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Gen Y Speaks: Making and keeping friends as an adult is tougher than I thought. Here’s what helped

Of all the subjects we’d learnt in school, at least one should have explained how hard making and maintaining friendships would be in adulthood. 


Now, when I meet someone new and ask to exchange contact info, I quickly add: “I’m not trying to date you.” 

This clarity appears to help. (I’ve not been rejected yet, at least.) 

But perhaps the most important of my takeaways is to be intentional with friends, both old and new. 

To keep in touch with people, we first need to know who we want to keep in touch with. 

One exercise I found helpful was the making of a friendship map — something I lifted from We Need To Hang Out by Billy Baker. 

For this, Baker uses Dunbar’s Number — anthropologist Robin Dunbar’s theory that 150 is the typical number of people we can keep track of and consider part of our ongoing social network at any one time.

What’s more interesting are the numbers in between: Dunbar estimates that we would have about five close friends, 15 we would consider family, 50 we would see as part of our clan, and the remaining 80 as part of our tribe. 

Baker also relies on the internal question: “Would you want to ask this person out for coffee if you randomly bumped into them?” If the answer is no, or “it’d be awkward”, it’s likely that they aren’t someone you would consider a friend. 


I like to think friendships are like clothes. 

Different clothes are good for different seasons. You can’t change the season to fit the clothes you wear. Instead, it’s more ideal that you wear clothes that fit the season. 

There are the tough seasons, where all you want each weekend is friends to have fun with so you can forget about work or whatever struggles you’re facing during the week. 

Then there are the seasons where you have a little more time. During these periods, actively nurturing my friendships, rather than leaving them to chance, reminds me of what makes life meaningful. 

But, regardless of weather, clothes can and will spoil. When that happens, you need to decide whether those friendships are still fit for purpose. 

Often, though, such friendships can be worth a mend. Try something new with your friend — play a sport unfamiliar to you both, explore a new country, or embark on a new adventure together. 

The important thing is to do something. Take action. Chances are, if you are thinking of a friend, they’re probably also thinking of you. 

It’s not just because your friends are worth it. 

It’s because you, too, are worth hanging out with.


John Lim speaks on creating happier workplaces for millennials and is the author of the book Take Heart: Thriving in the Emotional Wilderness. He blogs at

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