Remember when making friends was as easy as going to school and becoming best friends with your classmate?
Those days are long gone.
Now that you’re an adult, you have to exert a little more effort into making friends. It’s just more complicated… and a little awkward.
Perhaps you’re moving to another city or simply wanting to expand your social circle. Whatever your reasons are, making new friends can be intimidating.
So how do you meet new friends as a grown-up?
We’ve come up with the ultimate guide. Read ahead to know how to get mingling the right way.
Why is it hard to make friends as an adult?
First, let’s tackle the big elephant in the room.
Why is it so damn hard to make friends these days?
According to experts, there are three reasons why: change, social media and “a lack of effort and patience.”
First, life just involves a lot of change. Therapist and friendship researcher Miriam Kirmayer says:
“As we transition out of emerging adulthood (ages 18-25), we’re no longer surrounded by a group of same-age peers who happen to be in a similar life stage and with whom we have things in common. Our life paths begin to diverge more and more from those of our friends, and we can end up in very different places — both geographically and emotionally.”
Second, social media makes us forget what real connection is. According to family therapist Max Abeln:
“Social media has created a false sense of connection that both increases feelings of isolation while it also depletes a person’s interest in pursuing new hobbies.”
And third, making worthwhile friendships just take work. Abeln adds:
“We live in a society that continues to move toward prizing instant gratification and not having to exert a lot of effort. Cultivating relationships takes time and effort, both of which are quickly becoming countercultural values.”
Some elements make it hard to start and maintain adult friendships. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
As long as you’re willing to put yourself out there, physically and emotionally, you can make friends. It can be even fun and meaningful.
Here’s how to make friends as an adult
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Step 1: Say yes to all the invites.
The first step is to be absolutely open to opportunities. Sad to say, you can’t swipe potential friends on a dating app in the comforts of your own home.
So don’t turn them down the precious invites you do get. Say yes to events, even if it’s not really “your thing.”
Socialize as much as you can. Try to widen your circle.
And who knows? These new acquaintances can turn up to be some of the best friends of your life.
Step 2: Be a little braver.
We are all scared of rejection. That’s why we rarely go out of our own secure comfort zones.
But a little bravery can do wonders, not just for our relationships as a whole, but for our lives in general.
Start conversations with anyone interesting. Ask an acquaintance for a cup of coffee. Go to that book club meeting anyway.
Sometimes people will say yes, sometimes they’ll say no. Don’t take it too personally.
Instead, be proud that you took that moment to be more proactive. You’ll find out that you’re becoming more and more fearless in your life.
Step 3: Join a new group.
If you love reading, join a book club. If you like fitness, sign up at classes in the gym. Making friends is easier when you have something in common.
Therapist and author of Surviving Female Friendships, Nicole Zangara says:
“The easiest way to form friendships would be through a common interest – whether that’s at the gym, at a book club, or through a religious institution.”
Making friends while doing what you enjoy?
It’s a win-win situation.
Step 4: Reach out to old friends.
Research suggests that reconnecting “dormant ties—former ties, now out of touch—can be extremely useful.”
Give it a try. Give an old friend a call and set up a date to catch up with them. Make the time to make space in your life for them again.
Step 5: Ask for introductions.
Use your own inner circle to look for possible new friendships. Ask your friends if they know any people you might hit it off with.
More than likely, your friends will have many people in mind. Networking can also help you get some new friends or acquaintances.
And you’ll also get rid of the awkwardness because you already have friends in common!
Step 6. Don’t be scared to be vulnerable.
What’s stopping you from most things in life? From creating and building relationships that can last a lifetime?
It’s your fear of being vulnerable.
But there is nothing wrong with being vulnerable. In his book, Click: The Forces Behind How We Fully Engage with People, Work, and Everything We Do, Ori Brafman says:
“Allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps the other person to trust you, precisely because you are putting yourself at emotional, psychological, or physical risk. Other people tend to react by being more open and vulnerable themselves. The fact that both of you are letting down your guard helps to lay the groundwork for a faster, closer personal connection.”
Don’t be afraid to show human emotions. That way, you’ll attract genuine friendships.
Step 7: Don’t limit yourself to friendships with the same sex.
You’ve heard it said before. You can not be friends with the opposite sex.
They say it’s messy and makes things complicated. Men and women simply cannot be friends.
But that can’t be more wrong. In fact, male-female friendships are the best and healthiest kind of relationships.
Friends from the opposite gender help you think more rationally. They show you perspectives you’ve never seen before.
As long as boundaries are clear, female-male friendships can genuinely be valuable.
Step 8: Be yourself always.
Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are. Find friends that accept your craziness, eccentricities and all of your uniqueness.
There is nothing lonelier than being with “friends” who don’t really know the real you. So instead, take the time to choose “high-quality” people.
Find friends who will motivate you, inspire you, and push you to become the best version of yourself.
Step 9: Smile more.
A study published in the journal Motivation and Emotion suggests that smiling is key to forming new friendships.
This is because people are attracted to positive emotions. So if you want to form friendships, you should “be highly aware of and responsive to the positive emotions of others.”
So smile, it doesn’t cost a thing.
Step 10: Ask people for small favors.
Okay, this might sound weird.
But according to research, asking someone for a small favor can make them like you more.
That is, “as long as a person likes the recipient of the favor.”
So only ask small favors from people who like you. Otherwise, they would be “put on the spot” and you’ll make them dislike you instead.
Step 11: Do volunteer work.
Volunteering can give you astounding health benefits. But there’s a social benefit to it too.
Apochromatic executive coach Amy M. Gardner says:
“Whether you choose to volunteer at a food bank, walk dogs at a shelter, or join a museum’s junior board, volunteering can benefit the organization as well as you, in part by helping you connect to others who share a common interest and desire to improve their community.”
Not only will you meet friends that build a better world, but you’ll also have a great support system, too.
Step 12: Communicate regularly.
Do you often wonder why some people drift away?
It may be because you don’t keep regular contact with them.
Science suggests that maintaining contact is the strongest indicator of a lasting friendship.
Lisa Zyga of Pyshc.Org says:
“Somewhat intuitively, they found that the leading cause of persistent relationships is reciprocity – returning a friend´s call. Further, they could use these characteristics to predict the nature of relationships in the future.”
Answer your phone calls. Respond to texts. Being friends means both of you have to be available to each other from time to time.
Step 13: Give people a chance.
Perhaps one of the reasons why you have trouble making friends is that you’re too caught up on first impressions.
The truth is, more often than not, people surprise. And if only you’d given them a chance, you’d find you have more things in common than you’d initially thought.
According to Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling book The Happiness Project:
“The mere exposure effect describes the fact that repeated exposure makes you like someone better – and makes that person like you better, too. You’re much more likely to become friends with someone if you see him or her often.”
Don’t judge too people too hastily. You never know, you might find someone worth keeping in your life after all.
Step 14: Be sensitive
Sometimes, we unintentionally put people off because of the way we act or the things we say. In today’s world, especially, it’s so easy to offend people if you’re not being careful.
Always try to be more sensitive in social situations. You are allowed to have your own opinions—in fact, you shouldn’t change them just for people to like you. However, don’t be pushy and insensitive.
In one case, Rubins sites a woman who noted that she missed the “kind of easy, drop-by-your-house friendships” she was used to in Australia, now that she moved to the United States—claiming that the difference in social norms prevented her from making close friends.
As to why, Rubin explains:
“I suspect that friendship intensity isn’t the problem, just cultural practice. So try to be aware of how friendship signals may be different in different places.”
Step 15: Don’t give up too easily.
Putting yourself out to the real world, whether it be socially, romantically, or socially or professionally.
Often, what stops us is the fear of rejection or failure. But those two things are essential in creating relationships. So don’t give up too easily.
Your priority is to find good friends that add value to your life, not to have plenty but meaningless friendships.
According to friendship expert Irene S. Levine:
“Your immediate and more realistic goal should be to find a friend or two with whom you feel comfortable as opposed to hoping for a circle of besties.
“Closeness and intimacy is never instant, for anyone, and takes time to build. Don’t worry about not having a “track record” of lifelong friends.”
Step 16: Target people who have the same interests
You’ll have better chances of making friends with people who have the same tastes and interests as you.
While it’s important to widen your net, it wouldn’t hurt to expose yourself to places and situations that may attract potential friends.
According to author Sophia Dembling, this might be an easier option for introverts, particularly.
“As introverts who don’t like putting ourselves out there to make friends, we are all too likely to let friends pick us rather than choosing people for whom we feel an affinity. Try changing that.
“Survey your acquaintances and consider who among them seem likely suspects for friendship, or a PNF (potential new friend). Put your energy into trying to connect with those people rather than sitting back and waiting to see who puts effort into you.”
Step 17: Use your online connections
If people can find love on the internet, then you can certainly find friendship.
According to licensed psychotherapist Annie Wright:
“Find and follow your kindred spirits on social media. Connecting and following someone online may not bloom into a real friendship right away, but this may happen over time if you two decide to take it offline.”
There’s no need to warn you to be careful who you meet online, though. Open your mind, but still, keep your senses.
18. Be present.
Do you really expect to meet people or develop valuable relationships if you’re constantly distracted by social media or your smartphone?
The less time you spend online, the more time you actually notice the real world, and the more time you have to experience life.
“Switch off your smart phone, avoid other distractions, and make an effort to truly listen to the other person. By paying close attention to what they say, do, and how they interact, you’ll quickly get to know them. Small efforts go a long way, such as remembering someone’s preferences, the stories they’ve told you, and what’s going on in their life.”
Be present, if you want to live a meaningful life and be surrounded by meaningful people.
How to make friends outside of work
So many adults ask this question.
It’s not easy to meet friends outside of work since it consumes most of our time.
According to career expert and author Zal Slayback:
“The average American’s peer group is made of people with whom they work. If you’re particularly ambitious or tied your identity close to your job .
“This makes intuitive sense. You have to spend long hours with these people doing hard work all the time, you all tie your own personal identities, and you all read, work on, and listen to the same material.”
But you shouldn’t limit your social circle to co-workers. It’s unhealthy and you’re seriously limiting your world.
“With work-dependent connections, work is the condition that keeps bringing you together, not shared interests or values. Outside of the niche subject matter on which your work focuses, you may have little in common with these people and actually find them quite disagreeable.”
Slayback thinks it’s important to have friends outside of work, saying:
“With a normal friendship, you are friends because you share interests and values and those are usually what made you keep connecting after being brought together by geography.”
So how do you juggle work, your family and creating and keeping friendships?
Slayback suggests finding a “third place,” a term coined by author Ray Oldenburg “where people can gather, put aside the concerns of home and work (their first and second places), and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation.”
Find your own “third place.” Something separate from your home and work. Don’t be afraid to go to places alone.
Why it’s important to have real friends
You might be wondering why you need to go through all that trouble just to find friends.
The importance of having strong and genuine friendships cannot be emphasized more.
Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro says:
“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated. There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”
There is a plethora of reasons, in fact. And they’re all backed by science:
1. Genuine friendships add to our longevity.
This 10-year Australian study surmised that having friends help us live a longer life.
A Harvard study also suggests:
“Social connections like these not only give us pleasure, they also influence our long-term health in ways every bit as powerful as adequate sleep, a good diet, and not smoking. Dozens of studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer.”
2. They make us feel good.
This 2011 study showed that strong relationships are related to our brain’s neurobiological endogenous opioid system.
In short, genuine friendships give us a great feeling. They activate a part of our brain that releases happy hormones, making us feel that our lives are meaningful.
3. Having real friends make our brains healthier.
Genuine friendships also promote brain health, especially as we age.
Neuroscientist Sarah McKay emphasizes that:
“Having a healthy social life naturally involves thinking, feeling, sensing, reasoning and intuition. These mentally stimulating activities build up our reserve of healthy brain cells, and promote the formation of new connections, or synapses, between neurons.”
Friendships are essential in our lives. If you have no friends, life can be lonely and dull. Do yourself a favor and gather the best kinds of friendships you can possibly have.
Remember, that it’s actually quite normal—even healthy—to want to make new friends in different points of your life. It’s part of your growth.
The best part of being an adult is connecting with people who add to your life, forging valuable relationships with them, and seeing these relationships grow into life-long friendships.
Otherwise, your life will pass you by and you’ll find yourself growing old, surrounded by your accomplishments, but no people to share it with. You will be missing on the best parts
So don’t just sit there. Go out and make yourself some friends!
Now that you’ve read about how to make friends as an adult, check out our article on how to declutter your mind.