealing anything and you appear nosy.

The rule of thumb – share about two-thirds of what you ask them.

Get a grip on fear and anxiety

At this point, your old friend anxiety might decide to pay a visit.

So you have to calm your stress response.

I ask myself – “Why am I nervous around these people? What makes me feel less than them?”

Is it their success? Appearance? Skills?

Are they better orators, writers, or more disciplined?

And then I lean into the answer. It tells me what my true values are.

No judgment here. Only curiosity and wisdom to plan for the future.

When you go into this mode – you would be more willing to go out and engage socially.

Because now you have gamified the challenge. And there’s a payoff in terms of more consciousness, awareness, and self-knowledge.

Who doesn’t want more of that?

Build Assertiveness

You feel anxious because you’re afraid you won’t be able to say “No” to someone you perceive as superior.

But once you craft your principles and values, once you resolve to abide by them, once you understand that your worth doesn’t depend on approval from others, and once you become comfortable revealing your most authentic self – saying “No” becomes easy.

As psychologist and author Nick Wignall puts it, “Assertiveness is the skill of taking action on what you really want despite your emotions pulling you the other way.”

Invest time and energy to develop and flex those assertiveness muscles.

(Book a free strategy call with me to learn how to get started.)

Suspend judgment

You know that judgment is one of the hardest barriers to forming meaningful friendships.

The first step to letting it go is to catch yourself judging others.

Throughout the day notice when you go into that judgment mode. Then interrupt that pattern instead of going down the rabbit hole.

This is something I’m working on as well.

The next step is coming up with the kindest, most positive explanation for why a person shows up a certain way.

Every time I force myself to think this way, I come up with an explanation that matches the reality 90% of the time. It leads me to a place of empathy and pulls the ground away from my urge to criticize.

Judgment also works like a mirror.

Every time you judge someone – it reveals an unhealed part of you. Subconsciously, you judge yourself on those same standards and often fall short. It demolishes your self-esteem.

So treat the urge to judge as a gift and use it as an opportunity to do more inner work.

Find common ground

Suspending judgment is a good first step to connecting with people.

Next comes practicing acceptance.

How do you do that?

Ask questions. Lead with curiosity. Find common ground.

Ideally, you want to be around people with whom you share principles. But your values can be different.

Better to not focus on how you are different.

Instead, focus on your similarities. Keep coming back to them from time to time. Try to build upon them.

This is how you nurture the relationship.

Invite people over

Once you’ve started building those connections with new friends, invite them over.

It feels risky. That is why building a solid foundation of shared principles and values is so important.

Lead with curiosity and acceptance, and you’ll know exactly who you want to invite.

Not everyone needs to be in your inner circle. But those who are, open up to them with everything.

That’s how it’s done.

Get comfortable with rejection

Asking someone for the gift of company feels scary. Because you’re opening yourself up to rejection.

But don’t take it personally.

Think of it in this way – not everyone out there is for you.

So an early rejection is a gift.

It saves you from investing time and energy in a fruitless relationship

It prevents deeper heartache later.

Don’t let this fear stop you from reaching out and finding your tribe.

On opening your heart

Follow the above steps and you will soon have a circle of good friends around you.

Identify 3-5 individuals you can truly rely on.

Then confide in them.

Tell them what kind of struggles you have been through.

Tell them what kind of barriers you had to overcome to reach out and connect.

This is something I picked up from the works of psychologist and coach Adam Lane Smith.

It rang so true to me that I decided to adopt it. And I encourage my clients to adopt the same.

I have started opening up in this way to a few valuable friends in my life.

It’s a gift. It tells them what their friendship means to you.

Ask them if they can hold you accountable when they see you going back to your old ways.

This is how you build that circle of trust and start feeling that warmth of safety.

So embrace these steps.

Soon, you will start feeling like someone has your back.

You will no longer feel isolated and abandoned. You will no longer feel like holding the fort alone.

The hostile predators from that unknown wilderness will seem tame and manageable.

Once again, you will start feeling like a part of the wider community.

You will feel you belong.

You will have laid an important foundation for your best possible life.

Will you start walking this path with me?