How to make friends in the 21st century

My youngest brother just moved in to Warsaw, and asked me for advice on where to find new friends. Making friends as an adult isn’t easy in general, but he’s made it exceptionally hard for himself. Dropping out of college after 2 days or so, and having worked remotely for the last year, he’s successfully cut himself off from the two most common ways to meet new people. To make things even more complicated, he’s not looking for bros to crawl pubs together on a Saturday night. No, he’d rather discuss the meaning of life, get recommended some challenging and eye-opening books, and exchange productivity tips and tricks. As far as I’ve observed, people who enjoy this are quite rare.

After a few years of working remotely, I should have it all figured by now. It’s sad to admit, but I haven’t really made much progress there myself. I still mostly hang out with the people I met at college, dorm parties or the previous office job I had, my soon-to-be husband included. Without these relationships I’d probably become a hermit or go completely insane.

Making friends as an adult is hard. Especially these days.

At least according to my fiancé’s grandpa, who always laments at the individualism of my own generation. Back in his days, everyone used to be a member of at least a few clubs and associations, each formed around a common profession, hobby, or even the region they came from. They would meet on a regular schedule, hold some discussion panels, then party together or go on some field trips. He still belongs to an association of army veterans, but it’s slowly dying out, as even veteran boomers don’t want to join it anymore.

Grandpa believes it was the recent transition to capitalism that made people less eager to get together. For sure there used to be much more government-led initiatives when he was young. But this can’t be the whole story, as similar trends have been observed all around the world. Old communities forming around a church, sports club, or labor union are slowly disappearing, and new ones are not being built in their place.

Why has such shift occurred? The internet, TV, and video games have all likely contributed to this. If there’s an endless stream of first-class entertainment delivered straight to your living room couch 24/7, why bother leaving home? In result, most adult Americans haven’t made a new friend in years, and even teenagers feel isolated and lonely.

Like my brother, I am an extrovert and find it challenging to work from home alone. Unlike him, I did go to college and worked in an office where I had a chance to make friends. But if he’s specifically looking for people passionate about lifelong learning and changing the world, college and traditional office jobs may not be the best way to find them either.

Perhaps the best way to make friends is to do interesting things and let it happen as a side-effect

The sort of people my brother is looking for don’t likely have 9 to 5 jobs or go to networking events. They’re too busy doing and creating amazing things in the meantime. And if there’s a way to get in front of them despite of their busy schedule, it’s by creating something that they would find interesting.

Among the few friends I made while working remotely are the incredible ladies from my Kosmos editorial board. They all come from totally different planets than I do, and I’m still amazed that they somehow actually want me on their team. But now that I think about it, I only found out about Kosmos from participants of a coding workshop for women I co-organized. Yes, the Cosmos brought us together in some mysterious way, but this serendipity had to find me working.

4 responses to “How to make friends in the 21st century”

  1. Had my own share of this problem when moving to a new city.

    At first, I was interacting mostly with my fiancée’s friends, talking with my college pals via Messenger etc.

    When you’re in a big city, meetups are one of the best answers. It’s not that great of a case in <500k inhabitants cities, even regional centres. Meetups are separated by months and if there isn't a ready community of your choice, organising it takes some careful planning with people you are complete stranger to.

    If you want workmates, you can always go for coworking spaces. They are increasingly more common in smaller cities and towns and most of the people there are more entrepreneurial and open than in a traditional work environment. Unless, of course, most of your floor is rented by a single introspecting startup with a corporation-like culture.

    In both cases though, shyness was my enemy — I've only now started regularly talking to people in the 'office', after six months of working here; I would love to find a society of free thinkers with whom I would click immediately, but finding one is certainly no easy task.

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