As anyone who has “become an adult” (meaning has graduated from college/grad school or went straight into the workforce) within the past 2 decades or so can tell you, making friends as an adult is hard. Heck, even your parents probably feel the same way.
When we are young, it seems like all another person really needs is a pulse and to not be a big jerk-face, and we can be friends with them. Kids may have little tiffs and scrape ups and cliques, but generally they get over it quickly and are sharing stuffed ponies and cupcakes by nap time.
When you hit middle school age, true friendships have been formed, and a few may have been lost already. I remember my very best friend Emily moved in 6th grade, and it rocked my world. This is about the age where kids’ mean streak begins to come out too, so making friends can be difficult. But you are still in an environment that is conducive to friends-making.
In high school the good and the bad intensify as popularity comes into the mix, along with the hormones that are part and parcel of maturation. Competition among and between girls and boys becomes more intense, and gender roles and values as society and the media portray them are subconsciously reinforced.
You are still repeatedly exposed to the same small group of people almost daily, and everyone is going through the same life changes and experiences. This creates the ideal environment for bonding.
As you then graduate and contemplate your future, everyone goes off to the mixing pot of college life or immediately to the daily grind. Some of us even go above and beyond and voluntarily choose to extend these educational years through graduate school.
However, all good things must come to an end, and someday you have to have an income pay the bills. Once you are in a “day job”, things begin to get dicey.
Unless you have a roommate you like, cool neighbors, or coworkers who are also friends after 5pm, it is likely that you would say that making friends is hard. Once you’re an adult, your social world shrinks drastically to essentially where you live and where you work.
We can work remotely, we can order enough paper products to outlast the apocalypse, there are infinite entertainment and social media options for our ‘free time’, at-home yoga, pilates, body weight, and HIIT workouts are the bomb diggity. We can even have wine, groceries, or *gasp* fully-cooked dinners delivered to our door.
Why do we even need friends?
Well, it turns out that close relationships are really good for us on so many levels. A recent review of studies indicates that feelings of loneliness increases mortality risk by 26%.
Though we are the most electronically connected generation of all time, we are experiencing what some call an “epidemic of loneliness“. You may have 550 Facebook friends, thousands of Twitter or Instagram followers, but only spend time with real live human beings at work or when forced to on a crowded bus/train/plane.
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that young adults age 19 to 32 who spent the most time on social media sites, more than 2 hours a day, reported twice the amount of perceived social isolation than those who reported a half hour per day or less. Those who used social platforms frequently, 58 times or more per week, reported thrice* the amount of perceived isolation than those who used such sites only 9 times per week or less.
Now, this is definitely not a call to delete all your social media accounts. How else will you send snaps of your hilariously misspelled name on your Starbucks drink to your old college roommate, or brag about your BOGO boots deal with an album of matching outfits?
We just maybe should think it and be more mindful of our use, why we use certain sites, and how often we spend time on those sites versus experiencing life.
These bonds remain important all throughout the spectrum of life, from college, to young adulthood, to new parents, to DINKS, to stay-at-home mom and dads, to workin-up-the-corporate-ladder, to middle age and the golden years.
A review of 148 studies in PLOSMedicine showed an overall 50% increase in likelihood of survival among people with the strongest social relationships, consistent across age, sex, initial health status, cause of death, and follow-up period. This level of influence on survival rivals known death risks like smoking, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity.
Of course, the type of friends you choose also affect your outcome. Jim Rohn, a famous motivational speaker, said that you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose your closest friends carefully. The famous Framingham Heart Study followed 5209 individuals from 1948 to 2003 and asked all sorts of questions along the way. One outcome of this research database was a ‘relationship and happiness network’.
They tracked who each person knew, and how happy they felt, and created a big network where each person was a node and lines between them connected in a web. The color of each node indicated the level of happiness in four reported areas. What they found was that happiness, or unhappiness, can spread from one node to another, creating niches of happiness or unhappiness.
To quote their conclusions, “Happy people tend to be located in the centre of their local social networks and in large clusters of other happy people.” Thus the top reason why we need friends:
Healthy Relationships = Happiness
Friends also come with all kinds of benefits. No, not that kind. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about tangible and intangible physical, mental, and financial benefits.
From real-life situations like help with babysitting, cost-sharing at membership club stores, borrowing items like ladders and lawnmowers, and potlucks to the intangible benefits like happiness, better health, better immunity and disease resistance, and emotional stability and support, friends come with great perks.
Having someone with whom you can batch-cook, share costs or services, help you move in or out, and enjoy frugal pastimes like watching movies and walks in the park is great for your savings account. A friend can be your accountability partner, to help you stick with dietary changes or exercise more or quit smoking or coffee for good. Friends can celebrate with you, and cheer you up when you’re feeling blue.
This all sounds well and good, but HOW do you do it? How does one “make friends”, without magical play-dough that comes alive?
For a lasting friendship to form, you need a few key things:
- Repeated positive interactions
- Compatible personalities
If you are finding it hard to create and sustain lasting relationships, take notes from science. Studies have shown that some of the best ways to make people like you and want to be around you include:
- Be a good listener – this should be pretty obvious, but make sure a conversation goes both ways, and only talk 50% of the time or less. People love to talk about themselves and feel heard.
- Ask questions – as stated, people looooove to talk about themselves and their lives. If you truly want to be friends with someone, you should want to get to know about them, too.
- Offer to help – whether it is getting a ream of paper off a tall shelf at work, or helping a new neighbor move in, offering assistance is an easy way to feel good for helping and score niceness points.
- Smile, use open body language – this is not a case of men telling women they should smile more. This is a case of acting like you are approachable. You can make friends and boost your career.
- Yes, and… – using negative words like “no” or “but” can make the person talking to you feel belittled, or like the conversation is a competition. Try using “Yes, and…” instead.
- Make connections – obviously you are listening (see above) and paying attention to what the person is saying. Latch onto details to connect and tell related stories. If they mention an upcoming vacation, ask about it. If they mention they’re bored with takeout, offer to share some recipes you love (see the helping point!)
Science says that persistence pays off with friendships, as well as the concept of reciprocity. This means returning a call or text, and making the effort to hang out in person. Generally speaking, a friendship can be well maintained if you check in electronically or in person about once every other week.
Though it may seem overwhelming, there are infinite people out there in the world. Every stranger is a potential friend waiting to happen. A lot rides on your personal outlook and approach to new people. If you are distrustful, angry, super introverted, or blatantly dislike people, it will be more difficult to find, create, and sustain lasting friendships. But not impossible.
The good news is, though making friends can seem hard, there are many steps and strategies you can use to make it easier. And it is never too late in life to create, rekindle, or strength relationships. After all, every person you meet is a friend waiting to happen. For ideas to get you started, see below. And feel free to add your suggestions in the comments!Every stranger is a potential friend waiting to happen. Click To Tweet
Renew & Strengthen Old Friendships
If you are like most adults, you probably have moved at least once if not multiple times, and are likely on your second or third career or more. Along the way, there are people with whom you became friendly, whether from living together, going to classes together, neighbors, friends from clubs, etc. It is easy to lose touch after a few months or years.
The beauty of social media nowadays is that reconnection is as easy as a quick Facebook search or LinkedIn sweep. Reach out to people you once knew and liked, and see what they are up to these days. You never know, maybe they also moved, and now you guys live only 20 minutes away from each other. Even if that is not the case, sustaining a friendship long distance is easier than ever.
Friends of Friends
Before the days when online dating became the top dog (now over 1/3 of all marriages begin online), the most common way to meet someone was through a mutual acquaintance.
If you asked your grandfather how he met your grandmother, the answer is probably “at the sock hop” or “a friend set us up on a blind date”. Even my parents, that is exactly how they met: my dad filled in on a blind date for another friend who had gotten sick, met my mom, and the rest is history.
Though “kids these days” don’t tend to hang out at the drive in or soda shop anymore, you would still benefit by expanding your social circle. Have a dinner party, and ask people to bring a plus one or two. If a friend joins a new club or sport, ask if you can join in too, and meet new people together.
Depending upon where you work, you may know every single co-worker by name, or be one in a nameless faceless mass of people. There are likely a few people you enjoy, a few you feel nothing strongly about, and perhaps one or a few you just cannot stand or get weird vibes from. I’d recommend you don’t start there.
But there must be at least one person whom you don’t know all that well. Maybe that girl down the hall who always wears a green sweater, the guy you keep running into in the elevator, or the girl they just hired last week.
This will require you to take a leap of faith, brace yourself.
Say hi. Smile. Offer your name and a handshake. Maybe invite them to have a cup of coffee, or lunch together.
Follow the advice above once you are spending time together. Ask questions, listen to the answers, and then make connections and tell your own stories. The absolute worst that can happen is you learn that you don’t have much in common, but now you know where to get hand-knitted tea towels or who to ask for help in case you chair wheel falls off.
The absolute best case? You just wrote the first chapter of a book titled “How I Met My Best Friend”.
It is worth a half hour of your time every few days or every few weeks to invite someone new out to coffee or lunch, or a walk during your break. Statistically speaking, if you talk to a new person every month, you are likely to have made at least one friend by the end of the year. As someone who never took a statistics class, you can trust that what I’m saying is true.
Join a Club or Sport
See above, the Friends of Friends section? Especially if you already know people involved in softball, soccer, or tag football, ask how to join the team. Already knowing someone will help ease any initial anxiety and discomfort. And if you don’t already know anyone in a sport? So what! More potential new friends for you.
Don’t be afraid to Google or ask around, and find a sport and/or a particular club that works for you. Take into account if there are any costs involved (yearly/monthly start up fees, special equipment or clothing you need, etc), the location from your work/home, when the practices and games are held. You don’t want to get close to a team of people only to realize that the championship game starts at 10pm on a work night the day before a big presentation…
Playing sports is a great way to bond with new people, you are learning and practicing skills, and getting some exercise. Happy endorphins are flying all over the place and everyone is on a natural high. You can high-five and fist-bump and butt-slap with abandon. And once you have become friends, you can capitalize on that accountability partner benefit, and help each other become better, stronger, faster.
And for the less athletically-inclined? No excuses! There are literally thousands of other options of clubs to join. Check your local pubs and bars, most cities will have at least one trivia night or open mic night. Ask at your local library, there may be a book club, knitting club, board game night, or gardening group. Just Google “thing you like” + “where you live” and see what results you get.
Along similar lines as above, check Meetup.com for more official meetup groups in your city or nearby. People pay a small fee to set up a group, so you may have to pay a small membership fee, but it is worthwhile.
You can search by type of activity or specific keywords, and set a distance range from whatever zip code you choose. So if you want to find “outdoor adventure” within “25 miles” of “your house”, Meetup will return your 14 results within seconds. Just request to join the groups, RSVP yes to the next event, and show up!
Free Community Events
If you don’t want to go the official route, or don’t trust the internets, try free events in your local town. To find these, look into your local schools, community center, university, fliers at the coffee shops, or newspaper. You may find potlucks, free community dinners, fund raisers, school plays, big-name speakers, hikes, courses, and more.
You will know when you get there that everyone is likely to live fairly nearby, so you should have a lot of local news and history in common! Plus, since they are also at a free community event, you probably share similar values like building a sense of community, and frugality. Bonus.
Volunteering your time is an excellent way to get involved in your community and meet new people, while also getting that warm fuzzy do-good feeling. It is a win-win, you feel great and sleep better at night while someone or some organization gets some much needed help. The ideas for volunteering are pretty endless:
- a pet shelter
- your library
- farmer’s markets
- Big Brother Big Sister
- kids’ sports coach
- suicide/rape hotlines
- Meals on Wheels
- assisted living facility
- Habitat for Humanity
You can check out websites like VolunteerMatch.com to match you with groups looking for people with your skills or experience.
Now get out there and hug a stranger!
*I’m excited I got to use the word “thrice” in a post! #wordnerd