Can you make friends after 30?

Making friends after 30

In the last couple of years, I’ve moved twice — once from New York City to Minneapolis, and once from Minneapolis to Dallas/Ft. Worth. I had a few good friends in Minneapolis while I was there, but I was there for graduate school and I met all those friends through graduate school (plus one couple my wife and I met via church, although we hung out with them probably more inconsistently). Minneapolis is a notoriously hard place to make friends — 7 in 10 people living around Minneapolis have roots in the area, so groups are already established. In short, it’s crazy insular. 

I’ve been in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area now for about 17 months. In the grand scheme of life, that’s not really that much time — and in totality, I was probably gone 2-3 months for work across that time frame, so let’s say I’ve lived here maybe a little over a year in terms of like, uh, seat time. I have probably 5-6 friends, including 2-3 I could hang out with fairly consistently. That’s way better than Minneapolis, but that might be a function of the place. Dallas/Ft. Worth has a high job growth rate, so people are often moving here from other places. At a certain point, you need human companionship, so if you move to a new place, you’ll seek out others — and one of the easier places to start is other new people.

That’s all a long way of saying this stuff interests me, so I did some research on friends after 30 and the challenges therein. I’ve written a little about this before. Here are a few things I found of interest/note:

This New York Times article is quite good on the topic

You can read it here. Lots of good quotes and sociologists and psychologists and experts and all that. Here’s one thing I learned that I knew (intuitively) but never knew (officially): the three key categories for making close friends are (a) proximity, (b) repeated and unplanned interactions, and (c) a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other (in a word, a “bar” with “alcohol” — kidding on that last part, mostly).

The Stigma Thing

A lot of people north of 30 are a bit more established — none of my wife’s friends have kids really, but pretty much all mine do, so I’ve seen both sides of that equation. When you join leagues — like me with Kickball — you see a lot more 25-27 and even younger. If you’re 32-33 in that space, there can be a bit of a stigma. Like, “Why is this dude over here looking for friends?”

The Couples Thing

If you’re in a couple, there are kind of two buckets people place you in. The first can be, “Oh, well, you’re married and I’m not, so I don’t feel the need to include you in social settings because I have this idea about married people.” I was talking to a girl a few weeks ago and she said she was maybe hosting a Halloween party down here. I was semi-pushing (round-about) for an invite (because I’m a mess) and she said something along the lines of, “Well, you’re married. It probably wouldn’t be any fun for you…” Egad. Does marriage stop fun? I don’t think so. For many people, it begins fun. Kind of weird. The other aspect is that instead of looking for 1-to-1 or overall group compatibility, you need to worry about whether your wife/significant other likes the other person, and likes the other person’s S.O. and all that. Some of the best friends I have right now (who don’t live in Texas) are people where my wife was friends with the girl, and I became friends with the guy. Easy, natural. That’s pretty much the only way to do it north of 30. (I think.)

The Shrinking Thing

Logically, as you get older, you start to tack on milestones around birthdays and think about “time horizons.” Plus, you probably have more responsibility at work and technically a family or other commitments. Rather than expanding your social network in that period, you’re likely contracting it. This can happen organically — i.e. you move to a new city — or happen inorganically, i.e. you just fall out of touch with a lot of people.

The Money Thing

It’s a natural fact of life that some people will make more money and some will make less; interestingly, it often has nothing to do with the innate abilities of the people involved. It can be based on the profession you chose (some just make more), the area you live in, and the priorities you select (private schools, lots of travel, etc.) Some people, though, get really into money as their 30s evolve. Some don’t. (I like to be able to pay for things, but I have no true interest in money as a marker of anything.) So that can change dynamics as well.

The Busy Trap Thing

That happens to people. And they’re not always happy about it.

The Self-Discovery Thing

Sociologists and psychologists like to talk about how your 20s is “self-discovery” (for me it was that, but also getting drunk and falling asleep on the subway, to be sure) and your 30s is “self-knowledge” (i.e. becoming more comfortable in your own skin), ideally leading to a 40s where you can balance personal and professional (which is a myth for a lot of people who are devoid of context on the matter). When you move into “self-knowledge,” you also tend to constrict friends instead of add friends. Makes sense on face, right?

So what do you all think: is it possible to make friends after 30, and, if not — why? 

Ted Bauer


  1. Oh man. As someone over 30 who has to move countries for work every few years, this is ultra depressing. :p

  2. Thinking about this a lot lately, for obvious reasons. I read the NYT piece a while ago and found it pretty useful.
    I’ve been thinking about the whole “work friend” definition, too. Those are the people I spend time with, but by virtue of being a teacher there are some boundaries I tend to want to keep in place, that I don’t tend to have with normal friends.
    See you soon!

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