Remember back in elementary school how easy it was to make a new friend? But somehow it gets harder as we get older. I wish we all grew up with manuals that we could use as references to help us with difficult phases in our life. Although I don’t have a manual, I turned to the next best thing, my 70-year-old mother (who I consider one of my best friends). So regardless of what age you are, it’s important to figure out how to make friends as an adult and take proactive steps to cultivate your friendships since they are integral to your overall health and well-being.
Human behavior and relationships fascinate me. Maybe that’s one reason I love my job as a licensed mental health clinician.
So no matter where you are in your life, learning how to make friends and cultivate friendships is essential for your physical, and mental health and overall well-being.
How to make friends as an adult: tips from a therapist
As a psychotherapist one of the ways I evaluate how well my client is going to cope with their stressors is by finding out about the quality of their social connections and friendships.
Remember, we are all social beings whose desire for connection and belonging is hardwired in our brains.
My fellow social work colleague Brené Brown, Ph.D. says it perfectly in her book Atlas of the Heart.
“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and they they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”Brené Brown, PhD, MSW
I love that quote because it encapsulates what a true friendship is all about. My goal is to help you discover and cultivate those types of connections and friendships.
1. Be your own friend first
I know this sounds strange.
Nevertheless, before you start determining how to make friends as an adult, learn to be comfortable with yourself.
If you’re not happy with yourself or in your own company, it’s hard to expect others to be.
So start getting cozy with yourself and learn to love and appreciate yourself.
I’m an extrovert so I thrive in the company of others. My husband on the other hand is an introvert who loves his alone time.
What I’ve learned about being married to an introvert is that spending time alone and getting comfortable with myself is an integral part of my growth and self-development. That way, I know my emotional triggers and don’t project my unhappiness on other people.
2. Get clear on your values
While studying for my MSW in graduate school, I met this young woman to whom I was drawn and desired to befriend.
On our first “friendship date” we went for a hike to get to know one another. During our arduous hike, she told me that she was having an affair with a married man.
Although I appreciated her honesty, I knew that I could not develop a friendship with her. Her behavior violated one of my core values and I was not interested in engaging with her in the future.
Getting clear on your values is an important step especially when you’re learning how to make friends as an adult.
Otherwise, you’ll risk hurting yourself in the long run by sacrificing something important to you.
3. Don’t ignore your gut feelings
Sometimes when you’re lonely it’s easy to jump into any type of friendship just to avoid being isolated.
Take it from me, don’t do it!
In my early twenties, I was desperate to make new friends after moving to a new city. I thought my roommate and I could be friends. Although Jessica had some annoying habits, I assumed I could overlook them and have fun together going out.
Boy was I wrong.
Jessica’s annoying habits of living in the same space were only a tiny fraction of her obnoxious entitled attitude toward others. After going out a few times, I realized that my gut feeling was right. She was only going to be my roommate and not my friend.
Unfortunately, when you ignore your gut feelings about someone, you may end up feeling disappointed and hurt.
Avoid this by tuning into your gut sensations when you meet someone new. It’s normal to feel nervous or excited. However, if you notice anything unusual then listen to your instincts.
4. Move out of your comfort zone
When you start figuring out how to make friends as an adult, you will be navigating unchartered territory.
Unlike your childhood and college years when it was relatively easy to make new friends, adulthood is a whole other domain.
In order to make new friends, you’ll have to try out some new activities, go to places that you typically may not go to, and even pursue people.
It’s a little like dating without the pressure of making a lifelong commitment.
5. Show your friends you like them
Want to know what people appreciate most in a new friend?
Someone who makes them feel like they matter!
You will easily make friends by being kind and approachable. Moreover, show people that you like and value them by texting them and connecting with them regularly.
6. Learn to be a good friend
Any relationship, whether it’s a friendship, partnership, or romantic relationship requires effort and work from both parties.
True friendships thrive because both parties are invested in one another.
So focus on your active listening skills, learn to be compassionate, and communicate openly and honestly.
7. Don’t be a flake
I’m not sure if this is an American thing or a universal thing but one of my biggest pet peeves is how flaky people are these days.
My husband is Austrian. What I love about his culture is that people mean what they say. They are direct and forthcoming.
So if you make a new friend in Austria and they say “Yes, we should get together and make banana bread” then guess what? They’re going to contact you and schedule a time to make banana bread.
Try to be more Austrian!
Be authentic with your word and follow through with what you say. Otherwise, it’s hard to make new friends because they won’t know if you’re dependable or not.
8. Focus on quality, not quantity
I can honestly say that I only have a handful of what I call “soul friends.” Not acquaintances or people I hang out with, but what Gary Zukav calls spiritual partnerships.
“Spiritual partnerships are the most fulfilling, substantive, and deep relationships possible. They are relationships between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth.”Gary Zukav
Three of my soul friends live in Europe. I see them once every three years and we share a profound heartfelt deep connection. These relationships are far more valuable to me than having a bunch of acquaintances.
Therefore, focus your energy on friendships that are fulfilling. These relationships are far more rewarding for you than a big circle of acquaintances who keep you busy, but not nurtured.
The best ways to make new friends
By now you have harnessed your core values, befriended yourself, and learned about trusting your gut feelings.
Here are some of the best tips to make new friends in college, at work, or at any time in your adult life.
1. Join a club (or create your own!)
Do you love to read? What about knitting or even hiking?
If the answer is yes, then I highly recommend joining a club! If you can’t find one, create your own.
I’ve discovered that book clubs are a great place to meet people and met my friend Marianne that way. I love bragging that she graduated from MIT and that she is a brilliant engineer!
Looking back, what I love about the development of my friendship with Marianne was that she would connect with me regularly via text or phone call.
We would make plans to see each other and follow through with them. We both felt comfortable and safe with each other so we could be vulnerable with one another.
Although Marianne moved to a different state, we still keep in contact and communicate regularly.
So having successfully found a friend in adulthood by joining a club, I recommend it since it is a great way to make new friends and cultivate your hobbies.
2. Go to a Meetup or two
Unlike me, my mom is an incredible artist. She’s eager to meet like-minded people, so she recently attended a few Meetup events and discovered a whole new community.
My mom is 70 years old so if she can do this, so can you!
Meetup is an easy way to meet other people. This platform is designed for activities, gatherings, and events for people and communities of similar interests, hobbies, and professions.
3. Try volunteering
Did you know that volunteering improves your health?
According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering reduces stress and increases positive feelings by releasing dopamine.
When you volunteer you also have a chance to meet new people and potentially make new friends. Volunteering also helps you give back to your community and connect with others.
The best place to search for volunteer opportunities is to create a profile on VolunteerMatch. Afterward, you get numerous options to choose from including one-day events to ongoing volunteering at local organizations.
Here’s an important tip: try volunteering for events where you are encouraged to talk with other people.
I once volunteered for a gardening event where no one talked. I got a good workout picking weeds but did not meet any potential friends.
4. Find friends at work
If you just started a new job and want to make friends at work, then learn to be curious about people.
One easy tactic to employ is to start talking to people in the employee lounge or over the water cooler. Ask your new colleagues open-ended questions about their lives and their jobs.
Typically people LOVE to talk about themselves and feel good when you show them that you are interested in them. If they engage in conversation with you, and you feel that there is a positive connection, then take the next step and invite them to have lunch or grab a coffee with you.
Take control. Feel better.
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If the individual gives you short answers or avoids eye contact, they aren’t interested in making a new friend.
Too bad for them, there are other people out there!
5. Take a class
After graduating from UC Berkeley and moving back to Santa Barbara, I realized that I missed academia. So I decided to enroll in sociology classes at the local community college.
Taking a class is a great way to learn how to make friends as an adult because you will meet fellow grown-ups who are interested in the same subject as you.
Adult education classes are typically hosted through your local community college. They are inexpensive and offer a variety of subjects from painting to singing.
Taking a dance class is also a fun way to meet new people. Check out your local city parks and recreation, YMCA, or college/university for dance lessons.
You do not need a partner to take dance lessons and I can tell you from personal experience that dancing is delightful!
6. How to make friends as an adult (the fast way)
If you’re scared of venturing out and want to make friends fast then I recommend looking at your contacts on your phone.
Ask yourself if there are any people in your contact list that you used to be in communication with.
Then be brave and reach out to them.
Send them a text and say something like this “Hey how are you? We haven’t chatted in a while and I wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you. How’s everything going?”
Once you hear back from them make concrete plans to get together and follow through.
Recently I reunited with my best friend from college. I’ve known Thanh for over 20 years. We first met when we were 18 years old in our college dormitory at Cal Berkeley. Fast forward and we’re both working as healthcare professionals in our 40s.
What is beautiful about a friendship like the one I have with Thanh and Marianne is this.
Although we do not see each other very often when we do it feels like we saw each other yesterday.
With a real friend, you can share your most authentic self by being honest, vulnerable, and real. The connection and relationship are sustenance to your soul. You are a better person because of your friend.
Learning to find new friends is not always easy. But having and cultivating friendships is an irreducible need not only for your survival but essential for your well-being.
What has it been like for you to make friends as an adult? What has worked well for you and what did you find less helpful? Please share your comments and stories below.