My mum taught me a failsafe method for friend-making when I was seven years old and about to start a new school.
“Just walk up to the person with the friendliest face and say: ‘Hi, my name is Jonathan. Did you watch the A-Team on Saturday?’” she told me, as I dragged my schoolbag nervously across the playground on that first day in 1986. And you know what? It worked (that friendly face is still one of my best friends today, 36 years later).
When you’re seven, of course, the odds are very much in your favour when it comes to making friends. Not only do you find yourself in an environment with a gaggle of others the same age, but they’ll all exhibit broadly similar likes and dislikes – not to mention an identical daily itinerary.
But what about the same process when you’re 37 or 47? When there are more than just four terrestrial channels to watch on TV and it’s significantly harder to guess the viewing habits of even the friendliest face? What happens when many of the friends that you made on the playground – or at university, or in the formative years of your career – have drifted away: out of the city and into family-first suburban bubbles?
In her book Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, journalist Lydia Denworth describes our 30s as “the decade where friendship goes to die.”
And there’s plenty of research to back up her argument. A study published in the National Library of Medicine analysed the social patterns of a whopping 177,000 people and found that friendship groups expand until approximately the age of 25, when they start to contract dramatically.
Age doesn’t preclude us from making new friends
But all of the above misses one key point: just because this natural contraction happens to “old” friendship groups, doesn’t preclude any of us from establishing new ones.
My friend Mark has a great metaphor for this: “Think of the old gang as a favourite jumper you’ve had for years,” he says. “Just because it might have a tendency to shrink in the wash, doesn’t mean you can’t go out and buy a new one.” And what’s to stop that new jumper from being even better than the original? After all, don’t most of us dress better now than we did when we were teenagers?
In reality, you never forget how to forge friendships and the ones you do make in your 30s and 40s have the potential to be stronger, deeper and more rewarding than those that went before – for the simple reason that you’re now (hopefully) a fully formed adult and know your likes, dislikes, quirks, tolerances and interests, far better than the gangly prototype version of yourself ever did. You picked these friends. You weren’t forced together by coincidence.
The scientific evidence shows that making friends is actually very simple. According to psychologist Jessica Tappana, the founder of Aspire Counselling, there are just two main elements necessary: shared interests and repeated exposure.
So, all you need to do is work out what you really like doing (say adventure travel, since you’re here) then put yourself in a position to meet people of a shared mindset. After that, it’s all about the repeated exposure (keeping in touch, planning future trips).
The key is in consistent effort, because when it comes to forging friendships, semantics reveal an important detail: we make friends. It’s not something that happens by luck or chance – it’s a process. You get back what you put in.
Finally, it’s not just nice to make new friends in your 30s and 40s, it’s also extremely beneficial for your health. A major Harvard University study of men between the ages of 20 and 80 found that the single best predictor of health and happiness at the age of 80 was not wealth or professional success – it was their relationships at 50. Those with strong ones were not only happier, they went on to live significantly longer. Put simply, having friends is good for you.
Making friends improves in our 30s and 40s as we know ourselves better
So, what does all of this mean? The good news is that the skill set of making friends does not end in the playground – it stays with us for life, and even improves in our 30s and 40s, as we come to know our fundamental selves better. And if you like travelling, exploring new cultures and laughing until your face hurts, then Flash Pack is a great place to make some new ones. Whatever age you are.
Yes, our 30s and 40s are a time when familiar friendships can often get obscured by more “adult” concerns like marriage, child-rearing and stressful careers. But you owe it to yourself, your health and your future to take a long hard look at your jumper drawer and ask if you need to go shopping.
If travel is your thing, there are hundreds of countries out there just waiting to be explored – and hundreds of friendships to make along the way.
Find out more about Flash Pack adventures right here.
Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.