How Important is a Support System?
Do you find yourself struggling through hard times without a solid support system? Do you wonder how others make good friends they can rely on as an adult? If so, you are not alone. Nearly 36% of Americans feel alone and that number goes up for young adults and mothers with young children. So what can we do to combat the loneliness, and how can we build support systems for ourselves?
In this article we will dive deeper into the pandemic of loneliness and talk about some simple tips for making and keeping friends and building a social support system you can rely on. Let’s jump right in!
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The Pandemic of Loneliness
First, we have to ask ourselves: what is a support system? Do you really need one? Merriam-Webster defines support system as a network of people who provide an individual with practical or emotional support. What does that look like? It means you have someone to support you through grief, someone to turn to when things go wrong, or even just someone to lend a hand when you need it.
As a parent, I know how beneficial it is to have someone who I can rely on to pick my kids up from school if I have something come up or someone to call if I’m having a really hard day with the kids. It’s important to remember that no man is an island. We are all apart of society and need each other. Even if you are an introvert who works from home and is fiercely independent, you will still need someone in your life to turn to–and that’s okay.
In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s one of the more beautiful parts of life. Being able to be vulnerable with someone, to build trust, rely on others, and share parts of ourselves is simply an innate human need. It is so important for our social health to feel close to others.
What Does a Support System Look Like?
There was an interesting study done in 2019 that found that rats preferred socialization to heroin or methamphetamines. What does that mean? For one, it shows the importance of social interaction in our lives. The rats who had solid social interactions did not get addicted to drugs.
That is pretty powerful. We are social creatures. Even the introverts and those that would rather stay home with a good book need social interaction, and a hello from the Walmart greeter isn’t going to cut it. We need meaningful relationships–we need people we can trust.
There are a few main places that people find these social support systems:
- Family: Family is usually the first place someone will turn for help and support. This is why it’s so important to create a safe space for our children and nurture a trusting relationship. Although the ideal situation is to have a loving, supportive family, sometimes we all need other social groups to rely on for our support system.
- Friends: As we grow older, our friendships may dwindle, but those we keep often tend to grow stronger than they were when we were young simply by experiencing more life together.
- Groups: Coworkers, church, book club, game nights, play groups, whatever it is, we build bonds in groups. It is important for us as humans to feel we belong to a group. Consider starting your own group around a favorite hobby of yours if you have one!
Making Friends as an Adult
I remember when I first became a mother, I sort of lost my identity for awhile. So much of my life had turned upside down. I used to be able to go out with friends or chat with them for hours, and suddenly I couldn’t leave for more than 3 hours at a time and struggled to find a sitter. I even joined a softball league, which was surprising to everyone as I don’t have a single athletic bone in my body. It was like all the pieces of myself that I thought I knew had shattered, and I had to pick it all up and decide what pieces were still worth keeping. Suddenly keeping my old friends was beyond difficult and making new ones felt completely impossible.
Maybe you have felt the same way. Whether through moving, marriage, parenthood, changing jobs, or even just the big changes that came along with COVID, sometimes life changes so quickly that you can’t even gather your bearings let alone make and keep great friends.
It is sad and unfortunate that so many can relate to those feelings, but there is good news… there is hope! Making friends as an adult might feel difficult, but it is far from impossible.
It’s wonderful if you are lucky enough to have a great family or awesome coworkers as a support system. But the fact is, much of the basis of your support system will be friends. So how do you make friends as an adult?
Before we had children, my husband and I loved being the “party house.” Of course, we were the sort of people where “party house” meant staying up until 2 a.m. playing Settlers of Catan, but still we loved inviting people over, throwing a “Friendsgiving,” elaborate Halloween parties or early morning Breakfast and Mario Kart parties. Even once we had our first baby, we did our best to bring him along for all the fun.
But slowly, as we had more kids and so did many of our friends, things inevitably shifted. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to be friends with those people anymore, it just became increasingly difficult to arrange our lives to spend any time together. Twice weekly game nights turned into a quick get-together every two years while someone’s baby cried.
As an extrovert, the loneliness started to settle in. No one was showing up to our parties, and we weren’t being invited to any. Even if we were, we had early bedtimes and struggled finding babysitters. It was just easier to stay home.
Then one day, I posted something about how hard it was to make friends as an adult, and I got a bunch of responses from people who felt the same. We were all desperate to get together and unsure how to make it happen. We all watched enviously as someone we knew on social media went out constantly with a tight knit group of friends, and we wondered how we never found that for ourselves.
And that is when I realized–high school friendships rarely stay strong into adulthood, the larger a group is the harder it is to keep together, people move, and lives change. It isn’t about hanging on to a group forever, it’s about finding good friends where you are right now.
Where to Find Friends
Easier said than done, right? Meeting someone your age at church and desperately trying to plan a get-together or meshing with someone at work only to find your spouse and theirs don’t really mesh as well… I’ve been there. It’s a lot to ask for perfect couple friends you can rely on through anything and that magically don’t have plans on July 4th and want to come to your BBQ.
It is difficult but not impossible. Here are a few tips to making (and more importantly, keeping) good friends as an adult.
- Learn to say “Yes”– One of the funny paradoxes I found with people who claimed they struggled making friends was that when I invited them to things, they always said, “No.” They always had an excuse or bailed at the last minute. If you want to make friends, be prepared to step outside your comfort zone a little and consider saying “YES” to the next social event you are invited to, even if it doesn’t sound like your kind of thing.
- Plan and Host– Sitting around and waiting for invites can take forever–instead, plan things yourself! Invite people you know, and let them invite others as well. You might be surprised how many people are waiting to jump at any invitation.
- BE a good friend– Let’s go back to Elementary school for a second and remember that to have a good friend, you need to be a good friend. Don’t be afraid to be the first one to reach out, to keep them in mind for any service needs, or to be the one always planning and hosting. When you are a good friend, the right people will find you.
- Hang in there– Finding best friends isn’t going to happen overnight. Just keep trying. Keep putting yourself out there, keep looking for the kinds of friends you want and need.
- Make your intentions clear– In other words… don’t be afraid to look dumb. There is a funny episode of How I Met Your Mother where Marshall sends out an embarrassing video of their game night with another couple because he was just so excited to have friends to hang out with. You don’t need to go that far, but don’t be afraid to always be the one inviting friends over. Though it sometimes feels like it, this isn’t dating. There is no rule about how long you have to wait to call or playing it cool for the first month. Be yourself and you will attract the right friends for you.
- If you’re married– Don’t forget that your spouse is your best friend. Go through this search with them. Plan things together. Find couple friends you can vacation with and live the dream where all your children are best friends. But when things don’t work out, don’t forget the best friend you already have by your side.
Start by inviting those few people in your contacts list that you’ve been wanting to get to know better to a game night, or try one of our Group Date Ideas. Start simple and find the people you mesh with the best. See how much your social health can improve!
There are so many others out there who want the same thing you do–a solid support system and some great friends to spend time with. Go out there, find your people, and know that we are rooting you on the entire way.