How to make friends as an adult: 8 tips for finding lasting friendship
Rediscovering how to make friends as an adult can be an awkward process. Here, three experts reveal the practical steps to take
Knowing how to make friends as an adult is an essential skill for every stage of life. Being able to figure out the activities you enjoy and finding others who do them too, leaning into social situations, and ultimately having social confidence, is so important.
Whether you've just moved to a new area or are looking to expand your friendship group through a new hobby, there are plenty of ways to make friends as an adult. It's all about being flexible, patient, and open to new opportunities.
But given that many of us make our friends as children and teenagers through school, work, and other social activities, going about making friends as an adult can be an unfamiliar feeling. "Later in life, the common developmental milestones where people meet others with mutual interests have become much slimmer," explains Dr Gail Saltz, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. "Older individuals may not be in a school of any sort, have young children which results in meeting other parents, and many early career roles have passed, along with the opportunity to meet new people with whom you intensely interact."
What's more, she says, "you are likely busy in your own patterns, such that a concerted effort to find friends is harder to carve out." It is entirely achievable though. Here, we ask Dr Saltz and a master certified life coach to reveal what it takes to make friends as an adult. From understanding how to be more confident to how to be happy alone, this is what they have to say.
How to make friends as an adult
1. Establish your values
Knowing what you want in a friend is the first step to understanding how to make friends as an adult, explains Sue Bowles, a master certified life coach.
"Determine what you value first and use this knowledge as the foundation for what you want in a friend," she suggests. "When we know what we value, it helps us identify those with similar values and identify what opposing values are still acceptable in friends vs what is non-negotiable. It's important to note there are no right or wrong answers here. You are simply identifying your preferences as you think about building a relationship with someone."
2. Think about what you like to do
Now it's time to find a new hobby and a way to share that with others, says Dr Saltz, who is also the host of How Can I Help? podcast.
"Engaging in some activity where you will meet others who share this interest is a great way to make new friends," she says. "This can be something social, cultural, hobby-like, sports-affiliated, musical, art-based, food or wine-based. It could also include a church group, a running club, a book club, or a golfing group. The point is to find something that interests you where there will be others with a similar interest."
Explore social media pages on Facebook and Instagram to discover what's on in your local area. Alternatively, pick up a local newspaper and take a look at the advertisement pages for groups at the back, or go into your local community hall.
3. Break it up into smaller steps
Making friends can seem like a daunting task, especially if you're starting from scratch in a new place or you've just come out of a relationship that took up most of your time.
"Break it into small, less daunting steps," suggests psychologist and coach Nova Cobban. "You only need to form a relationship with one person for that to open the door to a whole host of new people."
4. Push yourself out of the comfort zone
As an adult, it can be difficult to go against the status quo we've set for ourselves. We're more set in our ways than we were as children, teenagers, and young adults, which is only natural. However, to learn how to make friends as an adult and have something you've not experienced before, you have to do something you've never done before.
"Be brave," says Cobban. "You only have to be brave for the length of time it takes you to say hello to a familiar face. That first hello might not lead to anything the first time, but after a few times of saying hi and getting more comfortable, it can very naturally turn into a longer interaction. Before you know it you are swapping WhatsApp messages and becoming friends."
So, when exploring all the unique new hobbies out there, it's important to keep an open mind and push yourself out of your comfort zone.
5. Meet outside the group
Once you've formed a connection with someone in the new group, even if it's only trivial in your eyes, be proactive about taking that friendship to the next level. "Invite them out and let them know they are welcome to bring along other people, introduce them to people you already know too so both of you can widen your circle," says Cobban.
And when it comes to meeting them again, "be forthcoming in sharing about yourself and be a good listener to them so you can develop something mutual," adds Dr Saltz.
6. Create your own opportunities
These opportunities and new ways to make friends don't come without effort. You may have to think creatively to come up with ways to interact with people in the new group or situation.
"If there’s no obvious route to friendship opportunities at the moment, why not create one? Start a Facebook group for local people in your area to have a weekly coffee meetup or if you have a particular interest, make the group centered around that. Once it’s beginning to feel like there are a few of you talking online, organize your first meet-up or invite people to join you on a trip to somewhere that aligns with your group interests," says Cobban.
And you never know, someone may be in the exact same shoes as you. "Know where natural opportunities exist to interact. "Challenge yourself to take the initiative, to make someday today," says Bowles. "Oftentimes others are experiencing the same struggles we are but are not confident enough to initiate interaction, yet are thankful when someone reaches out to them."
7. Get to know your friends' friends
It won't be a possibility for everyone, but if you already have friends and family around you, consider whether you might have something in common with their friends or acquaintances. Not only will it help boost your confidence in meeting new people but you may find a new friend and a new way to connect with people already in your life.
Naturally, it's important to be able to make your own friends but asking to be introduced to new people by a trusted person around you can be a positive, affirmative step in the right direction.
8. Find some time for yourself
When learning how to make friends as an adult, it's important to recognize that this is a new process. It may be tiring and it may be disappointing at times, and you need to look out for red flags in new friendships as much as you do in new relationships. Building in some time for yourself is essential for keeping your confidence up and mental health steady.
"Build in self-care time after going out with new folks," agrees Bowles. "It is mentally and emotionally draining to get to know new people, so be sure to plan time to recover."
This recovery will look different for everyone but some suggestions include exercise. Research (from City University) suggests that working out can be a hugely effective way to lessen the risk of anxiety, depression, and negative mood. Listening to podcasts or music, walking meditation, taking a bath, cleaning your living space, cooking a delicious meal for yourself, or just sitting on the couch and catching up on your favorite Netflix show are also good options.
9. Reach out for help
Making new friends can be a great way to learn how to deal with loneliness. However, as noted, making friends as an adult can be a difficult process at times. If you're feeling at a loss for what to do next, with anxious feelings or constant sadness creeping up on you, consider reaching out for help.
Speak to your general health practitioner, a psychiatrist, or a therapist if you begin to experience symptoms of anxiety or depression, whatever your situation.
Why is it hard to make friends as an adult?
There are several reasons why many adults find it difficult to make friends, explains life coach Sue Bowles. While the practical nature of meeting potential friends is an issue, as noted, our attitude towards new people as we get older can also be a limiting factor, she says.
"Our tolerance for risk is also usually lower as we have established reliable patterns of behavior and expectations. We don't tend to go out to meet new people, we want to spend time with those we already know and deepen those relationships as opposed to starting new ones. We have 'found our tribe', trust them, and don't have to invest as much emotional energy in the building but instead know how to maintain the relationships instead."
Given the business of life and how tiring daily work, family pressures, and social upkeeping can be, many people also prefer to sit and talk with a friend, rather than do an activity, she says. "We generally value more authentic conversation over activity, thus the relationship needs to be established before we feel safe being 'authentic' with someone."
Fear also plays a role, says Cobban. "We fear the possible rejection from trying to break into an established friendship circle as the new person. Unlike school where we can probably find another group to belong to, adult life doesn’t seem to be awash with friendship opportunities."
But know that if you are finding it difficult to know how to make friends as an adult, you're not the only one. According to recent survey data collected in a report called The State of American Friendship, almost half of all Americans report having three close friends or less, with just over one in three people saying they had between four and nine close friends. 12% of people who responded to the survey said they had no close friends at all.
While a study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Evite looked at the social dynamics of 2,000 Americans in recent years and found that the average person hadn't made a new friend in the last five years. For many people, the desire and ability to make friends peaked at age 23 but 38% of participants said that it peaked before this, at 21 years old. The main reason for this in 42% of adults, researchers discovered, was feeling introverted or shy around new people.
Tips for keeping friends as an adult
- Be intentional with friendships: "Schedules and fatigue can easily get in the way of having consistent time together," says Bowles. "We make time for what we value though, so be the one who keeps time together a priority for important relationships."
- Check in often: A quick check-in is sometimes all you need though, says Cobban. "When we have busy lives, most people understand and accept that there will be gaps in communication or times when you don’t see each other for a while. You can ensure that things don’t drift too far apart with a quick check-in every now and again by text - even if that’s just a ‘life is busy but I’m thinking of you’ type text."
- Show them you're a trustworthy person: "Friendships require trust and intimacy," Dr Saltz reminds us, pointing out the dangers of relationship anxiety in new friendships. "Don't gossip with a friend as you'll diminish the likelihood they will trust you with important things."
- Be honest: "Don't lie to a friend as it will erode trust," the professor says.
- Get adventurous: "Do something fun with your friend at least once a quarter, something you wouldn't usually do. Maybe it's taking a walk along the river, going to a lodge overnight, or going to a concert. Something different socially than the typical coffee or meal out. Give yourself permission to have fun, laugh, and make more memories," says the life coach.
- Be supportive: "Avoid being critical of a friend and try to be supportive," suggests Dr Saltz. "But share real and important feelings, as these will help to build intimacy."
A digital health journalist with over five years experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.
She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.
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