Remember when you were in middle school and your new future BFF sort of just appeared next to you in your third period science class, and you were suddenly joined at the hip for the next five years without even realizing what was happening? Weren’t those days easy? Once we’re older and out in the world, finding new friends takes deliberate effort, which most of us never learned how to do growing up, because back then all our friendships were born out of being crammed into the same school together for seven hours a day. This is unfortunate, because aside from the fact that friendship just plain feels wonderful, studies have found over and over that social support is a major factor in living a long, happy, healthy life. We humans need each other! In the name of all those potential BFFs who are out there waiting for you just outside your door, here are a few things to consider when making new friends as an adult.
1. Get comfy with risking rejection. Asking a new acquaintance out on a “friend date” can be surprisingly terrifying! The friend-making process can easily resemble dating a little too closely for comfort. Making new BFFs means putting yourself out there, expressing interest in people, and — the scary part — initiating plans with someone you’re not sure likes you back. The risk that your potential friend might just not be that into you always comes with the territory, and that sucks, but it’s a hurdle we have to acknowledge if we ever want to be bold enough to meet new people.
2. Don’t take loneliness personally. With all its work, family obligations, and other responsibilities, adult life often isn’t built to be conducive to friendships unless you go out of your way to make time and space for them. Your life circumstances are getting in the way of new friendships, not the fact that nobody wants to hang out with you, so don’t feel inadequate. The biggest mistake you can make is assuming that there must be something wrong with you, assigning shame to your friendlessness, and in turn feeling terrified to ever mention it to anyone. I can’t even imagine how many times people have missed out on wonderful connections because they’re afraid to admit to themselves that they even want more friends in their lives, let alone share that with the acquaintance sitting across from them on a lunch date (who is probably secretly going through the same thing) or ask them to hang out again. If you’re feeling lonely, it’s probably not about you. (I mean, yeah, there’s a slim chance it could be about you, but that would only be if you were a selfish soul-sucking emotional vampire who just plain was not a good friend to anyone in your life, and if that’s true, that’s something you can work on! Still: probably not about you.)
3. Be willing to open up. Our culture beats away earnestness with a stick, and on a surface level, those who act like they care less are those who “win” every situation. There are about a million problems with this narrative, but the worst is that it is practically impossible to build your interpersonal life on these ideas. Bringing fulfilling new connections into your life, or enriching the ones you already have, requires openness. If you’re not willing to share anything about your inner life or express any emotions other than “smug,” the bonds you’re craving won’t ever exist. Being open can suck, because sometimes people will disappoint you after you’ve trusted them with a piece of yourself, but the rewards are so much more worth it. It’s the only way you’re going to arrive at that “she just gets me”
4. Put it on a schedule. Making an effort to find new friends can be tiring, especially when you’re first starting out, because it can take a lot of trial and error to find your people. After a long day at work, Netflix can be much more tempting than going out and being “on” for a bunch of strangers. So, if you’ve just moved someplace new or are look to make big strides in building your social circle, promise yourself you’ll go to one social event per week (or every two weeks, or every month, whatever works). This could be a meetup event, a volunteer group, or any other setting where you expect to do some mingling with potential new buddies. Sure, it’s not very sexy to block this stuff out in your calendar and “force” yourself to do it, but it will make all the difference when you feel that magic friend spark with someone on a night you almost stayed home!
5. Hone your listening skills. Practice being the kind of friend you want to have. Good friends are good listeners and supporters, so make sure the way you’re treating new acquaintances reflects that — if they’re the kind of people you want as friends, they should provide the same to you in kind!
6. Accept that certain friends have certain places in your life. Just as not all friendships are forever, not all friendships are meant for every situation, and that’s okay! We connect with people on different levels. That can mean that some relationships are more for surface-level company, while others go deep enough for soul-baring conversations and listing each other as your emergency contacts. All connections (with decent people, anyway) are valuable in their own way, so don’t fret if one person can’t cover all the bases for you. Just like we’re told not to expect a partner to fulfill our every need, one friendship may not necessarily represent everything you’re looking for in your social life. It doesn’t mean this person doesn’t like you or doesn’t get you! It just means that you’re most compatible in specific ways.
7. Delve into a new hobby or side project. Shared hobbies and group passion project activities, like art classes or sports teams, are ideal places to meet new pals. After all, you already know you have something huge in common! The other benefit of this is that focusing on something you love, especially when it’s a totally different mental track than what you focus on at work or during the rest of your day, can open your mind in new ways. It can point you to opportunities and ideas you’d never have noticed before, which means — wait for it — more chances to meet new people! Having a hobby you love also makes for a great way to happily pass time on your own, which never hurt anyone either!
8. Work with your temperament, not against it. Introverts, I’m mostly talking to you here. Making new friends means putting yourself out there, but that doesn’t mean you need to beat yourself up for finding the idea of facing a crowded bar meetup totally draining. If that’s not your speed, try asking people out for lunch or coffee. Try looking for group activities that are smaller and more intimate. There’s a way to meet friends for each and every social preference out there — you just have to be willing to be vulnerable every now and then!