This week, I’m sharing a step by step guide on how to make friends as an adult. This is something that I’ve been working hard on lately since the beginning of the year, and I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned so far.
As some of you know, I have a New Year’s Eve ritual where I set intentions for the upcoming year. This year, I identified three areas where I’d like to grow in 2022. One of them was connection, or cultivating friendships.
I decided to write this post when, a few days ago, someone posted this question in the Facebook group for a podcast I listen to, True Crime Obsessed:
The original Facebook post in the True Crime Obsessed podcast group
As of this writing, there are a total of 96 comments with stories about their experiences making friends as an adult because, y’all, the struggle is REAL. A lot of people are struggling to make friends in adulthood, we just don’t always talk about it because it can feel vulnerable. The fact is, a lot of us are really, really lonely. In 2021, a Harvard University study found that 36% of Americans feel “serious loneliness.”
The author of the above Facebook post is in no way alone in their experience. I loved the response to this post, so I’m going to include some of the many supportive comments and responses it received in hopes that they help you, too.
- How I made new friends after moving abroad
- When friendship doesn’t just “happen”
- How to make friends as an adult
- Bonus Tips
- Final Thoughts
How I made new friends after moving abroad
I moved to Ireland in August of 2020, and at the time my partner and I were living on a farm in rural Wicklow. Between the pandemic, moving to a new place, and being in a very remote location, it was really challenging to meet people. I felt super lonely and isolated while living there.
In November of 2021, we decided to move to Cork and I knew that I wanted to expand my social circle. I started with Meetup.com, a website where you can join groups for a variety of activities.
The first Meetup group my partner and I joined was a walk through the town where we live. The first one went OK, then we decided to go back for another walk the following week. We continued going for walks with a group that met on Sunday afternoons until, after 3-4 weeks, a small group of us seemed to click and our event lingered into the evening.
Around the same time, I researched other ways to make friends, and I found Bumble BFF. Bumble is a dating app, but there are sections for people looking for different types of connections. The BFF (or Best Friends Forever) side was mostly full of women who had moved to the city and were looking to make new friends after the pandemic.
Between Meetup and Bumble BFF, we slowly but surely started to expand our social circle. My partner and I were pretty proud when we were able to host a tea and cake party for 10+ of the friends we’ve made so far this year.
When friendship doesn’t just “happen”
Before moving to Ireland, and especially before moving to Cork, I’d always just let friendships happen “naturally.” Meaning, I never gave them much thought and didn’t spend much time consciously working to build connections with the people around me. I thought of friendships as a phenomenon that only required one to be “friendly” and “friend-worthy” but ignored the skills and action steps required to actually build friendships.
After a year of living in Ireland without even making many acquaintances, I started to think there was something wrong with me. Was I not friendly enough? Worse, was I not friend-worthy enough?
I was talking to a friend on the phone about my struggles to meet people. She surprised me when she explained that the people she knew who had moved to a new city as single people were able to establish themselves and connect to the community pretty quickly. The people who were in relationships, however, struggled to integrate, and often hadn’t made many new friends after 6 months-a year of being in a new place. I heard her loud and clear: this was the motivation that I needed to take my friendship project seriously and get out and meet people.
I wasn’t going to make many friends by sitting at home.
Related Post: Is Studying Abroad Lonely?
How to make friends as an adult
Without further adieu, here are 11 steps to help you make friends as an adult:
Step 1: Forgive yourself
I initially blamed my friendless existence on there being something wrong with me, like my experience was totally unique. The truth is, it’s far from unique. People have struggled with loneliness throughout time, but the pandemic has been extra challenging for everyone I know.
The pandemic shuffled around where people live, how they live, where they eat, and even changed their family structures. If your life is different now than it was before COVID, that’s normal. If your social life is different than it was before COVID, that’s also normal.
Forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made or actions you haven’t taken or whatever other reason you might be feeling lonely. Lots of people have struggled to make friends during the pandemic–you just need to find other people who are open to connections.
Before you get started, here are 13 of the lessons I’ve learned about personal growth and happiness. I’m sharing them here because they might help you to summon some courage and fortify you ahead of your friendship journey.
Step 2: Choose courage
Regardless of how hard you’ve tried to make friends so far, or how it’s gone, take a moment to choose courage. Declare that you are worthy of making friends, and commit to being authentic, vulnerable, and persistent. Try even if you’re not sure what the end result will be. Don’t give up, even if it seems hard.
If you wanted to list the reasons why it probably won’t work for you to make friends where you live, you could. Then what? We can usually convince ourselves that something won’t work, and this is typically a mechanism to protect ourselves from failure and rejection. Decide, instead, that despite failure and rejection you’re going to try anyway.
You are worthy of friendship and connection and love. There are good people near you who will want to create connections with you. If you go out and work to find them, any rejection or failure you meet along the way is just part of the journey.
Step 3: Create opportunities for connection
First, I want you to literally go to new places in search of connection. Start by thinking of a list of 5-10 things that you enjoy. They could be topics, activities, or places. Then, brainstorm a list of places you might look for people who share one or more of those interests. Finally, go out and actually find them. RSVP. Put it on your calendar. Show up.
It’s time to go find your people!
Here are some ideas:
I met some of my best friends online! 1 in the Murderino group for my city (even if you don’t listen to MFM, you at least have true crime in common) and one on Nextdoor (weird I know). And then also some from volunteering and some from an adult cheerleading team I was on! You never know where you’ll find your people, just gotta put yourself out there!!!Facebook comment
Join your neighborhood Facebook group. That’s way you can get a sense of the community and people you’re living among. We made some very good friends that way. I asked a question in my neighborhood FB group and someone responded and said they were also new to the ‘hood and let’s get together for a backyard hang and it’s history from there! You’ve got this! Try not to be too anxious about putting yourself out there. It’s hard making friends especially as an adult! You’ve got this!Facebook comment
- Facebook events
- Coffee shops
- Sports teams (to find a team, look online for your local community center and start there)
If you play a sport that is a great place to start. Or if you like reading you could join a book club. Maybe you like medieval stuff or are into cosplay…check Facebook for local groups in your interest areas. Go to something to check it out, you don’t have to rush into groups. Don’t pressure yourself into doing things because then you won’t enjoy them and to won’t give other members a chance. Relax, friends will comeFacebook comment
- Dog parks
This is limited to dog owners, but I’ve made very good friends at dog parks. Watching dogs leads to conversations about other things and I’ve found friends that way.Facebook comment
- Local bars/cafes/music venues
Go to the same bar/cafe/live music venue regularly! There will be regulars who already frequent the place and will start to recognise you as well. That’s how I made my friends and it’s how I’ve seen patrons at my work make their friends too xoFacebook comment
- Professional associations. Find something relevant to your profession, like Women in Tech, your local bar association, etc.
- Animal shelters, food banks, or anywhere else that needs volunteers
Volunteer – I’ve heard people say “if you’re bored – volunteer. If you’re lonely – volunteer. Wanna make new friends? Volunteer!” It’s not only rewarding but also usually makes great friendships along the way.Facebook comment
- Take a class. You can check your local community colleges and community centers for offerings.
- Join a civic project
You should look for civic groups in your community that align with your interests. They loooooooove getting new members and will likely enroll you in their projects.Facebook comment
- Check Eventbrite for local events
- Sign up for Bumble BFF or another app designed to help you meet people
- Yoga classes
- Community events
- Lectures at your local college or university
- Board game groups (check local game stores/comic shops)
- Running clubs
- Reach out to your local Democratic party
The other thing I did (when I lived in Arizona in a sea of red state bullshittery) was I found the local Democrats group and joined that to make friends with some other liberals.Facebook comment
- Get a part time job working with people
- This one is not a place you can visit, but let people know you’re looking to make friends and see if they offer to introduce you to anyone.
When people found out that I was from another country, they would often introduce me to their friends because I didn’t know a lot of people, so when they talk about their friends, say you’d like to meet them!Facebook comment
Step 4: Be approachable
Wherever you decide to go to try to meet friends, be sure that you seem open to connection when you get there. Stay off your phone. Try to keep your body language open. Smile and make eye contact when speaking with people. If you find yourself in a conversation with someone, keep it going by asking them questions about themselves. Approach other people who seem interested in connecting and try to talk to them.
If you decide on a more passive approach like a coffee shop or local bar, try reading a book that people will want to talk to you about (I have a list of great books here). Several people have approached me in public to talk to me when I had The Alchemist out in front of me–it’s a great story and people want to connect about it!
None of these strategies will work 100% of the time, but do your best to seem like someone who is open to having a conversation. These strategies may also attract romantic attention–if that’s not what you’re looking for, just let them know and don’t get deterred.
Step 5: Be Persistent
Don’t give up too quickly. If I hadn’t resolved to keep trying even when it was hard, I might’ve given up after that first Meetup group. I didn’t particularly like anyone who was there or have any great conversations, and there was nothing about the experience that made me want to try again. After several weeks of attending that group, however, I did finally make some friends!
When you have an idea for ways to meet people, it’s going to be tempting to cut your losses after the first lackluster experience. Don’t be deterred; show up and keep showing up. Give each group or event at least 3-4 tries before you pull the plug
Relationships take time. It can feel safe and “natural” to pull the plug on something when it wasn’t fun the first time. You might get lucky on your first try, but you might not. If, after 4 tries, you’re still not feeling it with your chosen activity, try something different. There are 22 ideas listed in step 3, just pick another one and try again!
Step 6: Always Be Closing
Unless you’re happy with casual acquaintances and connections with people that are only online, you’ve got to get past the first level with people. Don’t just talk to people online, ask to meet up in person.
If they decline or dodge your attempt to meet in person, that’s ok! They might not be interested in friendship right now or with you. Just take the hint and shift your focus elsewhere. You can stay in touch with this person, or not, but in any case you need to move on. There are lots of people who will want to be your friend IRL, you just have to keep looking.
Step 7: Say ‘Yes’
Say yes if a potential friend invites you to go somewhere, especially the first 2-3 times they ask. People like to send invites when they’re reasonably sure you’ll join. If you absolutely must miss the first thing they invite you to, immediately offer another alternative, or it’s as good as turning down their friendship attempt.
If this part feels hard, know that you’re not alone! Here are some comments from the Facebook group for encouragement:
I did have to have a firm chat with myself to say yes to everything, had to at least try!!!Facebook comment
I always tell people to say yes to everything for the first few years. I had the year of yes and it worked.Facebook comment
Step 8: Invite people to stuff
People love to be thought of and invited to things. So, invite people to things! You don’t have to throw a party, you can simply put out an open invite if you’re going to a yoga class or out for a coffee. Same for any other cool events or activities you’re planning to try!
It’s entirely possible that no one will be free to join you, but it’s a low stakes way to turn a solo event into a friendship-building event. You were going to go anyway, why not try?
Step 9: Build the relationships
Once you have done the hard work of meeting people, it’s time to start building the relationship. Be honest with people. Tell them that you’re looking to make friends. Don’t embellish what you do or things about your life, just try to be yourself and learn more about them. Start from curiosity. Ask your prospective friend questions and try to relate to their answers.
It can help to talk to people like they’re already your friends. Sometimes, treating an acquaintance like they’re a friend will help them to feel included, and it can make it easier for them to see you as someone they’d like to invite to their next get together. Again, stay off your phone, be engaged, and try to keep your body language open.
If you’re in a situation to play a game, Hygge can help to foster great conversations. Hygge is a conversation game with questions written on each card. The questions are varied, but include things like, “Who is the most interesting person you have ever met?” or “What was your worst vacation experience ever?” It works best in a small group, but I love it because it helps keep me from feeling like I need to constantly think of the next topic.
Step 10: Follow up
If you enjoyed meeting someone, let them know. Exchange phone numbers. Plan your next activity as soon as possible, preferably sometime in the next 10 days. Texts that say, “Let’s meet up again sometime.” are where friendships go to die. Be specific and make a plan.
If they aren’t receptive to making plans, just keep moving forward. Maybe they’re not ready to make friends, or maybe they just don’t care for you. No bother, onward and upwards!
Step 11: Repeat
After a few weeks of following these steps, check in with yourself: are these strategies working? Have I met friends that I want to keep? Do I still need to meet more friends? Reflect on what has worked so far and what’s not working, then start again at step one. Iterate. Be willing to step further outside of your comfort zone, if needed. Try adding in 4-5 entirely new places or groups or online forums, and then go again.
Don’t be embarrassed. It’s really hard.Facebook comment
After I moved to Cork, a wise woman told me that my partner and I needed to go out and get 2-3 couple friends (friends who are in couples). Her advice was that you can always dump a couple friend in favor of a new couple, but don’t dump them until you have someone to replace them. It felt a little harsh, but I think she’s right–don’t wait around like friendship will just happen. You have to go out and make friends and be willing to pursue friendships that interest you.
Succeeding on Bumble BFF
With Bumble BFF in particular, here’s my advice: be friendly and positive. Look for things you have in common, and be prepared to answer many of the questions several times. Try to get off the app and in person as soon as is reasonable, because that’s where you’ll figure out if you’re compatible or not. Just like a dating app, know that there can be catfishing or couples “looking for a third” on the site, so meet in a public place and don’t be afraid to Be Weird, Be Rude, Stay Alive.
Most of the time, though, they’re just going to be regular people looking to make a connection. Try to meet at least 4 people from Bumble BFF before you give up on the app.
Become Rejection Proof
Rejection Proof is a wonderful book that I recently recommended. In it, the author speaks at length about our fear of rejection and how we let it run our lives. While very little of this book is about friendship, I think that the fear of rejection often limits who we are willing to approach and the types of friendships that we think are possible for us. This book will help you to transform the way that you think about rejection and might help you to summon the courage to try to make friends, even if you’re not sure if you’ll succeed.
Notice how people make you feel
When you’re deciding which friendships to pursue and who you’d like to follow up with, take a moment and think about how the person you just met made you feel. Did you leave your conversation feeling energized, great about yourself, and full of hope for the future? If so, that’s definitely someone worth following up with!
By contrast, did they leave you feeling self conscious? Unsure of yourself? Depressed? Anxious? Tired? There could be a lot of factors playing into these emotions, but make a mental note about those feelings to be sure that you’re not pursuing too many friendships that will leave you feeling depleted.
A note on small talk
Small talk is necessary, it gives us a low risk way to connect with the people around us. The trouble comes, however, if you can’t move past small talk.
You can’t talk about the weather forever, it’ll be too boring and you’ll leave exhausted. After you’ve spent an hour or two with someone, try moving past small talk. Talk about where you grew up. Talk about your parents. Tell stories about being in college or moving across the country or your travels. If someone is not ready to move past small talk, it might be a sign to shift your energy elsewhere. You don’t have to dump them, but you also don’t want to get stuck with a bunch of very shallow acquaintances.
The best way to move past small talk is to be vulnerable and offer some insight into interesting, deeper things about you. What are your hopes for the future? If you could move anywhere, where would it be? What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done? What skills are you trying to learn? That kind of stuff is gold because it gives people some sense of who you are while keeping the conversation positive and easy to respond to.
People will sometimes try to move beyond small talk by sharing things that are dark, traumatic, or sad, which can leave the person you’re talking to at a loss for how to respond to you. Try not to do this with new friends, instead you want to keep things upbeat, connection-focused, and do your best to make it easy for the person to build on the last thing you said.
If making friends as an adult has been hard for you, know that you aren’t alone. If you’re feeling lonely, there are literally millions of people who feel the same way right now.
We moved during summer 2020 so it was almost impossible to meet people with the severe shut downs where we were.Facebook comment
Follow the steps above and I’m confident you’ll meet new people, and hopefully make some meaningful connections. In the words of a wise Facebook commenter:
YES QUEEN! You can do it!!Facebook comment
Have you tried any of these methods to make friends? Do you have other ideas for people looking to make connections? Please let me know in the comments!