People say it’s impossible to make friends as an adult. As an event designer and community builder, I’ve paid a lot of attention to how people interact and come up with a few tips for making new connections.
Before kicking off a friend-making campaign, it’s good to make a shift to being a bit more focused on others. Here’s some good pre-work.
1. Prioritize making friends.
You can set an intention, pray, make note of it, or tell a friend. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual for this step to work. This just gets your body and brain on the same page that this is important to you so that when you want to cancel plans and watch TV, your subconscious can kick in to help you.
2. Strengthen the “and how about you?” conversational muscle.
When in a short conversation with someone you don’t know very well, you have up to about two minutes worth of talking before you should find some way to say, “And how about you?” Basically, whatever question they asked to kick off conversation you need to ask them back. It seems to me that this is a non-negotiable obvious requirement to half of the population, and that the other half is completely oblivious. Guess which half makes and keeps friends more easily? Make the words “and how about you” a habit and see what happens.
3. Learn to show vulnerability in appropriate ways.
A big part of connecting with someone is feeling like you can both put your shields down. This doesn’t mean unloading on the mailman about your childhood traumas. This actually means showing vulnerability with a conscious intention to invite vulnerability from the other person. For example, if you and a colleague are both nodding off during a work training, you can say something later to them like, “Whoops, I could barely stay awake in there.” You’re opening up with the goal of making them feel comfortable opening up. If you get an enthusiastic “ME TOO!” you know you’re doing it right.
4. Resource yourself first.
If the above three and even the idea of shifting to be more focused on others doesn’t feel right, it might not be. This might be a time to look into therapists, practitioners, and programs that can help you meet your own needs before embarking on relationships that will require you to attend to the needs of others. It’s not selfish to take care of you first, it’s necessary.
With these foundations in place, the next step is creating environments that provide the right conditions for friendship to come easily.
5. Optimize for interaction.
I have a theory that if you don’t hang out with someone within the first month of getting their information, you will never become friends. On the flip side, if you can have 2-3 conversations with someone you have a lot in common with within four weeks, a bond is very likely to form. Repeated interactions in the first month of making a new friend greatly increase the likelihood of that friendship sticking.
6. Get to know your neighbors.
There are so many reasons why it’s great to have friends who live near you. The ease in getting together, the casual strengthening of the relationship without effort from either side that bumping into each other provides, being able to support each other in times of need, the benefit to the neighborhood, etc. So throw a BBQ or just make a habit of chatting with neighbors on strolls around the neighborhood. To me, there is no better life than a life with many friends within a few blocks.
7. Cross over to friendship with colleagues.
Work is a great place to make friends because you spend so much time together already. For someone in a particularly busy phase—for example, having small children—quick coffees and lunches with work friends can do a lot to start to meet friendship needs in a manageable way. When you’re ready to cross over to real life hangs, keep it casual. Like, “I’ll be in your neighborhood,” or “I saw this thing I thought you’d love,” or “Let’s get the families together and talk about preschools near here.” That way if it’s not reciprocated, you won’t have as much awkwardness when seeing them every day.
8. Make social interaction part of your weekly routine.
We try to have a laid back dinner party most Saturdays. We bill it as super casual and make the same thing (a vat of pasta) every time. When I tell people about it, I tell them that I do it every week. This takes any pressure off to become best friends after that night. We also used to have a standing brunch date at a nearby restaurant every Sunday and told about 10 friends to drop in anytime they felt like it. Things like this can take some of the friction out of hanging out.
FIND YOUR PEOPLE
Okay. We have the skills; we have the environments. Now about the people. Here are some reliable ways to meet people you have things in common with.
9. Find your Internet subculture.
I’m not going to tell you about my secret guilty pleasure Internet subcultures because then they wouldn’t be secret. (But suffice to say if you don’t like the words “healer” and “wisdom of the universe,” they might not be right for you.) Anyway, frequently if there is something like a book, album, movie, etc. that you looooooove, there are other people talking about how much they love it on the Internet. Find the FB group or forum and work your way in, taking time to observe the cultural norms before interjecting too much. (I could write a whole post just about Internet friendship, but this will have to do for now.)
10. Join a support group.
If grief or other challenging issues are the primary force in your life right now, it can still be a good time to make new friends. In fact it’s an important time to reach out for connection. Often pain can break you open to more acceptance of new people and experiences, making it a fertile time for new connections. Support groups can connect you to other people you share a struggle with who can accept you as you are.
11. Find things you like to do in public.
This can be volunteering, hobbies, classes, any activity that happens to take place around other people. Go for the activity and the reward you get from enjoying it and be open to connecting to other people or not.
12. Invite people for networking coffees.
Generally, if you reach out to someone in a similar career strata asking to get coffee to get some advice, they will say yes. Try lines like “Can we get coffee so I can pick your brain about…?“ Shoot for making it a win-win by ascertaining their goals during the conversation and trying to figure out ways to help them achieve them. This person will probably stay a professional connection but occasionally you’ll really click in an obvious way. Open-invite environments tend to be less likely to yield long-term connections.
13. Give up on open-invite environments.
I’m sure that people have made friends at dog parks and playgrounds, but generally these are universally recognized noncommittal chatter environments. And there’s something nice about that! Pass the time having a pleasant conversation but don’t expect it to go anywhere. I rarely exchange names and usually end with “nice chatting” or “have a great day” rather than “nice to meet you.” While other open invite experiences like sponsored happy hours often are geared towards helping people make new friends, I don’t usually find them very successful either. The main thing people are likely to have in common at this sort of function is needing more friends. They can be effective in providing more acquaintances in the short-term but not more real friends in the long-term.
I think we all frequently see people struggling to find real connections or have the strong community they dream of. If this is something you struggle with, I hope you’ll take or leave anything from this list that works for you. Go get ‘em!