Making friends as an adult is difficult for many of us. People date, marry, procreate, change, drift and relocate. Growing up, my family moved at least four times and I lived in three different states. While being the new kid often isn’t easy, it seemed so much simpler to make friends in school.
My first day of college, I befriended two girls in my dorm who I noticed chatting with the door open. I introduced myself, cracked a joke, and they invited me to eat dinner in the cafeteria with them. It turned out they had just met each other. Our trio became insta-friends that day.
I landed in San Francisco two years ago this month – after over a decade in Los Angeles (and several cycles of friend-finding) – armed with two cats, a new job, and the friendship of only one other person in the city. Making friends in San Francisco took more effort and perseverance than I ever anticipated. You could say I’ve learned a thing or two – sometimes the hard way – about making friends as an adult.
Perhaps you woke up one day and realized, “Holy loneliness! I don’t have any friends! (And I don’t know how to make new ones!)” Or maybe all of your friends seem to be married, paired up or wrangling children, with no time for single you. It could be you simply feel your social life needs a boost. Whatever the case, we’re social creatures. Even the most solitary of us crave regular, meaningful interaction with others. We need friends. I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned in my friend-making efforts, I can spare you some of the obstacles often encountered on a quest for new friends.
Laying the Foundation
Before you undertake your search for new friends, here are a few things I recommend to lay the groundwork for being a friend magnet.
1. Be A Friend To Yourself First
When you meet new people, you’re marketing yourself in a way. The you that people meet is the whole package they intake from what makes you laugh to how you dress to what interests you. If you’re going to get out and meet new people, it’s important that you like yourself. How can you convincingly “market” yourself as someone’s next BFF if you don’t believe in the package you’re presenting?
What do you like about yourself?
What do others say they like in you?
What are your strengths? Are you loyal? Funny? Adventurous? A good listener? Nurturing? Embrace whatever it is that makes you you. Those strengths are what draw people to you. Lean on those strengths – your best traits – if ever you need a reminder of why you’re likable and lovable.
2. Make a Friend Wish List
You know you want to make friends. But, what does that mean? As with any activity we undertake, it’s helpful to have goals to guide us and keep us focused.
- What does friendship mean to me?
- Think about what you’re looking for in a friend. Not who you think you should be friends with, but the kind of people with whom you think you’ll truly connect.
- What kind of friends am I looking for?
- Do you want a group of friends to chill at “Central Perk” with? Are you looking for a travel buddy? Are you longing for a confidante, a best friend, someone whom you can call to help you move a dead body, no questions asked?
- What do I like to do for fun?
- What kinds of activities do you hope to do with new friends?
Think about the friends you do have: How did you meet them? How did your friendship evolve? Being realistic about the investment involved in building a friendship will help temper your expectations.
3. Make Time
Finding new friends and building relationships takes time. Be honest with yourself about how much time you have to dedicate toward your friend-making efforts. Decide how important this endeavor is to you. Much like a romantic relationship, if you want new friends, you have to carve out time and space for new people in your life.
In my search for new friends in San Francisco, I met several people who confessed they wanted friends, but didn’t really have time to put toward the effort. One woman I met traveled for work several months out of the year. Another spent much of her spare time studying for the LSAT. Or as I’ve encountered many times over the years, the person who laments their lack of friends, but spends nearly every free moment with their significant other.
If your co-workers invite you out to happy hour and you routinely turn them down, one day they’re likely to stop asking you.
Spending all your time at work or even at home and not meeting people, will not get you closer to seeing your friendship wish list come true.
If you ditch or flake repeatedly, not only do people begin to see it as a pattern, often they take it as a direct offense.
Making time for friendship can be as simple as deciding you’ll dedicate one afternoon a weekend to making friends and socializing. Maybe you can target one or two lunches a week – or even coffee – for getting together with people. Find a way to integrate friends into your daily routine. For instance, if you have to study for a grad school exam, find a study buddy. If you’re a parent, find other parents with similar schedules.
If you’re serious about making friends, it requires time and effort. It’s worth it.
Ask Yourself: Does my busy lifestyle indicate to others: “I don’t have room for new people in my life?”
4. Keep an Open-Mind
Your next best friend, brunch buddy or running pal might arrive in a package you don’t expect. Life loves to throw surprises our way, so don’t immediately discount someone because of their age, how they dress, their socioeconomic standing (or god forbid, their ethnicity) or whatever other arbitrary factors we sometimes use in judging and assessing others. One of the benefits of friendship is how much we stand to learn from each other and our diverse experiences. Opportunities for friendship are everywhere. Don’t blindly turn away from what may be your chance at a rich friendship.
One of my closest friends is a white baby-boomer, 30 years my senior, from a farm town southern California. I met her at work, over a decade ago when I was just transitioning out of acting into my new career in tech. She is a treasure and I never would have expected a friendship like ours. When I join her and her husband on outings, sometimes I notice we get curious looks from people. On the surface, we couldn’t seem more different, yet as it turns out, we are far more similar than not.
Once you’ve laid the foundation for your friend search, it’s time to get tactical. How do you meet people?
5. Use Your Network
- Who better to recommend your next friend than a current friend you like and trust? When I moved to San Francisco, I was very open about my loneliness and difficulty in making friends here. A few of my friends in other cities reached out to connect me with their friends in the area. One of my new good friends is someone I met that way. What’s nice about using your network is your friends have already done some of the hard labor for you: they’ve vetted this person. Chances are your friends won’t hook you up with ax murderers or stalkers (unless ax murdering and stalking is what you have in common).
Don’t be afraid to let people in your life know that you’re on the hunt for new friends. There’s no shame in needing companionship. Your (true) friends have your best interests at heart and want happiness for you. Often you’ll find they are more than willing to help you expand your circle and relish the opportunity to connect the people they value.
- You job is a potential friendship minefield. Some people recommend not mixing work and friendship. I think that’s unrealistic given many of us spend such large chunks of our lives at work. Obviously, one should be careful whom they choose to befriend at work. Be smart about it; use your instincts.
If you work for a large company, often there are intra-company clubs and communities you can join for everything from volunteer work to ethnicity-based groups to foodie outings to career advancement support and LGBT clubs. Smaller companies may have offsite events, happy hours or even poker groups, as I had one job. Some of my dearest friends are former co-workers.
6. Follow Your Interests
Another easy avenue to explore begins with you. Your interests. We like to have things in common with our friends, it strengthens our sense of belonging. Make a list of your interests, paying special consideration to activities you can share with others. Use this list to direct your search for activities.
If you’re athletically inclined, your options are many. There are sports leagues for adults of all ages for the fit and unfit alike. While I am not athletic – sometimes my anxiety dreams involve being back in middle school P.E. – I did join an adult kickball league in Los Angeles at the recommendation of a friend. He promised I wouldn’t suffer humiliation and trauma if I sucked on the field. He was right. I had a good time, met a lot of new people, and when earlier this year – in a San Francisco league – I scored my first run, I felt so proud and vindicated.
An added benefit of taking part in activities you like, is that your positive energy will show through. Imagine how much more enthusiastic and engaged you are when doing something you enjoy vs doing something you dread or feel forced into. Like baking cupcakes vs. watching football. People are attracted to positivity. It makes them feel good.
If you like taking photos there are Flickr meetups and instameets all over the world. Maybe you’re really into your faith. Many religious organizations have social groups and events calendars for their communities. If you have a dog, take your dog to a dog park and let Fido’s cuteness guide you to your next friend. Perhaps you want to learn a new language. I enrolled in Spanish course when I moved to San Francisco. It gave me a reason to leave the house, kept my mind active, and I planned to reward my efforts with a trip to a Spanish-speaking country. Not only did I make new acquaintances in the course, a classmate asked me out!
I met a real-life Brony this year. If men who love My Little Pony can build a community, surely you’ll be able to find something to do around your interests. I’ve listed helpful resources at the end of the post.
7. Take Initiative
Have you ever met someone at an event or maybe a conference with whom you really clicked? Maybe you exchange numbers, email addresses or Twitter handles, and you agree you “must hang out again!” but nothing happens? You never hear from each other. Why did neither of you follow up? Could be any number of reasons: we’re too busy, too tired, too stressed, too lazy, too whatever. What if we missed a prime opportunity to bring someone new into our lives? What if next time someone says, “Let’s hang out soon” you say, “Ok, I am free next week on these days, how about you?” Make a plan. Set a date. Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move.
If you hear of an event in your area that you’d like to attend, invite someone you know to join you.
Maybe there’s a co-worker you’ve wanted to go to know better. Invite him out to grab a beer.
The girl in your yoga class who always smiles at you? Strike up a conversation with her. Ask her where she got her yoga mat and how she likes it. Once you open the door friendly conversation, you can work your way up to asking her to join you for a post-workout protein shake.
If you like to entertain, throwing a party is a great way to bring new friends into your world.
Being assertive and taking initiative can seem daunting, especially if you are shy. If you don’t feel confident, fake it. The truth is, many of us get nervous when meeting new people, we just assume we’re the only ones. Other people always seem so at ease with strangers. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. It’s just as possible that they’re just good at appearing comfortable under unnerving circumstances. Don’t be FAKE, just channel the comfort and self-confidence you feel when you are with friends. Remember what makes you someone people want to be friends with. No one has to know how awkward you feel, if you choose not to show it.
If you get nervous, ask yourself:
What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen?
Be an active participant in building the friendship network you want.
Cultivating and Maintaining
Once you begin meeting people and making connections, how do you build on your efforts and cultivate your new friendships?
8. Say “Yes!”
There may come times when you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone to make friends. Look at it as an opportunity to grow.
If you get invited to a party, go! Even if the idea of going to a party where you don’t know many people terrifies you, go! You won’t gain anything by not trying. Parties are a fantastic way to meet a lot of people in one setting. You always have the option of leaving when you like. Whenever I find myself at a party or a mixer, I challenge myself to meet at least three new people. That way I’ve given myself a goal. Three is a manageable number and after I meet my “quota” I can relax the rest of the evening knowing I’ve potentially made three new friends. If three seems overwhelming to you, start with one person and work your way up.
My motto is: I’ll try almost anything at least once. A few years ago, I went to a Thai restaurant famous for their insect delicacy, with a group – some my friends, some strangers. Eating scorpions, crickets and beetles was never on my list of “things to do before I die”, and I don’t feel compelled to do it again, but the experience was as unforgettable as I anticipated. Today I can reminisce and laugh with my friends about our buggy meal. Shared experiences, especially unique ones, are the building blocks of strong friendships.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Say “Yes!” to the opportunity to expand your horizons.
9. Let Yourself Be Vulnerable
Sometimes we worry that if we let on that we’re lonely, we’ll appear desperate. Almost everyone can identify with feeling the pang of loneliness at one time or another. Whether it’s that you’ve moved to a new city, are newly divorced or broken up or you find yourself drifting apart from your old friends, we endure friendship lows.
Years ago, I found myself looking for a new group of friends after an unfortunate break up with a best friend, followed shortly after by a break up with my long-term boyfriend. As my relationship had progressed, I’d neglected to direct enough energy toward maintaining and nurturing my friendships. I woke up one day to a desert of a social life. A triple whammy of loss that hit me like a sandbag.
I looked for a book club to join because I like to read. I ended up befriending a group of reading, traveling, foodies in Los Angeles, many of whom are still my friends. I recall during one book club meeting, how a discussion over the book Marrying Anita led to sharing of relationship stories. I admitted how lost and confused I felt after the loss of very important people in my life, to which others could relate. I began to look forward to our book club meetings and am grateful to the members for helping me get through such a difficult time. It’s scary to open up to others about our thoughts and feelings. It’s healthy to open up though. When we do let go, often it makes us feel better and it builds intimacy in our relationships. When a friend opens up to you, listen and make them feel comfortable sharing with you.
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable is key to cultivating a friendship. Self-disclosure brings us closer.
The search for friends can feel a lot like dating. Not too long ago, I accepted a lunch invitation from a potential new friend. After lunch, I remember dejectedly texting another friend, “I don’t think she liked me. She didn’t laugh at my jokes and she looked bored. Kept looking off at other things.” It felt like talking about a guy I’d gone out with! Imagine my surprise when a week later, she invited me out for drinks. She did like me! Turns out what I misread as disinterest was introversion at play.
Developing a friendship takes patience, resilience and repeated contact. Meeting someone once does not a friendship make. The more time you spend with a friend, the more you communicate with them, the more you self-disclose to them and create shared experiences, the more likely you are to grow closer. Friendships move through stages, from acquaintance to best friend. Not all friendships will traverse each stage. Consistency is key to deepening bonds of friendship.
Finding and making new friends isn’t always easy. If you’re one of the lucky ones, someone will take you under their wing and invite you into their circle. Overnight, you’ve got new friends! More than likely though, you will experience setbacks while on your friendship quest. That’s okay! Where there’s a valley, a peak is sure to follow. If you find yourself discouraged, keep in mind that making friends takes time. Not everyone you meet will become your best friend or even more than an acquaintance, but with each experience you have, you’ll become more comfortable with meeting new people. Over time, you should begin to notice your efforts paying off.
Have you found it difficult to make friends as an adult? What have your experiences been like? What are some of your challenges? Do you have tips for others looking to make friends?
- World Adult Kickball Association – a co-ed social sports organization, WAKA has leagues in 35 states for kickball, dodgeball and other “social sports.”
- Running Clubs – A friend of mine met her fiancé through a Nike run club. Whether you enjoy running or want to start, it can be a fruitful place to meet people and get your workout in. Select Lululemon locations have run clubs (and yoga classes) and often local athletic and sporting goods stores will too. You can also find local running clubs at Road Runners of America.
- Play Recess – another co-ed social sports organization. Currently, they only have leagues in San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. In addition to dodgeball and kickball, they have volleyball, ultimate Frisbee and soccer games.
- Search for hiking and biking groups in your community. The Sierra Club has chapters across the country for hiking, outdoor and environmental activities.
- Meetup – Meetup has been around for a while. It’s a large network of groups across the country organized by locals. Meetup types run the gamut from hiking to singles to art lovers to parenting to books. I find meetups require a greater level of proactive-ness than other avenues. This is largely due to the often ad-hoc nature of events that don’t engender repetitive contact among the same group of people. With that said, I know several people who’ve met with success on meetup.
- Girlfriend Circles – Girlfriends Circles connects women looking to build female friendships. I’ve mentioned before how I met some cool women through the site. Members are matched with other members in their area based on age group. Monthly events are planned for groups of up to 6, so it’s manageable number of people to meet. Community members also organize their own events.
- Volunteer Match – Volunteer Match connects volunteers to the organizations that need them. Search for volunteer opportunities in your area based the cause(s) that interest you.
- Idealist – similar to Volunteer Match, you can search for volunteer opportunities or post your own project ideas. Additionally, they have internship and job listings for non-profit organizations.
- Check your local weekly paper (e.g., LA Weekly, Austin Chronicle, Chicago Reader, etc.). Use the Calendar of events to discover fun and new things to do in your area.
- If you’re a college grad, see if there’s an alumni chapter if your area. My local alumni chapter has football game watching parties, BBQs and networking events.
- Yelp has an events calendar and an active social community both on- and offline.
- If you like dancing, find a local dance group. Another friend of mine met her husband and many of her friends through ballroom dancing.
- Taking an improvisation or beginner’s acting class will allow you to learn a new skill and meet new people.