It’s Hard to Make Friends As An Adult, Because You’re Not Allowed to Go Anywhere or Do Anything

by Jonathan Zeller

When I was younger, it felt like I made friends everywhere I went. But now, as an adult, it’s much more difficult. I think the main problem is that we’re not allowed to go anywhere or do anything.

It was simpler when we were kids, and it wasn’t dangerous to get within six feet of another person.

Do you remember when you were in elementary school, and any other child who liked the same baseball team, video game, or TV show as you was a pal? And you could walk up to him, and if you shared his toy truck you didn’t think it would lead to your death or the death of a loved one because it contained an invisible army of germs that you would accidentally put in your nose, mouth, or eyes?

Now we’re older. We’re busy working from home all day, getting sore backs from hunching over our laptops at an awkward angle. We’re worried that we’re running out of canned soup and seltzer, and scared to go to the store to get more. Every surface is teeming with tiny enemies waiting to destroy us. With all that to occupy us, it’s no wonder that we don’t have time to meet anyone new.

And even if we encounter someone else with whom we seem compatible for friendship—perhaps a guy in a Jimmy Eat World T-shirt we see standing across the way as we stroll through the park with our dog—we know that the risk of standing close enough to have a conversation is too great.

When he comes near, we scream “SOCIAL DISTANCING!” If he reaches for our dog, we lift the dog into our arms and stumble back at least six feet, as fast as we can. Because human interaction has become poison.

There’s no denying that it’s tough to make friends as an adult. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Every once in a while, you have to get out there in a full hazmat suit, making sure no part of you is exposed to the air, stand across the street from a stranger, and shout “Hello! What are your interests?

And if it turns out you have a lot in common—like both of you have cracked, bleeding hands from incessant handwashing yet live in terror that you’ve made a small, careless mistake that will lead to your demise—and he invites you to go do something fun, do not take your phone out to record his number. Your phone is the dirtiest thing you own. Have him scream his number to you, and repeat it back to him. Memorization is the most sanitary way to file someone’s contact information.

Do not go with your new friend to a second location, no matter how enthusiastic he may be, and do not approach to shake hands or get a clearer view of his face. Let it remain a blur buried deep in your mind, like the fading memory of everything you took for granted last month. ◊

Regular Bystander contributor JONATHAN ZELLER has written for The New YorkerThe New York Times, and many other publications.