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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Making friends as an adult

How do you make friends as an adult?

Earlier this year, Mukund Acharya wrote about the importance of relationships in India Currents. He referenced a TED talk by Dr. Robert Waldinger, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an eighty-year research study of adult life to make a compelling case for the vital role that strong and deep bonds play in a person’s well-being. 

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. As we say in Marathi, “One cannot clap with one hand.” It takes two to tango. Being convinced about the importance of nurturing relationships is only half the process. One needs to find people who are looking to and are committed to, prioritizing relationship-building, and making friends as adults.

Immigrants leave friendships behind

This is challenging for immigrants. We often leave behind our most important relationships, be it immediate family members or school and college friends. For people who immigrated before the internet, the absence of email, inexpensive video calls, and smartphone-enabled texting made it that much harder to maintain relationships. Nowadays, sites like Facebook and Instagram have allowed us to find and reconnect with those we lost. However, the long separation and the resulting divergent contexts often mean that all we have in common is a shared past. Such excavated relationships cannot grow back to deep presence and engagement. 

A few years back, I reconnected with a childhood friend whom I had last seen when we were both nineteen. It was lovely to stay with her, get to know her husband, children, and grandchildren, and recall long-forgotten events. Looking back, I realize my friend gave me back a part of my own story, a part that I had forgotten. My friend and I stay in touch over WhatsApp, exchanging photos, birthday wishes, and most important, quotes that celebrate friendship. But this is not enough to feel like a meaningful engagement in the here and now. Our paths diverged a long time ago and our contexts are too different to bridge.  

Geography and Time

But all is not bleak. There are ways to defeat the tyrannies of geography and time. 

When people make friends in college or even at work, friendships form because of daily or frequent contact and topics of shared interest. In the absence of such organic opportunities, it is important to be open, intentional, and creative when approaching making friends as an adult. Some people take part in book clubs or join Meetup groups based on shared interests. They share other options – walks/hikes, potluck dinners, and volunteer activities. However,  such pursuits can sometimes feel like professional or networking friendships. They don’t fill the hole in our hearts that can only be filled by talking about the larger questions in life, by sharing the mundane and the deep. 

Sharing circles

About a year back, I published an essay in India Currents about my search for Spirituality and Community, and a few people contacted me about participating in such a “sacred journey.” Clearly, there were others who were seeking connection just like I was.

So today, with the help of a few friends I recently started a small gathering called a Sharing Circle. Five of us meet twice a month and talk about meaningful topics. We have had sessions on Storytelling, Creativity, and Gratitude. We choose subjects that are difficult to explore with others, including with our own family members. The agenda for a meeting typically comprises thoughtful quotes, readings, and questions to spur reflection and conversation. We try to create a judgment-free zone of safety and privacy. 

How a circle works

A good way to begin is a session based on Storytelling. It serves as an ice-breaker and sets the tone and expectations for future meetings. Below is a sample agenda for a session based on Storytelling.  

Storytelling Agenda

Light a candle 
Welcome! Today we will have a new kind of storytelling. There is no theme, no format. Just an open invitation, to offer and receive, to tell and listen, with open hearts, open minds, open eyes and open ears. Come, let us tell each other our stories, let us unburden ourselves and reveal our truths. Let us become more human and more connected through storytelling.
“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”—Madeleine L’Engle“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.”— Khalil Gibran“
Stories seem to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.”—Jonathan Gottschall
“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention….
A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words. ”―Rachel Naomi Remen
Say a few words about how you are doing today. Joys, sorrows and everything in between. After each sharing there will be a brief period to respond and ask follow-up questions.
1. Tell a true story about something that happened to you when you were a child.
2. Tell a true story about an experience you had as an adult.
3. Tell why you chose these particular stories. Tell how these stories or events affected you.
After each story, there will be a brief period for responses and follow-up questions from the group.
Likes and wishes.
“The blessing of truth be upon us, the power of love direct us and sustain us, and may the peace of this community preserve our going out and our coming in, from this time forth, until we meet again.”—Rev. Duke T. Gray

Sharing Circles

My Sharing Circle has so far met just four times. But because of the open-hearted and deep sharing, I have made new friends more quickly than I might otherwise. Because we come together as seekers with intention, authenticity, and commitment, we support each other and learn from each other. In short, my Sharing Circle is as satisfying as the more organically formed close friendships of youth. 

Valentine’s Day has just gone by. Although it started out as a day to celebrate romantic love, it’s a good time to celebrate the goodwill that exists in all kinds of relationships. In that spirit and keeping in mind the healthful benefits of friendship and connection, I encourage readers to create or join a Sharing Circle of their own. 

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Nandini Patwardhan

Nandini Patwardhan is a retired software developer and co-founder of Story Artisan Press. Her writing has been published in, among others, the New York Times, Mutha Magazine, Talking Writing, and The Hindu....