For kids, teenagers, and college students, making friends often feels like a built-in part of life. Between school and extracurriculars, there are potential friends everywhere – and just as importantly, lots of time to get to know them.
But once you’re an adult, the picture often looks much different. Most of us meet new people a lot less frequently than we did when we were younger. And even when you do meet a potential BFF, it may be difficult to find time to nurture the connection.
So if you’re wondering how to form strong new friendships, you’re not alone. Read on for a few simple strategies that can help you make fast friends at any age.
1. Get involved with a group or activity
One of the simplest ways to find new friends is to borrow a lesson from the kids: join an activity!
Getting involved with a group of people with whom you share an interest gives you lots to talk about with potential pals. And perhaps even more importantly, it ensures that you’ll keep seeing each other on a regular basis, which will give these connections a chance to deepen.
The kind of group you might join depends on your interests, and doing so can also be a great way to make time for your passions. Do you love to sing? See if there’s a choir in your area. Want to get more exercise? Try a running club or sports league. More of a quiet type? Look into book groups through your local library or bookstore.
To find groups, try searching for local options on Meetup. You can also check local newspapers, listings at your public library, and even community boards at coffee shops or other businesses.
And if you don’t find the group want? Consider starting your own! Chances are there are others nearby who share your interests, and it can be empowering to take the lead on a new IRL social network.
2. Speak up about your search
It might sound counterintuitive, but being vocal about your search for new friends can be a simple and very effective way to meet more people – and it doesn’t have to sound weird or desperate.
For example, if you’ve recently moved to a new city and only know a few people, you can casually bring up that you’re looking for more connections. When your acquaintances or coworkers ask how you’re liking the city, you might say: “I’m really enjoying it so far! I don’t know a lot of people yet, which can be hard sometimes, but everyone’s so friendly.” This goes for people who don’t live nearby, too – you never know when your far-off friend’s roommate’s cool cousin might turn out to be your neighbor.
Then, when you do meet someone you’d like to get to know better, don’t be shy about saying so; try mentioning that you’d love a guide to a neighborhood you’ve been meaning to check out, or bring up a local activity that the other person might be interested in joining you for. Most people will be flattered that you consider them friend material.
That said, try not to take it personally if a particular connection doesn’t pan out; remember that friendships take time and energy that not everyone has to offer, and focus your efforts on people who are as excited to hang out as you are.
3. Make social media work for you
It’s great to focus on making in-person pals, but remember that online connections can help you do that.
Social media does have its pitfalls. (Check out our guide to authentic friendships in a social media world for expert advice on avoiding common ones.) But you can still use it selectively in a few key ways to find new friends.
Try out the following ways to build IRL connections using online tools:
- Join dedicated groups to build connections with people who share your interests
- Browse Facebook events to find local options of interest
- Keep up with old friends and acquaintances in case they move to your area
- Use tools like Meetup to find others who are interested in building new friendships
Remember, in all of these cases, the key is to prioritize taking the connection offline and avoid using online connections as a substitute for in-person one.
4. Cultivate your own interests
Sometimes, keeping busy on your own can turn out to be a great way to connect with others.
Anytime you’re out in the world pursuing what you love, you’re likely to run across like-minded people who could easily become friends.
Consider some of the following ways to build on your passions and meet people in the process:
- Attend an event – it might be a concert, a lecture, a sports game, or whatever you’re into. When you already have an interest in common, even something like waiting in line for a favorite author to sign your book can become an opportunity for connection.
- Take a class in just about anything, from picking up a new language to learning flower arranging. Learning side by side can help you build bonds especially quickly.
- Become a regular at a place you love, whether it’s a cool craft supply store, a great beer bar, or even just a favorite park. Over time, you’re likely to get to know other people who are drawn to the same things you are.
What’s more, cultivating your interests helps keep you energized and happy with yourself—which can reduce social anxiety and help you connect more easily with anyone, whether or not they share those interests.
5. Focus on being present
When you’re trying to make friends, it’s easy to forget that meeting people is only step one. It’s just as important—if not more so—to find effective ways to build your bond once you do meet someone new.
One of the most helpful is simply to focus on being present whenever you’re hoping to get to know someone. In conversation, try reflecting back what the other person is saying to you and adding follow-up questions, which will help you remember details later on and also show that you’re an attentive listener (such as, “Oh, you’re a journalist? What do you write about?”).
It can be tempting to focus on showing off your own best qualities in these early conversations, but remember that showing genuine interest in the other person is often one of the most effective ways to build a connection. You can also try using mindfulness practices to get more comfortable simply listening and reacting.
You may also find that being more present helps you pick up on ways to build the friendship further. For example, if a potential buddy mentions loving a certain artist and you find out that that artist has an upcoming exhibit, then you have a natural opening to suggest a friend date.
6. Build friendship skills in therapy
If you find that making friends is consistently difficult for you, working with a therapist may be helpful.
Common mental health conditions like anxiety or depression can make friendships more challenging, so getting treatment for conditions like these is often a positive step toward making more friends. In particular, social anxiety can make it difficult to get to know new people.
In therapy, you can learn new techniques for relating effectively to others, practice communication skills, and work through any underlying challenges that may be complicating your friendships.
Using Zencare, you can find a therapist and learn more about how different kinds of therapy may be helpful for you.