Finding Your ‘Tribe’: How to Make Friends in Adulthood

Group of friends sitting out in field camping, talking togetherWhat Is a Tribe?

Broadly defined, a tribe is a community which has shared interests and provides support to its members. A tribe can include family members, but it is not limited to them. Friends, coworkers, neighbors, pets, and many others can comprise our own “tribes.” (My tribe includes a rescued miniature poodle who believes he’s human.)

Why We Need a Tribe

We are born wired for connection. When our ancestors roamed the land for food, moving in numbers was vital to safety and survival. Early settlers in the United States had to rely on each other to survive harsh weather and living conditions. However, as America prospered, our dependence on each other for survival diminished.

A few years ago, I visited with a kind gentleman who identified as Hawaiian. He shared that many tourists are suspicious of Hawaiians’ friendly nature. The man explained that Hawaii was isolated for many years. Whenever storms came, neighbors had to pull together to support each other. It was wise to show everyone kindness because you never knew when you might need help. Hence the “aloha spirit” was born. He informed me that they are now teaching about the “aloha spirit” in Hawaii’s public schools. Elders are concerned about it fading with the rise of innovation.

Sadly, depression-, anxiety-, and trauma-based health concerns have risen with the dissolution of tribes. Being in connection with those who care about us reduces suffering. A powerful MRI study revealed that simply holding the hand of a loved one reduced one’s experience of pain (Carey, 2006). Tribes buffer us from the negative effects of stress. Connections heal.

Challenges of Finding a Tribe in Adulthood

Once young adults leave the family home, they often experience physical disconnection from major sources of support such as parents, siblings, and friends from childhood. Phone calls and texting can help bridge the gap, but they don’t replace human contact. College and the workplace create opportunities for tribe-building. However, this process becomes more challenging as we age, move, develop families of our own, and live in homes far apart from each other.

In most circumstances, we don’t need to rely on a community to meet our basic needs. If we need food, we go to the grocery store. If we need a tool, we rent it from a hardware store or order it online. Many of us lead busy lives, filled with commitments. Even though we’re trying our best, it can be challenging to find the time and energy to maintain the friendships we do have.

Ways to Find a Tribe

While it can feel challenging to build your tribe in adulthood, there are many ways to do so. A little effort can go a long way toward creating meaningful and supportive relationships. Below are five tips for moving into connection.

A little effort can go a long way toward creating meaningful and supportive relationships.

  1. Really get to know your neighbors: I moved into my neighborhood about eight months ago. I realized all my conversations with my neighbors took place in the driveway and lasted about 5 minutes. I recognized I knew little about them and their families. Conversely, they knew little about me and mine. I wanted to create meaningful connections with them, so I decided to take a step. During the holidays, my family and I whipped up loaves of gingerbread. We delivered them to all our neighbors. We enjoyed spreading this cheer. In the process, we got invited to a holiday party, where we met more of our neighbors. We also received a visit from our neighborhood Santa. Sometimes it involves taking the first step and moving outside your comfort zone. Consider organizing a block party, a multifamily garage sale, or a community garden.
  2. Find an interest group online: Sometimes, the best place to find like-minded individuals is at an activity you enjoy. Meetup, Facebook, and Nextdoor, among other websites and apps, offer opportunities to find local events of interest. It can feel intimidating to go to one of these events alone. However, it is helpful to remember that others attending likely feel the same way and are eager to meet someone like you. Easy conversation starters include: “What got you interested in [this activity]?” “How long have you been coming to these events?” “Hi, my name is [your name]. This is my first time attending this event. It’s nice to meet you.” If you’re feeling particularly nervous, it can be helpful to reach out to the event coordinator ahead of time to introduce yourself and learn more about the group. For example: “Hi, I’m Jane. I’m excited to see you created a group for rock climbers. I am new to the area and eager to connect with climbers. Is there a good way to locate you and the group once I arrive at the climbing gym?”
  3. Seek spiritual community: Churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques can be places to find faith communities. Spiritual communities can also be found outside of organized religions. Meditation groups, dinner groups, and nature groups are just a few examples of opportunities to connect with those who consider themselves spiritual but not necessarily religious.
  4. Volunteer: You will probably find like-minded people when you spend time supporting causes you value. Think about issues you care about—social justice, education, equality, etc. Then do an internet search for organizations that support your values. These organizations often have a volunteer area on their websites.
  5. Sign up for a class: Is there something you’ve been eager to learn? Perhaps knitting, playing an instrument, or learning a language? An organized class can be a wonderful way to develop new friendships. Many school districts and community colleges offer continuing education classes for nominal fees. Art and crafts shops often offer weekly classes.

“Call it a clan. Call it a network. Call it a tribe. Call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” —Jane Howard

Reference:

Carey, B. (2006, January 31). Holding loved one’s hand can calm jittery nerves. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/31/health/psychology/holding-loved-ones-hand-can-calm-jittery-neurons.html

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lauren Woolley, PhD, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 4 comments
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  • Tawny

    Tawny

    March 14th, 2018 at 1:26 PM

    As a mom this is SO IMPORTANT. It really does take a village or “tribe” :)

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous

    March 23rd, 2018 at 6:05 PM

    I have done all the above for many, many years and it does not work. People don’t want to hang out or spend time after classes or volunteering—they’re always busy or have to get home. People in churches don’t want to talk to me, no matter how friendly I am when I approach. I’m a single, childless person in my 40s, and invitations to my home are never accepted. Some people are just unlikable, I guess.

  • Lauren Woolley

    Lauren Woolley

    March 31st, 2018 at 5:57 PM

    Thank you for reading and your comments. We all need meaningful connections. If you find yourself desiring further conversation or support in regard to topics in this article, please consider connecting with a local therapist.

  • Alan S.

    Alan S.

    September 6th, 2019 at 9:53 PM

    There are those of us who are aware of our ‘specialness’ and know that we—for lack of a better term—exist in a sort of parallel dimension. One would think that we should know how to find these other like minded individuals, but it is often difficult. There really is no easy way to approach this issue. Unless the reader is of this ilk, he or she will make no sense of what I say here. Those less gifted will never be able to comprehend that to which I allude. There are those who are gifted and are one in ten thousand and the hoi Peloi will have no literal construct by which to comprehend the significance of what I am telling you. I could go into profound areas of thought, but alas, that would only further alienate those less endowed. So, you see the conundrum here. Those of whom I speak will only conclude that they are here as observers and nothing more; for that—ultimately—is our purpose.

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