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, studies show the number of friends we have actually starts to decrease around age 25.
Of course, this is partially due to our environment—after our schooling days are over, we naturally have fewer opportunities to meet new people our own age. People move away, and we grow apart—and our core friend group begins to shrink.
But our mindset—particularly our fear of rejection—can also play a big role in why we lose friends.
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.
Perhaps you’ve heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—a system that ranks what humans need to survive and thrive. At the bottom of this hierarchy are the most basic needs—food, water, air.
A touch below self-actualization and a smidge above safety and shelter sits love and belonging, two of mankind’s most core 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% lower mortality risk than those who didn’t.”
Unfortunately, since the pandemic began in 2020, it’s been even harder for us to connect, especially for young adults, who are supposed to be at their peak friend-making age.
In a survey from Harvard in 2020, people between the ages of 18 and 25 said they recently had been feeling lonely frequently or most of the time, and this same age group showed high rates of anxiety and depression as a result.
But all hope is not lost—there are still plenty of ways to find new friends and expand your social network. But before we get into those methods, let’s clear up what separates truly good friends from those who might just be a drain on your time and energy.
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 fuel your sense of belonging and give you more positive energy, bad “friends” can do just the opposite, taking more from you than they give and leaving you feeling lonlier than you were before you met them.
Good friends are loyal, trustworthy, and reliable. They support you and your goals but are not afraid to disagree 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, aside from the same level of respect and generosity they show 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 likeable.
There’s a phenomenon called “friendship chemistry,” a term used to describe how compatible two or more individuals are when it comes to building a friendship.
According to a study published in The Social Science Journal, people with agreeable, open, and conscientious personalities are more likely to experience friendship chemistry.
We have a full article coming up soon about how to be more likeable and personable. For now, let’s cover a few of the big steps you can take to increase your odds of finding that elusive friendship chemistry.
Tip 1: Be vulnerable
What’s the difference between an acquaintance and a true friend? Friendship goes deeper—it’s a more profound connection because the two people involved have shared something with each other.
This “something” might be painful, humiliating, or regrettable. It might also be something you’re comfortable with but don’t tell many people. The point of this “something” is to show the other person you trust them enough to share it.
If you aren’t able to open up and share parts of yourself with friends, then it will be nearly impossible to move beyond the acquaintanceship stage. And that means being willing to be vulnerable.
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.
It doesn’t have to be tit-for-tat—when someone shares something important with you, you’ll come off strange or rude if you rush to share a secret of your own. However, when you’re reflecting on your friendships, think about how much people have opened up to you. Have you shown them the same vulnerability in exchange? If not, consider opening up to them in some way the next time the opportunity arises.
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.
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.
But when it comes to making friends as an adult, your ego can get in the way.
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 likeable 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.
Consider this conversation between two people who are in that tricky transition period between acquaintance and friend:
Person 1: “So, do you have siblings?”
Person 2: “Yes, I have a younger brother who lives with my parents, and my sister lives in Alaska.”
Person 1: “Oh, I went to Alaska once! Have you ever been?”
In this scenario, even though Person 1 was doing a good job asking questions, they didn’t ask a follow-up question. Instead, their next question changed the subject.
Now imagine if Person 1 had asked how long the sister has lived in Alaska, what it’s like having a little brother at home, or whether it’s challenging having a sister so far away.
Any of these follow-up questions will allow Person 2 to open up more and share what they want to share, deepening the connection and showing them you want details, not just the top-level stuff. And that’s what friendships are made of.
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. You’re wondering how to meet new people, and once you do, how to become friends with someone you’ve just met.
So let’s get into it. There are lots of places to make friends as an adult, but steel yourself—it will take courage (and probably a few awkward encounters) to get there.
1. Make friends with friends of friends
Making friends as an adult is hard. But making friends in a new city is even more challenging, because you’re often starting from scratch.
If you really don’t know anyone in the city or town you’ve moved to, then you may want to tap into your existing friend group to see if perhaps they know someone cool nearby. You may be surprised to find out that your high-school buddy has a cousin your age who knows the city well, or that your college roommate has an old friend in town.
Don’t expect to hit it off with someone just because you have a mutual acquaintance. It’s still going to take time to make new friends—but that mutual acquaintance probably knows more people, or can point you in the direction of some good places and events to make friends.
Relationships are like chain links in a fence—they’re interconnected, and the more people you meet, the higher the chances will be that you’ll strike upon friendship chemistry.
And once you do make a new friend in your city, don’t be shy about asking them to hang out with their friends. You don’t want to be too pushy, but once you know them, let them know you’re looking for more friends and wouldn’t mind hanging out in a group some time. Or even better—come up with a group activity you’d like to do (bowling, anyone?) and ask your new friend if there’s anyone they’d like to invite.
2. Take classes to find people with mutual interests
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, crew, poetry—if you can imagine it, there’s a class for it, and someone in that class might just become your new BFFL.
You can start finding classes through platforms like Dabble.
3. Join a local team or club
If you aren’t eager to get back in the classroom, then joining a team or a club can still introduce you to people with mutual interests, leaving the door open for future socializing.
The other upside—classes will eventually come to an 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.
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, or visit your local community center, library, or YMCA.
4. Bond over doing good by volunteering
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.
There’s an app for everything these days, including ones that help you find people who might one day become your best IRL friend.
For example, the popular dating app Bumble has a mode that’s just for finding friends—you can even turn off the dating portion of the app if you’re already in a relationship. The app Skout has something similar, allowing you to find friends in your area based on mutual interests.
You can also use platforms like NextDoor and Reddit to meet people in your area. There are subreddits for most cities and states in the U.S., and often those groups will hold in-person meetups.
Remember, making new friends is often a numbers game—so even if you’re using these apps and platforms in your hunt for a bestie, you can still use the other techniques on this list to speed up the process.
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.