If only making friends as an adult was as easy as bonding over a spider
We need different things at each stage of our lives, and how we make new friends changes too
My first day at work (ever) was a little less frightening because of one of my flatmate’s friends. Here was a person I had never spoken to before — who became my safety net at work. We had little in common, but spent every minute of our working hours together, ate lunch and had evening Irani chai together. Once he moved on from the job, we barely spoke.
I felt bad and we both tried to stay in touch. “It’s fine, maybe you were just work friends,” said my flatmate. A comrade-in-arms to roll your eyes at during early morning meetings and drown your sorrows with.
Making friends as an adult feels like an extreme sport. When you’re a child, something as innocent as the excitement of trapping a spider in a pencil box can turn your desk partner into your best bud. Sammy the spider keeps you together until one of you accidentally squashes it. You then decide you want to befriend the girl with blue hair clips, because that’s your favourite colour. Your spider buddy moves on to play Dr Dolittle with someone else.
Over the years, we go from swapping friendships band like it’s a competition, to overthinking every word before telling a colleague how much you liked their Spotify playlist. You’d think making friends as an adult would be easier without the hormonal angst of our teens years. But speaking to women across age groups, I’ve realised that looking for connections as you get older makes you feel like the vulnerable pre-teen awkwardly walking up to the only other person your age at the family get-together to say hello.
Some psychologists believe that stress and trauma bond people. By that logic, commuters at Dadar Station would be chaddi buddies — nothing brings people together like some shoving, elbowing, manhandling and swearing. But just like our needs from friendships change as we grow older, so does the way we make friends.
“In school you just want to be cool, but it’s in college that you find people who help you become your true self.”
“I was always the weird kid in school. Girls weren’t supposed to play the guitar and listen to heavy metal music so I hid that part of myself. I couldn’t relate to the other girls and befriending boys gave you a tag of promiscuity that was hard to shed,” says Sophie D*, 22. She found her people and unleashed her inner self in college after joining the music society.
Finding kinship in an LBGTQIA+ support group there helped her come to terms with her sexuality.
As our first venture out into the big bad world, college is perhaps the most social we ever get with few responsibilities topping our priority list. Bunking classes to have momos with friends, jam sessions after class, club nights and drunken mistakes spilling into the early hours of the next morning.
“When you enter the corporate world, work friends become your saviours.”
Life hits you hard when you enter the workforce. We encounter a new class of friendship – work friends. Making friends as an adult gets simplified to bonding with colleagues over similar tasks, workplace politics and grumpy bosses. “Late nights and slogging so much meant I had less time to dedicate to my old friends. The people I worked with became my new group of friends,” says Sagarika Chowgule, 27.
Clubbed together within the office space for hours, friendships blossom easily.
“After getting married and having kids, your friendships are attached to other relationships – husband’s friends’ wives, relatives and kid’s friend’s mums.”
Our waistlines may stretch after childbirth, but our social networks shrink after we’re 25-28. The time in our lives when most of us get married or get onto the fast-track to upper management at work. In the hierarchy of our relationships, friends end up getting pushed somewhere to the bottom.
Ira Iqbal*, 55, moved countries after she got married. She felt lost in a land full of strangers, committed to an extended family of in-laws and a partner who constantly travelled for work. Friends meant wives of her husband’s friends and mothers of her kid’s playmates. “It was nice to have other women to talk to but these were superficial relationships. I was so caught up with in-laws, the house and my children that the thought of having ‘real friends’ didn’t cross my mind,” says Iqbal. Swati Chaudhary, 49, Purnima Chowdhury, 46 and Mamta*, 48 shared similar experiences of dropping their old lives and entering a new one after marriage, with limited social circles.
“I wish I had someone to talk to, but I didn’t have time and the allowance to even worry about it,” says Mamta*. “All my time was devoted to in-laws and children and taking care of the house. Imagine if I said I wanted to go meet friends… ‘Bahu ke pass itna free time hair doston se milne ke liye to apne pati aur bachhon ko bhi dekhna chahiye na? Me buzzing off to meet someone would be heavily judged,” she laughs.
“There need to be more kitty parties so us homemakers can have a group of friends that has nothing to do with our home life.”
It’s easy to picture a group of middle-aged women in fancy threads and makeup, laughing loudly at a restaurant. The rest of us impatiently waiting on our dishes to arrive, scoffing every time the group’s laughter erupts. “I clearly remember my mother getting dressed up excitedly for her bi-weekly kitty party,” Purnima recalls. “It was the only time she got to go out on her own, be with other women her own age, away from family life and responsibilities.”
Kitty parties became an escape from the humdrum of domestic life for homemakers. A place they could let loose and finally be able to speak their mind, back when social media and Facebook groups didn’t exist to plan cyber dates and book club meetings.
Purnima’s mom, 66, says, “We would gossip, tell jokes and play games. We were a support for each other, when someone had a problem at home she could openly discuss it and know there would be no judgement.”
Her heart sank when the group broke up. Seeing the change in her demeanour, her daughter signed her up for a ladies’ Bollywood dance class. “It’s a lot of fun. But I miss my old group.”
“Sometimes work gets in the way. Being an ambitious working woman can be a lonely journey.”
While the rest of her college friends coupled up, Menaka Brar, 59, dove into work. As one of two women working at the law firm, she knew she’d have to work extra hard to be taken seriously. Constantly putting off meeting friends for dinner, engagements and child’s namkaran meant that over time, the invitations stopped.
“I was 40 when I was finally happy with my position and could relax. But everyone had moved on. My husband had his group of boarding school and office friends and I had spent years making small talk with their wives. Being an ambitious working woman can be lonely.”
Communicating with her husband had become tough, and she wanted someone to talk to. She looked up art classes for adults nearby and signed up. She felt awkward at the thought of making friends as an adult, overthinking the best way to strike up conversations, until she realised “that other women my age were feeling the same way.”
“In the empty nest stage of our life, we just want people who make us feel like kids again.”
Making friends as an adult means taking a leap of faith and putting yourself in new, uncomfortable situations. Urja P, 61, met her new best friend when she came to the defence of a stranger getting bullied in the comments section of a movie review post on Facebook.
“On a film group, I saw a controversial post where everyone was piling onto the movie and a lone woman voiced her opposing opinion. After I defended her in the comments, Nina sent me a private message joking about how aggressive and upset people were getting. Since then, we have been talking pretty much every day,” she shares.
Nina, 59, lives across the country and was delighted when she saw Urja’s comment pop up. “She was so witty. I clicked on her profile and we seemed about the same age so I just messaged her. I thought at this age I had forgotten how to make new friends but we just clicked.”
Nina’s son taught her how to host watch parties on streaming platforms. Every Saturday night, Nina and Urja convene to watch a film together, even while living thousands of kilometres apart.
“Making friends as an adult can mean starting new relationships with childhood friends.”
The countless tasks and responsibilities that take up our time taper off as we get older. The kids have grown up and started a family of their own. Building meaningful friendships takes priority again when you can choose who you want to spend your time with. For Saroj Parkhe, 63, it meant meeting new people through the bridge group she and her husband joined, and reaching out to old school and college friends on Facebook.
She expected awkwardness, even anger for disconnecting from old friends. “Forty years ago, there was no Facebook or Skype. You either wrote letters or made expensive phone calls,” she laughs. She says real friends forgive easily, even after not talking for years. “We made a new friendship, building on the foundation of our old one.” When you all feel the same disheveling force of adult life taking over, it’s easier to understand how relationships can end and evolve.
Now, you’re no longer dependent on your friend to give you the support and validation you may have needed when you were younger. It’s a different kind of relationship with no responsibilities or demands — other than having a good time and being yourself.