In grade school instant friendships can spring from swapping lunches or riding the same school bus, but after high school, the wide friendship pool evaporates as we start to explore the world. This is especially true when life throws us into transition mode—a move, a baby, a new love, a career switch, a breakup, or an empty nest.
“Friendships are automatic when you are a kid. You have a critical mass of people around you in your neighborhood that are the same age with the same interests. It’s complicated when you’re an adult,” says Andrea Bonior, PhD, author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends and adjunct professor in the department of psychology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Get Past the Awkwardness
Consider this: You meet a new neighbor with whom you immediately bond over your shared clumsy-newbie tennis-playing skills. You think of offering the person your cell phone number in case she has any questions about the neighborhood, but then you chicken out. What if I’m coming across too pushy? Then she’ll try to avoid me and I’ll ruin everything. You decide to wait until you bump into the person a few more times.
Bonior says that awkwardness should be embraced because the truth is everyone feels awkward. For example, I could have said, “This is awkward. I feel like I’m asking you out.” She suggests finding a way to joke about it because the awkwardness will pay off.
Find the Confidence
Potential friends may be found at work, but many people hesitate on becoming naturally close friends with co-workers, because they assume that they don’t have time. “It is really easy as an adult to feel that you are too busy and to doubt yourself. You know, ‘This is embarrassing, I’m this old and I don’t have friends,’” says Bonior. This negative self-talk can create more anxiety and make it harder to meet people.
Look Past Your Screen
Though your smartphone can act as a security blanket when you’re solo at a social event, it is best to tune out distractions so you don’t miss an opportunity to make small talk. Don’t impose too high standards on the substance of your impromptu conversations. Whatever comes up during small talk (the weather, pizza, random observation) is a nice path to talking about more substantive issues, according to William Rawlins, PhD, author of The Compass of Friendship and Stocker Professor of Communication Studies at Ohio University.
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While new friendships can emerge from the light chitchat on social media, nothing can replace the richer experience of an in-person meeting. “When we are meeting people face to face, you get a sense of someone’s vibe, their voice, how they carry themselves, their laugh, their eye contact, that will give you some sense of your resonance with another person,” says Rawlins.
Discover Your Community
Meeting new people comes down to a numbers game but don’t put pressure on yourself. The more times you put yourself in the path of other people, while doing the things you love—whether it is walking your dog to your favorite park, going to that weekend boot camp class, or volunteering for a cause— your chances of making friends increase. “If you start going to the same places with the same groups of people over time that can start re-creating the naturally occurring communities that we used to have as kids. Repetition builds familiarity and familiarity breeds good feelings and that’s what we base good friendships on,” says Bonior.
Consider This as You Make Adult Friends
A study on the lifelong benefits of friendship that appeared in the journal Personal Relationships found that people underestimate how many other people may be in the same friendship conundrum they are in. Knowing this, overcoming the above challenges are worth it.
According to this same study, relationships with friends matter just as much as family over the life span, contributing to health and happiness. “We expected friendships to be good for you, but the fact that they would get more and more important over time was surprising,” says the study’s lead researcher, William Chopik, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. “The importance of friendship never decreases so I would advise investing in the most fulfilling relationships that will stand the test of time.”
If you're an introvert
How you see the world
Big crowds drain you, and you need time to recharge solo before you feel ready to hang out with friends and family again. Having reliable, steady pals is a must.
3 tips for landing a new friend
1. Be true to you
Recent happiness research reveals that doing things that align with your values can bring deep life satisfaction. It’s also a genius way to bring more like-minded pals into your world. Getting to know people in a group that you want to join anyway—a biking group, a cooking class, the church choir, or a WW Wellness Workshop—gives you a low-pressure and authentic connection. “Since you already have something in common, friendships will evolve naturally over time,” says Dr. Biali Haas.
2. Ask a wingman
You know that pal who just naturally rocks at introducing people? By spending more time with those social- connector types, you’ll start to meet friends by osmosis. Be direct and let your friend know you appreciate these intros (“I’d really love to meet more people”). There’s nothing the wing person likes more than playing matchmaker.
3. Trust your instincts
“There’s a certain amount of chemistry to friendship,” Kennedy- Moore says. “We often feel drawn to people who are similar to us.” As an introvert, you’ll need to rely on ways to use your natural emotional intelligence— your instincts—to know just when to extend an invitation to hang out.
Unexpected ways to make new friends
1. See a show
Do you love the theater? Show-Score— an everything site for theater, based in New York City—hosts socials in New York and other cities, where theater lovers can meet up for a show and a drink. “Many attendees come by themselves, and so many great friendships have formed that way,” says Victoria Cairl, Show-Score’s VP of business development.
2. Tap an app
New to town? Apps like Friender (iOS, premium, $5 per month) and Hey! VINAina (iOS and Android, free) work almost like dating apps. You type in your profile with interests (from CrossFit to Candy Crush), and the app will match you to pals in your area. If you’re a new mom, Peanut (iOS, free) will connect you with other women living the panic and joy that is life with an infant.
3. Escape from a room
Team-building exercises like escape rooms keep your brain busy while you bond over a shared challenge. Some, like Mission Escape Games (in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and California), let you join its public escape games and meet people. If you prefer more high- minded mysteries, Watson Adventures runs public scavenger hunts that range from museum murder mysteries to riddle- based eating tours, in seven metro areas.
If you're an extrovert
How you see the world
Being in a crowd energizes you. You’re the type to grab the mic at karaoke night or drag your BFs to a Tough Mudder. If you’re alone for too long, you may start to feel blah.
3 tips for landing a new friend
1. Own your abilities
As an extrovert, you're good at making the first friendship move. "Don't hesitate to reach out and connect with a potential new friend. After all, if she's shy, she will probably appreciate it," Dr. Biali Haas says.
2. Keep things super interesting
You thrive on stimulation and energy from different people. That doesn't mean you have to go bungee jumping (though you might be totally up for it...), just that you aren't likely to be content with merely meeting a friend for chardonnay and shared tuna towers. You need to add some change-ups, like going to a live music club with a dance floor, tackling a ropes course together, or playing Cards Against Humanity (just make sure no kids are within earshot). The more surprises, the happier you'll be.
3. Expand everyone's circle
It's what you do best. Put together a paint-and-palette night (aka canvas and vino, or whatever your local studio calls it). Invite your besties and suggest everyone bring one friend who's new to your group. You can even make bring-a-friend night a standing thing (the first Thursday of each month, for example).
Unexpected ways to make new friends
1. Go for cheesy laughs
Lots of bars and restaurants have theme nights (bingo, movie trivia, karaoke), and they sometimes offer cash prizes. Bring a crew (the couple with the kid on your son's hockey team, your fun neighbors, that new manager at work) and play to win. Bachelorette parties? They're for amateurs.
2. Relive JV soccer
Want to join an intramural team? Extroverts like you find group sports invigorating for both body and brain. ZogSports.com lets you know about teams and games in your area (including New York, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Atlanta). Not in those regions? Ask at your community rec center or join the work softball/basketball/ bowling league.
3. Do good
Helping others connects you to a community and people who are compassion- ate, generous souls. You can keep your focus hyperlocal (many neighborhood Facebook boards arrange real-time responses to dwindling food banks and nearby fires). Or consider joining a group like The Nature Conservancy for bigger projects. You’ll get much more out of it than you give.