As a kid, making friends can be as easy as walking up to someone during recess and saying: “Do you like grass? Me too. Wanna play with grass?” As an adult, that same strategy achieves wildly different results.
Adults have a difficult time making friends. In fact, the number of friends we have actually starts to decrease around age 25 and while our environment does play a role in this depressing decline, so too does our mindset—particularly our fear of rejection.
Dr. Kate Cummins, a licensed clinical psychologist in California, posits that children don’t worry about rejection when an opportunity to make a new acquaintance arises.
“During childhood, the part of our brain (prefrontal cortex) which provides executive functioning ability like judgment, planning, and personality is not fully developed … As we age, we get more into our heads about the judgment of another person, or the thoughts they may have about us.”
Kids don’t worry if other kids think playing with grass is weird. They don’t pace around the swing set debating whether or not asking someone to play with grass is too forward or too much of a commitment or if grass is even cool anymore. They just do it, consequences be damned.
And the cruel joke of it all? As making friends becomes more difficult, the importance of friends skyrockets.
Why Having Friends Is Important
A touch below self-actualization and a smidge above safety and shelter sits love and belonging, two of mankind’s most basic needs. We need friends to feel connected and accepted, to feel love and compassion. We need them for support and advice and to help us navigate the world. We need friends to survive.
According to a study in the British Medical Journal, “Men and women who reported having 10 or more friendships at age 45 had significantly higher levels of psychological well-being at age 50 than those with fewer friends.”
Another study out of Brigham Young University concluded that friendships impact our life expectancy: “People with larger social circles had a 50 percent lower mortality risk than those who didn’t.”
Or to put it in non-scientific terms: making friends helps you not die sooner.
Good vs. Bad Friends
That killer “do you like grass” line might win you some new buddies, but are they good buddies? Are they help-you-move or pick-you-up-from-the-airport buddies?
The older you get, the more you realize that it’s not about friend quantity, it’s about friend quality.
While good friends can power your belongingness and love centers, bad friends can drain them.
The sad truth is that only about half of our friendships are actually reciprocal. The other half are probably comprised of “ambivalent” friends, for whom you have mixed emotions. And then there are those friendships that qualify as “aspirational,” wherein one party wants to be friends with another party due to their popularity, status, or influence.
Good friends are loyal, trustworthy, and reliable. They support you and your goals but are not afraid to argue if they feel you’re doing something against your best interest.
Good friends don’t encourage your bad habits and don’t introduce you to new ones.
Good friends don’t want anything from you. They don’t use you or manipulate you. They love you for who you are, not what you have.
Good friends are hard to find, but they’re out there. But first, before you find them, we need to make sure you’re likable.
The Anatomy of a Friend Magnet: How to be More Likable
There’s a phenomenon called “friendship chemistry,” and it’s a real scientific thing referring to an easy, natural connection between friends.
Some people are more likely to experience this chemistry than others and have an easier time making new friends. You might call these people “more likable.”
According to a study published in The Social Science Journal, people with agreeable, open, and conscientious personalities are more likely to experience friendship chemistry.
So when talking in the Borat voice fails and quoting Dane Cook stops being so charming, there are real actions you can take to increase your likability and experience more friendship chemistry.
Tip 1: Be vulnerable
A study out of the State University of New York’s Department of Psychology found that people tend to like each other more after they’ve shared something personal, so for an acquaintanceship to blossom into a beautiful friendship butterfly, each person must be willing to open up and share something they wouldn’t normally share with any old person.
This “something” might be painful, humiliating, or regrettable. It might also be something you are comfortable with but don’t tell many people. The point of this “something” is that it shows the other person you trust them enough to share it.
However, it’s important not to get carried away.
Rule one of being vulnerable is practicing “reciprocal disclosure.” This means that the sharing must be mutual. So if someone shares something personal about themselves, share something of your own back.
Rule two of being vulnerable is not to get too personal too quickly.
Don’t blurt out a painful secret within minutes of meeting someone. Don’t share something personal when it’s unlikely the other person will reciprocate.
In other words, read the room and follow your intuition.
Tip 2: Leggo your ego
“And that’s what is so insidious about talk. Anyone can talk about himself or herself. Even a child knows how to gossip and chatter. Most people are decent at hype and sales. So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.”
―Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
The ego is your self-esteem and self-importance. It’s your wants and needs and opinions.
And while it is important to your overall identity, it’s not super important when first meeting someone.
It’s your ego that wants to correct someone who thinks Dustin Hoffman was in Star Wars. It’s your ego that wants to one-up someone’s ice fishing story with a way cooler ice fishing story. Your ego can compel you to contradict or disagree. It hijacks your emotions.
To be more likable and increase your friendship chemistry, check that ego at the door.
At least temporarily.
Try to be more open and agreeable. Listen better. Empathize. Fight the part of you that wants to judge because while the other person’s interests or opinions might not immediately align with your own, there may be something much deeper that connects you. But you’ll never have the chance to find it if you let your ego get in the way.
Tip 3: Ask questions
“The more specific your questions, the better. If you feel that you can’t really continue the conversation without asking questions, you need to ask specific questions.”
People love talking about themselves. It’s probably something to do with that whole ego thing. But if people love talking about themselves, then asking someone questions is like giving them a gift. It’s giving them a reason to talk about themselves that isn’t selfish. And to have someone actually listen to the answer? That’s like double Christmas.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that “people who ask more questions, particularly follow-up questions, are better liked by their conversation partners.”
That’s right. It’s the follow-up questions that have the most impact.
Think about it. You’re talking to someone new and they ask if you have any siblings. You nod and mention your brother Todd and how he’s really into collecting umbrellas. Your conversation partner moves on to another topic.
The lack of a follow-up question frames the initial question as more of a nicety rather than an earnest inquiry. If they were truly interested in what you had to say, they could easily have asked a follow-up question, such as: “Why umbrellas?” or “How many does he have?” or “What childhood trauma led to this odd obsession?”
Asking follow-up questions deepens the conversation and reaffirms the questioner’s interest in you.
The Friendship Formula: Where to Make Friends
This is the big one, the conundrum that probably drew you to this article in the first place.
Where do I make friends? Where do I find people to make friends? Where do I find people to make friends without seeming creepy?
1. Friends of friends
Just moved to a new town?
Before you try any of the following ideas, consider reaching out to your current friends to see if they know any cool people in the area.
If they don’t, ask your family (they just might surprise you).
And if you get any hits, ask this friend of a friend to get coffee.
It’s not creepy, and it’s not too forward. It’s just human.
Most people understand the struggles of moving somewhere new, and would be happy to welcome you to the city.
And hey, maybe you guys don’t quite click. But maybe they have friends you do click with. And the train rolls on.
Many good friendships are forged in the fiery furnace of academia. Fortunately, the fun doesn’t have to stop once you graduate. There is still so much to learn!
Taking a class solves a few classic “meeting people” problems.
- Nobody is wondering why you’re there.
- There are plenty of real reasons to talk to your classmates.
- Everyone in the class is going through the same experience, and shared experiences can do some of the heavy lifting for you in the bonding department.
As for what classes to take, start with something you’re genuinely interested in.
Sure, you can just take a pottery class for the heck of it, but with the sheer magnitude of options available to you, there is bound to be something that excites you.
Coding, boating, improv, brewing, wine tasting, bread making, leaf raking, crewing. If you can imagine it, there’s a class for it, and someone in that class might just become your new BFFL.
3. Teams or clubs
Tapping a similar vein as taking a class, joining a team or a club introduces you to people with mutual interests and leaves the door open for future socializing.
Classes end but teams and clubs don’t have to. There are local softball teams that have been playing for years. Somewhere there’s a thumb war club that’s been meeting every third Saturday since 1934.
If you work in an office, it’s possible that your company organizes its own teams, and while hanging out with people from work might not be your thing, a work event is an opportunity to meet new, non-work people. Someone might bring a cool friend or partner. You might meet people from another team or talk to somebody at the bar when you all get drinks after a game.
And if there’s an activity you’re into but can’t find any groups for, start it yourself.
Post on Facebook, start a Meetup, put up flyers, or do all three.
There are people out there who share your passions, you just have to find them. And you will if you keep at it.
You can start finding teams and clubs through platforms like Meetup. Also check out your local YMCA and Parks and Recreation departments.
Volunteering your time and energy for a good cause is often its own reward.
It’s also an excellent opportunity to make friends.
And whether you’re taking tickets at a fundraising gala or building houses with your bare hands, it’s not so much about the activity as it is about doing good. That’s your mutual interest. That’s your shared experience.
The people you meet volunteering probably share some of your core values, and the empathy and compassion that drove them to volunteer are qualities you definitely want in a good friend.
If you have a somewhat flexible schedule or are willing to sacrifice a Saturday or Sunday, there are a ton of one-time gigs where you’ll be working with other people (aka potential BFFs).
Here are some ideas:
- Be an extra. If you’re in a larger city with an active film and television scene, it’s surprisingly easy to get into extra work. Most extra casting agencies just require basic information and a few pictures. Once on set, there are loads of people to talk to, and lots of downtime in which to get to know each other.
- Be a brand ambassador. A ton of brands need people to represent them at stores or events, and a ton of these jobs are “work when you want.” Brands typically send out multiple ambassadors at a time, so you’ll have people to chat/complain with.
- Work at a farmers market. The sellers often need people to transport their goods to the actual market, and then work at the booths. It’s simple stuff. Plus it’s a once a week job, and it’s seasonal. Oh, and you might hit it off with your co-sellers or booth mates.
6. Start a collaborative project
If you’re a creative type, there are loads of projects you could spearhead which require collaboration. You’ll meet other artists with similar interests and forge a bond by working toward a shared goal. Need some ideas?
- Start a podcast
- Create a photo book
- Form a band
- Build a community garden
- Paint a community mural
- Make a short film
To find people for these projects, post about it on your social media platforms, throw up some classifieds on Craigslist, Oodle, or Gumtree, and go to art galleries, open mics, and craft fairs. Better yet, scour your city for artists you admire and contact them directly.
You’d be surprised at how receptive people can be.
- Good friendships keep you healthy and increase your life expectancy.
- It’s better to have a few good friends than a lot of bad friends.
- To increase your likability and experience more friendship chemistry, find the right time to share something personal, suspend your ego to get to know someone, and ask questions (especially follow-up questions).
- Find places and situations where you have a reason to be there, a reason to talk to people, and access to a shared experience in which to bond over.
- Don’t be afraid to start something of your own such as groups, clubs, or collaborative projects.
- Say yes. Be open to new experiences. If there’s a social event you’re invited to but less than thrilled about, go anyway. You never know who is going to be there.