Making Friends As Adults

A Ripple Spring 2023 article

Friendship is one of the sweetest parts of being human, providing a deep well of love, community, and nourishment for body, mind, and spirit. Here’s how to find and nurture precious connections.

Be Proactive

“The first step to initiating new friendships is to be proactive and optimistic that things will work out well if you are,” says Dr. Marisa Franco, author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help you Make — and Keep — Friends. “Friendships happened organically when we were children thanks to continuous interactions and shared vulnerabilities. But it takes intention to create friends in adulthood, so be prepared to make an effort. If you meet someone you like, tell them you’ve enjoyed your time together, ask for their contact information, and follow up with an invitation to meet.”

And if your invitation is rebuffed or you find you don’t have a strong connection? Don’t take it personally, advises psychotherapist Arlene Englander. “Congratulate yourself on having had the courage to have taken the risk, take a breath, and when it feels appropriate, try again with someone else.”

Start with People You Already Know

If it feels intimidating to search for completely new friends, make a list of people you already know and would like to know better.

“Are there acquaintances in your neighborhood, your church or religious center, or elsewhere with whom you could develop a friendship?” asks therapist and author Tina Tessina. “Make an effort to strengthen an existing relationship by reaching out to them and see where that takes you.”

Maintain an Open Mind

“Aim to be forgiving and flexible when you meet new people,” says psychiatrist Rashimi Parmar. “Focus on their positive aspects instead of minor flaws or differences and give the person time to grow on you.”

Assume you are likable (because you are!) It’s natural to fear rejection, but research into a phenomenon called the Liking Gap shows that we tend to underestimate how liked we actually are when we interact with others. As an added bonus, further studies show that we become warmer, friendlier, and more willing to put ourselves out there when we recognize ourselves as likable.

Share Your Struggles, Joys, and Guilty Pleasures

Do you harbor a secret passion for trashy TV shows? Are you struggling with a recent experience? Would you love to study something new but not sure you’re up to it?

“Being open about our feelings can feel risky, but vulnerability indicates trust and that’s essential to building friendships,” says Franco. For scientific proof, consider studies in which strangers were asked to share varying levels of intimate information with one another. The striking finding: the more open participants were, the more they were liked by others.

Use discernment by sharing with people who are kind and patient. “And don’t worry about having to divulge your deepest, darkest secrets,” says Franco. “You can start off small.”

Some parts of yourself you could reveal: Places you dream of visiting and why, a funny, slightly embarrassing story about yourself, something you’re looking forward to, a fitness or creative goal, a childhood dream.

Don’t Rely on Chance Meetings

Regular interactions are fundamental to caring connections, and research shows that friendships are more sustainable in groups than in individual encounters. Put those two considerations together, and you’ll see the benefits of regular shared activities. Join a book club or language class, volunteer at a charity, or, if you’re musical, search out a local choir (singing together is scientifically shown to be a particularly effective way to cement friendships). And if you can’t find a gap, be bold and cultivate small gatherings of your own — a monthly potluck dinner party, biweekly walking group, or movie club. And don’t give up if you feel awkward to begin with.

Focus on Others, Not Yourself

It can feel uncomfortable to put yourself out there. But you don’t have to be the life of the party to make new friends. In fact, the opposite applies since the key to connecting with others is showing genuine interest in their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and opinions. In a nutshell: focus on being interested rather than interesting.

Put It on Your Calendar

According to research, two weeks should be the minimum time we go without checking in on our friends, so schedule time for regular calls, make standing appointments to meet, and don’t leave a date without setting the next one. Combining socializing with other activities is another way to get to know someone with ease — run errands together, book a joint pedicure, or share grocery shopping with a coffee at the end.

Get Help If You Need It

If you’re feeling badly stuck or struggling with emotions during your quest for friendship, see a mental health counselor. “Deep-seated issues like depression, anxiety, or trauma-related conditions may need to be addressed first,” advises Parmar. “And outside of that, it can be helpful to have professional help when you work on your strategies for finding and nurturing friends.”

How to Repair a Broken Friendship

“It’s devastating to lose a friendship, and we grieve forgotten ones,” says Franco. “So it’s important to go through a period of reflection if you want to repair things. Think about what went wrong, including ways in which your behaviors might have contributed to the dynamic and ending. It’s also good to think about it as a different relationship, so you’re not stuck in the old script. Instead of assuming you’re going to return to what was and try to make

By Pnina Fenster