How to make friends as an adult (and why you should)
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Do you remember when making a friend was as simple as offering to play a game of marbles with someone? Within moments of that you had decided that this was your new best friend of all time forever.
Adult friendships are a lot harder. They are hard for lots of reasons. The time we poured into friendships as a teenager instead gets taken up by work, family, and children. We move around in order to go to college or start a new job, and lose touch with people that used to live next door. Meeting new people can be tricky, especially if we’re already feeling isolated and depressed.
The special thing about friendship
Friends are friends because they want to be. It’s voluntary. We don’t get to pick our family. We tend to commit long-term to our partner. But friends? They stick around because they like us and we like them. It’s special – but it’s also fragile. There are no external pressures that keep friendships intact.
As Julie Beck at The Atlantic writes:
“The voluntary nature of friendship makes it subject to life’s whims in a way more formal relationships aren’t. In adulthood, as people grow up and go away, friendships are the relationships most likely to take a hit.”
Making friends is hard – but having friends is essential
Having friends is really important.
Well, no kidding! Of course friends are important. Nobody goes around saying how unimportant they are, right?
And yet tell me if any of these sound familiar:
“We must catch-up properly soon”
“Has it really been six months since we last saw each other?”
“I really should call Melissa and find out how she’s getting on at her new job”
Sometimes friendships just fade away. Sometimes we are only friends with someone because we share a specific hobby or interest with them – and if we lose interest in the hobby, the friendship goes with it. And sometimes people move away, and all relationships are harder to maintain at a distance.
Yet, the sad truth is also that we tend not to invest the time and energy into our friendships that we do for other relationships.
Lacking social connections is damaging to our mental and physical health. Research shows that being lonely is as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It’s linked with higher incidents of high blood pressure, stroke, depression – and suicide.
In June, a paper was published that showed strong friendships had more of an impact on overall health and happiness in people of advanced age than family relationships.
Ultimately, your friends are the people who will:
- Keep an eye out for job opportunities they think you might be interested in
- Drop a good word for you at the place you want to work / with that talk, dark stranger you’d quite like to get to know better
- Celebrate your triumphs, whether that is getting a promotion or finally figuring out how to apply eyeliner
- Let you ugly cry on their shoulder during a break-up or divorce
- Bring you food and help you clean during hard times
- Let you puzzle through problems by talking about them
- Fix your shower / bed / fence / car when you can’t afford to get someone professional to do it
- Help you move
And so on.
So – maintaining your friendships is important. Making new friends is important.
How to make friends as an adult: four strategies to meet new people and expand your social network
How to make friends – Strategy 1: Look at the people you already know and figure out how to turn them into friends
Lots of advice will tell you that the first way to make friends is to meet new people. And yes, meeting new people is essential to making more friends over time.
But, a much easier starting place is to look at the people you already know.
- Is there anybody at work you get along with or find interesting?
- What about in your extended family – your cousins for example?
- What about people you used to know at school and lost touch with?
Make a list of ten people you would like to get to know better or reconnect with. Then invite them all to your house. I’ve found that one of the best things to do with a group of people who don’t know each other well is to play board games. Ask everyone to bring a game, put out some snack foods, and enjoy some social time.
There are other options. You could start a book group. You could invite them to watch a football game, or for a film night. The key things to remember are: it should be relatively low-intensity, and you should invite enough people that it won’t be awkward if some don’t show up.
Make it a regular occurrence, and you’ll have a ready-made social group. Over time you can bring in other activities, or start to spend one-on-one time with the people you really click with.
Not sure how to phrase the invite? Try: “Hey! I know it’s been a while, but I’m trying to get a board-game group off the ground and wondered if you’d be interested? Would be great to find out what you’re up to these days. :)” or “Hey, a few of my friends are coming over next Saturday to watch the game – just wondering if you’d be interested in coming along? Will be a good chance to catch up.”
How to make friends – Strategy 2: Ask your current friends to introduce you to their other friends
If you already have one or two close friends, chances are they have friends that you’ll also get along with.
Let your friend know you want to meet new people and make more friends. Ask them to invite you along the next time they go to the cinema, or have coffee, or whatever it is they do with their other friends. Remember: it’s not the hobby that is important, it’s the people you do it with.
At first, you’ll probably keep doing things as a threesome. But, over time, you may develop an independent friendship with the new person.
You can even repeat this strategy with your new friend if you like. You could theoretically end up friends with anyone or everyone in the world if the ‘six degrees of separation’ theory is true!
How to make friends – Strategy 3: Use ‘friend finding’ websites and apps
Sometimes, if we move to a new city, we can end up extremely isolated. If we don’t know anybody, it can be hard to start the ball rolling. We don’t want to be that person going out on their own. It’s easier to just stay home and marathon Netflix shows.
Luckily, the internet has the answer. Inspired by dating apps and sites, a number of ‘friend finding’ websites have sprung up to help you meet new friends.
The one app I’ve successfully used is Bumble, which gave me a wide range of people to talk to, some of whom I clicked with and which turned into a friendship. I would recommend it. The people on it did tend to skew younger than me.
However, there are plenty of other options such as:
All the sites work in the same way – you sign up, create a profile, and start talking to other people in your area who are also looking for friends.
It’s a good to meet up in a public place initially, and to plan what you are going to do.
As with dating, it’s important to remember that this is a numbers game. Meet lots of people, and you’ll click with a couple. Meet a few people, and you may not click with any of them.
Once you’ve met up with half-a-dozen people you like, why not invite them all over for a board game evening at your house?
How to make friends – Strategy 4: Join a group or a club
There are at least a thousand possible ideas to link a group of people. Book clubs. Sports clubs. Chess clubs. Scouts. Cubs. Guides. Dungeons & Dragons. Warhammer 40k. A dance troupe. Life drawing. Yoga. Walking groups. Adventure groups. Drinking groups. Networking groups. Volunteering.
You get the idea.
Figure out something you are interested in. Love animals? Volunteer at a rescue centre. Want to get fit? Join the exercise class at your local community centre. Love classical music? Become an usher at your local concert hall.
You’ll meet people and, over time, come to know them well. Lots of hobby groups will also run social events – evenings at the pub, or lunch out for example. You might even end up splintering away from the group in time, but you’ll retain some of those friendships.
Not sure where to find local groups? Start with meetup.com.
How to make friends as an adult: five ways to become more likeable
Of course, meeting people is only half the battle. You could meet thousands of people, and if none of them like you – you’re not going to make any friends.
People sometimes think they are just ‘naturally awkward’ or that social skills are something you are born with. This isn’t true. In reality, being likeable is under your control – and does not involve you pretending to be someone you are not.
There are five key things to remember when first meeting someone:
1. Remember to smile
Smiling allows us to come across as a friendly, warm and approachable person. There’s a reason why politicians and movie stars practice smiling – it’s because it makes people like and trust you.
Smiling also makes you happier. Happy people make more friends.
2. Encourage people to talk about themselves
We can often think that to be sociable and make friends we have to talk a lot. If you’re an introvert, like me, this is terrifying. Thankfully, the truth is quite different. Many people love to talk about themselves and enjoy talking to someone who listens to them and asks relevant questions.
You don’t need to come up with memorable one-liners or witty jokes to make an impression. Instead, just open with some straightforward questions and listen to the answers. Emphasise with what they say, and ask relevant follow-up questions where appropriate.
People love people who listen to them and validate them.
Some possible opening questions:
- How are you finding this [event/seminar/course]? What’s been the best bit for you?
- Have you got any holidays planned? Where are you going on vacation?
- Did you see [current news story]? What do you think about it?
- Have you seen any good movies lately? Anything you’d recommend?
- I love your [dress/haircut/necklace]! Where did you get it?
- What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse? What skills would you bring to a post-apocalyptic world?
3. Ask for advice or a small favour
The ‘Benjamin Fraklin’ effect is a catchy name for an odd phenomenon. If you want someone to like you, ask for a favour. Because we tend to do favours for people we like, we also tend to like the people we do favours for. Just one of the many odd tricks of our brain.
A great way to start a conversation is to ask for advice. The catch? It has to be genuine and flow from the conversation. Try asking something like: “I’m trying to work out where to go on holiday this year… what are your thoughts on Spain versus France?”.
Before you go into a social situation, come up with a couple of things going on in your life that you could use input on.
4. Avoid judgement or ‘one-upping’
There are two things to avoid if you want to make a good impression and make friends. One is to criticise or put down what they say. If you’ve just met someone, chances are high they won’t listen to you or change their mind – they’ll just feel attacked and shut down. Either smile politely and accept you didn’t click, or ask genuine questions about what they think with the aim to understand their viewpoint. “I had never thought about it like that” is a good line.
One-upping is something we may not even realise we are doing. We may think we are emphasising or relating to what the person has said! If someone mentions something, try hard not to compare with something significantly better or worse. For example:
“I’m really busy at work at the moment. I keep having to stay late.”
“Oh god, me too, I’m so busy I had to work all weekend, and I’ll have to work next weekend too”.
Instead of this, which can shut the conversation down, try asking a sympathetic follow up question:
“I’m really busy at work at the moment. I keep having to stay late.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. What’s causing the crunch?”
5. Use their name
When you first meet someone, pay special attention when they say their name. A name is a key part of someone’s identity. Using it helps them feel validated and like you are talking to them specifically, as opposed to talking more generically.
“What do you think of the conference so far?”
“So, Andrew, what’s your thinking on the conference so far?”
Using it through the conversation will also help you remember it, if you have a tendency to forget names.
How to maintain (and deepen) the friendships you already have
So you’ve successfully joined some groups, gone on a few ‘friend dates’, and found a few people you get along with.
Now you need to maintain and deepen those friendships. Otherwise you end up right back at square one. Whilst friendships don’t suffer from the ‘relationship escalator’ problem in the same way that romantic relationships do, there does need to be a sense that you’re not just loose buddies. True friends are the ones that tick around when times are hard, that help you move, that are there with a shoulder to cry on. But you can’t go from ‘the odd board game’ to ‘let me crash on your couch’ overnight.
(At least in most cases. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to meet someone and just click right away. Treasure those friendships!)
Sadly, we’re all busy. In the whirlwind of work-family-children-spouse-dating-exercise-sidehustle-education … friendships can often end up on the back burner.
But as mentioned in that first paragraph, strong friendships are a great indicator of overall life happiness. Good friends can be more important than family. It’s worth prioritising them.
Maintain friendships: schedule regular catch-ups
It’s all well and good to say things like “we must catch-up soon!” but unless you actually go through the work of planning and setting it up it won’t happen.
As teenagers we had acres of free time, and ‘hanging out’ was an acceptable way to spend the day. As adults, all of our time is spoken for and then some. So you have to be intentional about what you do.
Scheduling a regular catch-up takes some of the effort out of the planning. A monthly coffee morning at the same café. A fortnightly afterwork walk around the same park. A weekly night at the pub. A monthly trip to a play. Whatever shared hobbies and activities you enjoy together, make it a thing.
Maintain friendships: message each other
Instant messenger apps are amazing. Whilst social media is a complete nightmare of posing, advertising, politics and general awfulness, instant messages are direct, authentic and genuine.
So start texting, whatsapping or messengering your friends. It doesn’t have to be much effort, a low-key ‘how’d your work project go?’ or ‘has Kid A recovered from her cold?’ goes a long way.
With that said:
- Try and ask a specific question rather than a vague ‘whats up’ or ‘how’s it going’.
- Show genuine interest in your friend’s life. A chat thread with a friend isn’t just a place for you to vent or talk about yourself!
- Don’t get offended about being left on ‘read’ without a reply. People have busy lives and it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.
Maintain friendships: be honest and open
Like all relationships, friendships go toxic in the presence of lies and manipulation. So be open and communicate about what is going on in your life and how you feel about that person.
If they did something helpful or nice for you? Tell them how much you appreciate them.
If you’re going through a hard time? Tell them and be honest about your fears and sadness.
If they did something that pisses you off? Give them the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t on purpose but let them know that what they did was not okay. In other words, set healthy emotional boundaries.
In summary: making friends is not hard, it just takes some time and effort
We covered how to make friends by:
- identifying people you already know and making the first move,
- asking your friends to introduce you to new people,
- using ‘friend finding’ websites and apps,
- joining a local group or club.
And we covered how to make friends by:
- remembering to smile,
- encouraging people to talk about themselves,
- asking for advice or a favour,
- avoiding judgement or ‘one-upping’.
And we talked about how to maintain friendships by:
- meeting up regularly
- talking to them on messenger apps
- being open and honest
Now you just need to put it into practice. Go talk to some people!
In Oxford? I’m always looking for new friends! Hit me up on Twitter @cinnasunrise.