How to make friends as an adult

– Family/Friends – By Heather Rogers | August 10, 2018 cafe-friends

Although we are digitally connected to more and more people, our social lives are suffering. Researchers at Harvard Kennedy School found that Americans were much less likely to invite friends for a visit in 2000 than they were in 1975: The number of these visits dropped by 45 percent. Participation in clubs and civic organizations plunged by more than half during that same period.

As rewarding and comforting as face-to-face conversation can be, reaching out can be intimidating for some of us. Interacting in real time involves risks that can feel daunting.

“Really seeing someone else and who they are requires being willing to be seen yourself,” says Dallas Hartwig, the New York Times best-selling coauthor of The Whole30 and the creator of the More Social Less Media program. “And when we show ourselves, we catalyze someone else to do it. It becomes a virtuous cycle.”

Creating opportunities for positive interactions takes practice — with people we know, as well as with strangers, Hartwig notes. He and other experts suggest trying the following strategies:

  • Don’t wait. Invite someone you know well or want to know better for coffee, a drink, or a walk — don’t wait for a special occasion or the “right” time.
  • Make new connections. Say hello to a stranger. A 2014 study of mass-transit commuters, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, found that participants who interacted with their seatmates en route had a more positive experience.
  • Be a joiner. Sign up for a class, book group, hiking club, or volunteer position. According to a research group at Harvard, joining a club improves your life expectancy on par with quitting smoking.
  • Stow your phone. Be mindful of how the presence of a phone can influence interactions. A visible device signals that a conversation may well be interrupted and can keep topics superficial.
  • Flip the script. Instead of the generic “How are you?” ask more-specific questions of your friends and acquaintances. Try “What’s making you happy these days?” or even “How are your kids?” People generally open up more when they’re talking about what they love.
  • Listen. Let go of any preconceptions and be present in conversation. You know you’re listening if you can identify the other person’s feelings. This practice hones curiosity and is critical for cultivating empathy.
  • See what happens. Go into conversations without an agenda. Just start talking and see where it leads.

This originally appeared in “Real-Life Connections” in the June 2016 issue of Experience Life.

Why is hard to make friends as an adult?

While there’s no one single reason as to why it may feel harder to form friendships as an adult (we all have our unique situations that contribute to this), generally speaking, there are, I think, three primary reasons why it might feel harder:

  1. Reduction of built-in cohorts.
  2. Reduction of intensity of shared experiences.
  3. Schedule overwhelm.

Practical suggestions:

  • Reconnect with old friends. Before you rush to seek out and form new friendships, be curious if there are any old friends in your past you may want to reconnect with. Remember that old Girl Scout song? “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Who knows if this will feel true for you but it’s worth a try!
  • Put yourself in real life situations with new people. Whether this is a mastermind group, recreational ultimate leagues, weekly Zumba classes at Y, a night class at a local community college, a REI training class, a MeetUp, put yourself in situations where you’ll meet multiple new people face to face. (And, better yet, consider hosting a class, party, or Meetup if you feel up to it!)
  • Similarly, say yes to invites where you’ll be exposed to new people. A birthday dinner party for a girlfriend where you may not know everyone else, a networking gig, an alumni gathering, say yes to moments where you’ll be exposed to new people. I know this can feel hard if you struggle with social anxiety, so take your time, and start off by saying yes to invites that push your boundaries a little bit each time.
  • Find and follow your kindred spirits on social media. I think one of the best parts about social media is how we can more easily seek out our like-minded kindred spirits — our Wolf Pack! — that we may not otherwise have had any other way of meeting. 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 (and this has definitely been the case for me!).
  • Deliberately plan time in your calendar monthly for friendship. I know this sounds silly but life gets super busy and before you know it, months have flown. And so, as my one of my mentors, Marie Forleo, says, “if it’s not scheduled, it’s not real.” Put a friendship date — whether with an old friend or a new one — down in your calendar and stick to it. Don’t let schedule overwhelm keep you from prioritizing this if making friends is, in fact, a priority for you.
  • Join a therapy group! Whether this is a Women’s Circle, a grief processing group, a recently broken hearted or preparing yourself for relationship group, find a circle of people journeying through something you’re going through. That kind of connection can be vulnerable and powerful. 
  • Use social media in a different way. If you want to cultivate a deeper kind of friendship, be more vulnerable on your social platforms, don’t just make it be a highlight reel. You may deepen connections you already have or draw new people to you. And if it feels too risky to do this with your established profiles, consider setting up a Finstagram, a separate, alternate account you only use with your besties (or soon-to-be-besties).
  • Volunteer. Or join a Board. Or host a fundraiser. Again, it’s all about putting yourself in environments where you’ll be exposed to new folks and the bonus here is feeling good for giving back!
  • Host something for your neighbors. Or, at least, say “Hi” in the hallway or on the street taking out the recycling bin.
  • Be proactive and pursue things that you’re interested in/passionate about. Whether it’s a jewelry making class, open water kayaking, or investing, join groups and classes online or in-person and go from there.
  • Host a monthly potluck. Or gather at a restaurant and ask your friends to bring someone new into your group each month.

Where we can get therapeutically curious:

As you can see, none of the above suggestions are rocket science and they’re really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative ideas about how to meet and make new friends.

So where we also want to be curious is if there’s something bigger showing up for you when you think about going off and pursuing some of these practical suggestions. If there is some kind of psychological resistance that shows up for you.

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For instance, here are some inquiries I invite you to reflect on if making friends as an adult feels like a challenge for you beyond the practical, logistical side of things:

  • Do you have resistance to initiating new friendships? Are you actually open to new relationships right now?
  • Are there issues in current or older friendships you’re avoiding looking at in your pursuit of new friendships?
  • Do you trust that there are people out there that you’ll resonate with? Or do you have a fairly pessimistic view about meeting new people?
  • What comes up for you when you think about exposing yourself to new people and new situations?
  • What’s your history of friendship been like? Is it painful in any way and is any of that showing up for you when you think about actively trying to make new friends?
  • What do you know about how you “tend to” and nourish the friendships you do have in your life?
  • Are you using your schedule or lack of energy as an excuse or avoidance of doing the vulnerable work of making connections?
  • Does any part of you feel frustrated or angry that making friends as an adult is this hard? Do you have an expectation it “should” be easier?

In Order To Make Friends… Forget About Making Friends

To make the prospect of making new friends a little easier, one suggestion is to take the emphasis off making new friends and focus on doing activities you might learn from or simply enjoy. Whether you make new friends or not, these activities are still so worthwhile. And somewhat ironically, people who have their own interests, are curious about new things, and know how to enjoy themselves can be really appealing to make friends with. So with all that in mind, here’s some suggestions that might result in some rewarding new connections:

  • Join a small local gym, yoga studio, or dance class. In a more intimate setting it will be easier to start to get to know the staff and other regulars. Large gyms or studios can be intimidating and make it hard to socialize.
  • Take a class or attend a workshop about something that you’re passionate about or just want to learn more about. There are so many options in our communities for learning about a variety of different topics, including gardening and farming, computer coding, arts and crafts like drawing or pottery, entrepreneurial skills and business – even how to build and fix things around the house. Or go ahead and learn a language – it’s really great for your brain even if it doesn’t come easily. There’s something out there for all interests, budgets and schedules.
  • See if there is a local Social Media group of your profession. There are so many of these out there, with Facebook and LinkedIn being two of the more common places to check out. These groups are free and make it really easy to network and find others in your field. You can share and receive tips and other information, or even build business references and collaboration opportunities. Many groups already have in-person networking meetups, and if they don’t, you can either start one yourself or invite people out for coffee or lunch.
  • Look for an acquaintance on Social Media who frequently post pictures of food. They may be the perfect lunch or dinner companion. And trying a new cuisine or going on an expedition to find less well-known places can easily be its own reward. Case study: a friend saw an article on the best hot dog places all over the city, and decided he’d have a hot dog once a week with someone new. It wasn’t the healthiest option perhaps, but each week he’d post the results on Facebook and it became a fun thing to keep track off – which in turn generated new people for him to meet up with.
  • Find volunteer opportunities in your community. There are some really unique volunteer options in museums, sporting events, festivals, animal shelters, camps, and parks – and the list goes on and on. The key is to find something that interests you, and make an effort to get to know the other volunteers and staff.
  • Join a Meetup group. As you probably already know, Meetup is a great website and app that allows people to attend – and create – all kinds of events and gatherings. There are regular meetups and less frequent events ranging from hiking trips to free yoga in the park, book discussion clubs and so many more! Almost any interest you can think of has a group on there.
  • Join a local athletic or hobby league. There are numerous ongoing kickball, soccer, frisbee, volleyball, chess, card, and board game leagues going on year-round in the South Denver area. If this seems intimidating at all, just remember that in addition to options for more experienced players, there’s plenty of leagues for beginners and people who just want to have fun and socialize. Here’s links to some South Denver leagues and leagues in Parker to get you started. Note the arrival of Pickeball—who knew?
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We hope you make some meaningful new connections. Let us know what works for you, and if you wind up making a new friend or two!

Sarah Lustig, MAAT, ATR, LPC – Psychotherapist/Art Therapist For All Ages

PS—Be sure to watch our Facebook page soon for a special July giveaway to celebrate International Friendship Day!

PPS—If you’re interested in integrative mental health and wellness, you might want to read our newly launched monthly newsletter. You can read the first edition here, and you can sign up for future issues here!

Sarah Lustig, MAAT, ATR, LPC brings a highly integrative approach to art therapy, incorporating Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Family Based Treatment (FBT) in her practice. In addition to Sarah’s warm, compassionate work with adults and families, she has unique experience working with children and adolescents with eating disorders, anxiety, and various other mental health challenges. She’s has also helped at-risk high school students and women who’ve been homeless or incarcerated due to mental illness.

Have any questions about Sarah’s art therapy and counseling practice?  Call our front desk at (720)222-0550 to learn more or schedule your first appointment with her.

1. Befriend Your Neighbors

Location, location, location! Friendships flourish in close proximity in part because of the ability to meet up at a moment’s notice.

We're bitches who bake.

Pre-pixie cut Emilie and SK!

Back when I first moved to DC, I moved into a basement apartment and had the good fortunate of living beneath a townhouse full of rad women. Sara-Katherine was one of the young professionals living upstairs and soon she and I became regular baking buddies (is there anything better than getting a Sunday morning text in bed saying “fresh scones are coming out of the oven!” from upstairs?!) and hiking pals. The ability to hang out by simply walking upstairs one floor was perfect for fostering a close new friendship, which I cherish to this day.

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I’m always shocked when I visit my NYC-dwelling friends, who rarely if ever know their neighbors living just feet away. You’re missing out on some SERIOUS friend potential, people! Strike up conversation in the elevator or lobby, even if it’s awkward. The potential of finding a hangout buddy right down the hall is totally worth it.

4. Be Consistent

CO Amigos in Vail

CO amigos in Vail

When we moved to Denver, Brad joined a friend group of guys that one of his former college classmates belonged to. The two of them had only really seen each other a handful of times since college, but Brad was warmly welcomed into their weekly “Wednesday Night Wings” tradition at the same cheap bar downtown. I found this tradition genius (and in fact, was a tad envious for a while), as he had a standing weekly date with a group of guy friends large enough so that even when half of them couldn’t make it, there was always some one going to share a cheap and delicious meal with.

Due in part to the consistency of their hangouts, we’ve grown quite close with this group of men and their respective partners. We all now go hiking and camping together, and recently celebrated the wedding of one of the pairs in Vail just last weekend!

A weekly reunion isn’t always feasible, but even a monthly standing date can make a difference. I have an online video hangout with a bunch of my college pals once a month that keeps us all on each others’ radars, too.

Whenever you can, take the effort out of making plans by setting it and forgetting it, so to speak. A recurring weekly or monthly meetup makes it easy to make quality time a priority.

5. Be Mindful 

I recently came across a compelling interview with writer Vanessa Van Edwards, who was speaking on the dangers of ambivalent relationships. Those are the kinds of friendship that have gone stale, or the ones that make you wonder, “where do I stand with them?” or “how do I even feel about them?”

There are friends we hang out with because we feel obliged to hang out with them, or because we’ve already been friends with them for so long, to cut off our relationship would feel like a huge overreaction.

But the guilt and stress we feel about these kinds of relationships can creep in on us, and might even stand in the way of forging new, higher-quality relationships.

That’s why it’s so important to stay mindful about the friends we’re fostering. Ask yourself, do I feel better or worse after hanging out with them? If the answer is that you feel worse or aren’t even sure, it’s okay to prioritize pursuing other friendships instead of over-investing in friendships that don’t feel reciprocal.

Throughout the course of our lives, friends come and go, but these core tenets remain true: having quality relationships in our lives always takes effort, and always pay off.

Have you put any of these friend-fostering tactics to use in your life? What are your best ways of finding new friends as an adult? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

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Emilie Aries is an internationally-recognized speaker, podcaster, writer, and the Founder & CEO of Bossed Up.

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