by Marla Paul

Women need confidantes more than ever—but it’s hard to find them. Here’s how.

Women are so busy juggling work, family, and aging parents, they’re barely able to wedge in old friends, let alone embrace new ones. But even if making new friends is difficult for women, they’re not destined to go without forever. Here are some things that can help.

Find colleagues—even if you don’t have a job
Lynda Lemisch’s closest buddies had always been her co-workers in the hospitals where she had worked as an occupational therapist. Then she had a baby and quit her job. "It was very isolating," says Lemisch, now 42.

Lemisch needed the mom equivalent of colleagues. But as a slightly older first-time mother, she struggled to find others like herself, a former career woman adjusting to motherhood. So Lemisch cast a wide net. She and her child joined a tumbling class for babies and frequented story time at the library; Lemisch also started going to gatherings of a local chapter of Mothers & More, a national group for moms who are balancing careers and kids.

Lemisch’s persistence paid off. She made one friend at the market: At Mothers & More, she became pals with a pediatrician. And at the baby tumbling class, she clicked with some other older moms. Having friends who share her background or interests, and who understand the strains of new motherhood, has made her life much more enjoyable, Lemisch says.

Prioritize friendship
Toni Kayumi was working four jobs in Fort Wayne, Indiana: During the day, she was an account executive for a local television station; at night and on weekends, she ran an advertising agency from her home, recorded voice-overs for a radio station, and acted in a theater troupe. Her days were full, but her life felt oddly empty. She yearned for friends.

Kayumi casually knew three other women through work and church. One Monday night they got together for dinner. That led to another date. By the third dinner, it struck Kayumi that she had been laughing more and feeling less stressed since she’d been seeing these women.

The friends decided to meet every week. Two years later, those Monday dinners have a sacred space on her calendar, says Kayumi, now 40. She credits her friends with giving her the confidence to close the agency and accept a promotion to marketing manager at her TV station. A while ago, they vacationed together in Mexico. And when Kayumi got married in February, her friends were there. They’ve promised each other that marriage won’t fray their friendship.

After plan A, try plans B, C, and D
Looking back, I realize that my first attempts at friendships were pretty awkward. But I kept trying. None of my relationships sprang to life effortlessly. They germinated like seeds, needing sun, rain, and a long growing season. I think these relationships finally took because we were good matches.

But I also learned a few things that helped. A friendship has to develop in its own time. If you try to rush things, you can scare someone away. If something serious is bothering you, air it. If you don’t, the relationship may wither needlessly.

Finally, cut people slack. I try to keep my eye on what’s important and make my peace with small disappointments. If others do the same for me, I know we’ll be friends for a long time.

— Marla Paul is the author of the book The Friendship Crisis: Finding, Making, and Keeping Friends When You’re Not a Kid Anymore (Rodale). She writes a column on women’s friendship for a nationally syndicated section of the Chicago Tribune.