When you were a kid, it was much easier making friends at the playground, in high school and in school interest groups. Learning how to make friends suddenly seems like an adult thing, because it came naturally as a kid.
Then you headed to college, perhaps in a new town, and making friends was not as easy as you think, but you still made some friends – making friends by proximity.
Then you become an adult and start to learn how to adult. You got busy with work and suddenly find your friends drifting away as they got busy with work too. They got married, had kids and soon the hangouts are now different.
You’re not alone
As we live in the Digital Era, it’s ironic that people are starting to find themselves without as many close relationships in 2004 as compared to in 1985, according to a study done.
The pace of life has gotten so much faster today than 20 years ago, that most people are losing contact with their friends – more so than the rate that they’re making friends.
For example, a research by Dutch sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst discovered that over a duration of 7 years, on average, people had lost contact with half their closest friends.
This seems to be in line with the saying that as you grow older, you tend to have fewer friends – but does this really have to be the case for you?
Why you need new friends – even if you’ve plenty of friends
There was a decades-long study done by Harvard researchers called the Grant Study which followed a group of men for literally their entire lives.
The researcher who led the study for a few decades, George Vaillant, was asked this question – naturally because this is an incredible study – what’s one thing that you learnt from the ones who succeeded more than the others?
His response? How long you live and how happy your life is solely dependent on your relationships with other people – people who mean a lot to you. Hence, learning how to make friends is key to deciding how long you live AND how happy you are in life.
Before making new friends, why not try reconnecting with your current friends?
Make friends with people you already know – this can be a good starting point when learning how to make friends since they already know you from college, from work, or from your local interest group.
Invest your time into strengthening these relationships and sometimes they would extend invitations to you to attend bigger social events (maybe not so much in a post-covid world).
Send some texts through Facebook, Instagram or even LinkedIn if you’re looking to expand your professional network. Boom, you already made the first step.
Look through your list of old text messages and prioritise who you want to rekindle friendships with. Don’t rekindle old toxic relationships just because you’re lonely – it’s time to build a newer, better version of you by learning how to make friends with the techniques listed in this article.
You moved to a new city and realised you don’t have any friends. Now what?
When I moved to a new country for work at 25, I found tons of advice on how to meet new friends, but those seemed fairly obvious – meeting people at work, at the gym, through a hobby interest group – the usual stuff when reading up on how to make friends.
The difficult aspect was understanding the cultural differences, forging real relationships and establishing a connection. Here’s what I did to build a new support group:
Say yes to every event that you’re invited to
By forcing yourself to say yes to every invitation, you remove the stress of deciding. You need to get yourself out there if you want to make friends.
Try not to beat yourself up on saying yes to everything. By stepping out of your comfort zone, you’re moving forward in the direction of improving yourself.
People are naturally drawn to people with a positive outlook on life, and when you start thinking and living positively, you’ll find yourself attracting the people of similar mindsets and values.
Bond over shared experiences and have more things to talk about each time you interact. The easiest way is to talk about the cities they’ve worked in. Most of the times, the foreigners you meet are expats there for work as well.
Vulnerability in Friendships: The Key to Forging Closer Friendships
While keeping your personal issues feels more comfortable to you, sharing some of them helps to open your friends to you. Being vulnerable tells your friends that you care more about connecting with them, rather than showing off what you’ve gained.
More often than not, this helps to lower their guard down and they could share some insights that could help you to better deal with the issue at hand. Most of the time, we all need a listening ear.
If the purpose of friendship is mutual respect, then it’s important to bring that to the table – that means not judging them. Others will do the same and open themselves up to you once there is great comfort in knowing that you’re there to listen and to help.
The fear that you won’t be perceived as strange or judged unfairly is usually what stops people from making true connections and forging friendships that last. This is key when learning how to make friends.
There are 3 types of friends you should have in your life
#1 – “Hi-Bye” friends (or acquaintances)
These are the ones you see at school/work because the context calls for it. You say hi when you see each other and you say bye at the end of the day, but that’s about it. The relationship never lasts when the context is removed, i.e. when you graduate from school or leave the workplace.
Every person you meet, during the process of learning how to make friends, may not even progress to this stage. And rightfully so. You can’t be friends with everyone.
#2 – Regular friends
Social, activity buddies you meet up every now and then to catch up or hang out with. You can generally talk about regular topics under the sun.
#3 – Best Friends (Inner Circle)
True, soul friends (or best friends). People you can talk anything and everything with. You may or may not meet up every day, but it doesn’t matter as the strength of your friendship is not determined by how frequently you meet up — it’s more than that.
These are the friends you can trust to be there for you whenever you need them, and they will go the extra mile for you. We need more of such friends.
Listen more than you talk
Arguably what’s more important than talking is to actively listen. This means listening to understand, and not just waiting until it’s your turn to speak again.
When someone responds to your questions, absorb what they are saying and respond with relevant follow up questions or comments. Don’t just rattle off your predetermined list of questions because you can’t think of anything else to say.
Sometimes it’s better to have some awkward silence in between than to say the wrong things that offend.
If you’re stuck, use the familiar ‘W’ questions; where, what, why, who.
If someone is telling you how much they love art, you could ask where they buy supplies, what passions projects they are currently working on, why they first picked up the hobby or who they look to for inspiration.
Focus on quality, not quantity of friends – Social Media is a lie
A ‘spray and pray’ approach is not going to work for forging meaningful relationships, and will probably exhaust you in the process.
You may need to work harder in the beginning to keep the meetups going, the conversion flowing, so focus on only the people who you genuinely feel a connection with, rather than wasting your energy on anyone who’s free to meet.
Be Proactive: Organise meetups before your friends do
To be proactive means to take control of a situation by making things happen. When it comes to making friends, you might need to take the opening step.
The more proactive you are in reaching out to others, the faster you will be able to gain new friends.
Welcome your neighbors, invite them for dinner at your place or a small get together. Approach a stranger walking down the street or sitting in a coffee shop and just say Hi! and there you go, both of you are pulling up a great conversation now.
Don’t overthink it
Finally, chill out! You can’t force a close friendship – these things, like building your own startup, simply take time.
You have a better chance of genuinely connecting with people if you relax and just be yourself. So don’t worry about rejection when inviting people to places and don’t question people’s motives when they invite you (unless they seem shady and dubious).
Just focus on being yourself and go with the flow when learning how to make new friends. You’ll have way more fun in the process and so will those around you.