When I turned 28 this year, I looked around at the friends who'd made the effort to come to my birthday. In many ways, it was like the other birthdays that had come before: roughly 20 people were there, a dozen or so had cancelled at the last minute, and a handful of my very closest friends had really gone the extra mile.
But there was one major difference to all of my other celebrations: this year, around 80% of the people who’d come to celebrate with me were brand-new friends. While lots of old friends had bailed out or just not bothered to show up – maybe in the recognition of the fact that we'd been growing apart – the majority who did turn up were people I'd barely known a full year, but who'd quickly become some of my closest friends.
Such a large number of new friends is pretty rare. A 2016 Finnish study found that men and women make more and more friends up to the age of 25 when the numbers begin falling rapidly, then gradually decrease over the course of a person’s life.
But friendships are undeniably important. A 2015 study found that having strong social connections can improve your physical health, in terms of being less likely to be obese or have high blood pressure; while a 2012 research paper found that loneliness can increase the risk of cognitive decline, possibly due to a lack of brain stimulation.
Up until this year, most of my good friends were ones I’d made aged 11 at secondary school. I only made a handful of friends during my degrees, and embarrassingly, after five years in my old job, there's just one good friend who I still see regularly.
By my late twenties, I barely had any friends that I could say I’d made as an adult. And it showed. As lovely as my oldest friends are, we no longer had much in common.
It’s why, last year, after my 27th birthday, I deliberately set out to make new friends. If I’m honest, I felt a bit lonely when it came to my existing friends, who'd all started to settle down with partners. I wanted to meet new people who felt the same way about life as I did – from wanting to go out more, to considering alternatives to the standard ‘marriage and babies’ future.
It ended up being the best year I’ve ever had. Here’s why:
Having a picnic with my work mates
My work mates
When I started my freelance career at BBC Three last September, I forced myself to do what I never had in my old job: I decided to be completely open to making new connections. I said yes to all invitations for drinks or lunch and, by the end of week one, I found myself in the pub sharing my insecurities with three near-strangers.
That sped our friendship along far quicker than small talk. Within days, I found I had two brand new friends: the then-graphic designer Sarah and fellow writer Natalie. I hadn’t expected them to be anything more than people to go to the pub with, but soon I realised our friendship was special.
At the start, I knew someone had to make the first move, so as embarrassing as it was, I created a WhatsApp group and initiated our plans. But after a while, the tables turned. Now, we all message several times a week often leaving rambling voice notes; we host dinners at each other’s houses; and we’ve all cried on each other at least once (the true mark of friendship). In just 10 months, I've been able to open up to them in a way I never have with other friends.
Like most Londoners, I never really knew my neighbours. So when I set out on my friends-making mission, I decided to start across the corridor. I invited three neighbours for dinner – a lovely couple I’d once begged some garlic from, and Mandeep, a 38-year-old guy who’d just moved in. Mandeep and I got on so well that I started knocking on his door whenever I needed neighbourly help. He fixed my wifi, lent me a drill and he even let me watch Blue Planet at his house when my TV broke.
After a while I decided to repay him by taking him out to dinner. It was the first time we’d deliberately hung out, and I was nervous to ask - would he think I was hitting on him? – but it felt just like being with an old friend. From them on, we’d both text each other to come over for whisky/impassioned life chat/2am cheese toasties. It has been a really fun friendship, and recently Mandeep and I have confided in each other about aspects of our lives we don’t share with others. It’s proof we’ve officially transitioned.
My rock-climbing friends
Everyone always says the best way to make new friends as an adult is to take up new hobbies. So last summer, I forced myself to do just this. I decided I’d start with rock climbing, and instead of joining a local gym to learn indoors, I signed up for a weekend course in Spain.
That was when I met Jamie and Christie. They’re best friends who live in America and are in their late thirties. Unlike most of my existing friends, they work in science and construction – two fields I know nothing about, but find fascinating. They were both a lot more active than me, but one day we all faked illnesses to have a lie-in and truly bonded. We spent the day chatting about everything – from our biggest goals and failures to our vaginas.
We emailed occasionally after that trip, but six months later they invited me to join them on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. I hesitantly said yes – would it be weird? – and dipped into my savings. But after an awkward first night in a motel, it became one of my favourite-ever holidays.
We spent hours sharing our life stories in the car, laughing non-stop at dinner and bonding over the incredible views on our hikes.
As soon as we got back, we started planning our next road trip. We might not speak every day or even every week, but I treasure my friendship with them.
My rock climbing pals
My ex’s best mate
When my ex and I split up 18 months ago, I not only lost him as a best friend, I also lost all his friends. I hadn’t thought I’d really miss them – they’d always been his friends much more than mine – but I did. So when I started becoming friendly with my ex again, after almost a year apart, I decided it would be a good time to pick up my friendship with one of his best mates.
James and I had always got on. In spite of our differences – he’s a 32-year-old City worker who always looks perfectly groomed, while I hate the corporate life and never brush my hair – we have a lot in common. We’re both always keen to try new things, we’re both really ambitious, and have a similar sense of humour.
Last year, we asked my ex if it would be weird if we hung out alone, and after getting the all-clear, we started going to galleries together, having dinner, and booking theatre tickets. It's always been platonic – neither of us would ever go there – and it's been fun having a new friend who's always up for going to a new exhibition or show.
I never expected to make friends like this. I always presumed my experiment would end up with me having a few fun evenings with strangers rather than making some of the best friends I’ve ever had. But it just proves that it’s never too late to start opening yourself up to new friendships.
It isn’t easy – I had to push through nerves, awkwardness and insecurities to initiate a lot of these friendships. And not all of them worked out. As lovely as some people were, we just didn’t click, and there were a few who couldn’t handle my no-filter chat.
But I found the best way to take things to the next level was to open up. Once I shared my insecurities, they reciprocated, and now we have friendships that are built on much stronger foundations than some of my older ones. It’s been amazing, and I can’t wait to keep on making new friends everywhere I go.
Enjoying the sun by the riverside with my co-worker Natalie
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