If you’re over 25 you’ve probably found yourself thinking you could use a few new friends. Maybe you’re feeling unsure about how to make friends as an adult. Whether you’re starting over in a new city, married and looking for couples camping buddies, or slowly outgrowing your couch surfing bros, there’s little guidance on how to go from meeting people to becoming friends.
One thing’s for sure, it’s normal. The older we get the more we rely on our friends, and for some of us they may even be our chosen family. It hurts when life transitions like getting married, having kids, or moving suddenly change lifelong friendships.
But whether it’s the sudden snub, the well-intentioned drift apart, or the consciously discussed ending, it happens to just about everyone. We’ve all been on one side of this equation at some time and maybe even on both sides at once. It’s inevitable that throughout our lifetime our friendships will change; some will end entirely, others will ebb, and some will evolve and continue.
On one hand we get that friend transitions don’t mean anything is wrong with us, but it still feels vulnerable to admit when we’re looking for new friends. A client of mine, recently divorced and on the hunt for new friends, asked, ‘Do I sound like a loser?’ We tend to feel that if we have to make an effort for friends it means we’re uncool.
Our embarrassment is fueled by the fact that there’s minimal social dialogue about the skill of friend building. It’s as if friendship is a mysterious thing that, if you’re cool enough, is supposed to just happen to you. But in reality, not talking about it just makes us feel bad about ourselves.
So, let’s embrace the friendship quest! Since you are cool and you’re open to new friends, here are some ways to grow your skill at the art of friend making.
I’ll assume you have the getting out there and meeting people part down. Now, how do you turn those people into friends?
Doing what you’re passionate about is a good idea but how you do it is key. Although Meetups, weekend trips, or volunteer days may be good for the soul, one-time events usually don’t do it for friend making.
In my own friend quests I’ve often met cool people through these types of experiences. (I’ve even tried a friend dating app!) I truly wanted to become friends with them and I’m pretty sure that they wanted that too.
We tried. But even when we got over the awkwardness of reaching out and hung out once, maybe twice after the activity, it fizzled. Without more of reason to stay connected while our friendship developed we couldn’t reach the critical friendship mass.
Here’s a truth about friendship: just like the process of dating in a romantic relationship, it takes time for the bonds of friendship to develop. And during that time you need an excuse that keeps bringing you together regularly. You need to suffer together.
Think about it: what was the juju that happened in college or early 20s workplaces that effortlessly created so many of your friendships? Yes, probably lots of single or less seriously partnered people with time on their hands. But also, you were thrown together day after day in a shared experience that involved challenges. Escaping crazy parties together, all-night cramming for finals, or venting over the boss from hell, when we suffer together, it bonds us.
So, go ahead and recreate a shared experience of moderate suffering where you are invested for a decent amount of time and you’ll likely make new friends.
The options are endless and you don’t have to be good at extroverted hobbies. Join a running club and survive rainy ten milers, be president of your neighborhood association, or simply offer to carpool with someone to work and brave traffic together.
Relentlessly Be There for People
By now you’ve probably gotten better at showing up for your friends, helping them move, attending their baby showers or birthday dinners even when you’re tired because you know it means something to them.
But here’s an idea, think about ways your interests may enrich your friendship and then offer. To be relentlessly there for people means getting excited about the parts of their lives that also interest you and jumping in.
Do you happen to love leading rituals for weddings? When a friend tells you she’s getting married, tell her you’d be excited about leading one for her. She may have eventually asked or she may never have thought of it, but either way your excitement about getting involved in something that’s important to her sends a powerful message that you’d like to get closer.
The “As if I Already Know You” Conversation
Walking home from my car one night, I passed a woman who had just seen a massive raccoon chilling out of the steps of her apartment. Without skipping a beat she pulled me right over and started telling me the story as if we’d known each other for years. Despite the fact that she was a complete stranger I noticed that I felt instantly at ease, almost like we were friends.
There’s something to this approach of just bypassing the awkward getting to know you stage of small talk questions. For most of us the ‘what do you do’ theme of first meetings tends to feel lifeless even if we love our work. There’s nothing wrong with these questions, they just don’t send the message that we want to get closer to someone. Try starting off with, ‘I’ve got a story for you!’ or ‘you won’t believe what happened to me’ and there’s already more connection.
Of course, there’s always the direct approach. Let someone you meet know that you want to be friends. ‘I think we’re going to be friends’ feels really good to hear and lets the receiver know that your friendship is available.
At some time in our lives chances are that we’ll need to put effort into making new friends. I vote for bringing the art of friend making out of the shame closet. Let’s own the awesomeness of the friendship we have to offer and not be afraid to share it.