How To Make Friends As An Adult
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When Did We Forget How To Make Friends?
Somewhere along the way, we grew up. Life started getting bogged down with responsibilities and plans for the future. And while much of this is exciting, what happens all too often is we forget how to make friends.
Indeed, as we start laying aside our childhood, we unintentionally put aside our innate ability to make friends easily.
Just think back to when a trip to the playground ended in a ‘new best friend’ after only 20 minutes of sharing the swings together.
Now ask yourself, when is the last time you connected that quickly with someone new?
- It’s a shame, too, because adult friendships are crucial, not just for our mental well-being, but to our physical health as well, and it’s been shown that having friends leads to less stress, less chance of heart disease, less chance of (or slower) mental decline, and a longer life.
But how to make new friends? After all, meeting people is actually pretty easy, it’s getting close to those people that is the hard part and also that which we’ve often forgotten how to do.
And we’ll get to all the how to stuff shortly, but before we do that let’s cover some of the reasons why making friends as an adult is difficult, and see if you can see any of this in yourself:
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Why It’s Hard To Make Friends As An Adult
Of all the things we thought might be hard about growing up, how to make friends as an adult was probably never going to be on that list. But why is making friends as an adult so hard?
Here are 7 reasons.
We Get Busy
Between work and family responsibility, who has time for friends?
And it’s here that we actually run into the biggest problem:
- Most adults just don’t prioritise friendships enough.
After all, balancing things is hard, and most adults don’t see a way to balance everything in their lives, must less any space left that they could fill in with some social time.
Worse, some adults don’t even try and balance things, and something like their work and career comprises their entire life. It’s no wonder we don’t have friends if we’re like this.
We Don’t Know How To Break In
- We get set in our ways as we age.
In fact, by the age of 30, we often have whatever friendship circle we’re going to have, and if anyone drops out for any reason then that gap remains unfilled.
And if we move to a new area we often lose friends and don’t replace them because we don’t know how to break into a new group.
We’re Lacking Social Skills
Been spending a little too much time online lately? The problem with interactions on social media is that it can have the adverse effect of us forgetting how to interact face to face.
This is especially true for those who were born after the online revolution.
We’re Too Eccentric
Of course, it’s great to be an individual and doing your own thing, but sometimes we get so carried away with this unique persona of ours, especially an online one, that people don’t know how to interact with us.
We forget that sometimes we just need to dial it back a notch just for the sake of fitting in.
No One Likes Rejection
- A common reason for not having friends is because we don’t try.
All too often we allow our fear of rejection or criticism to make our decisions for us. The result is that we don’t reach out and form healthy bonds with others.
We Get Stuck
- It’s safe in our comfort zone, and we stick to the status quo to avoid being uncomfortable.
We can get so caught up in our own lives that we don’t know how to break out of the rut we’ve gotten ourselves into.
- But remember, pushing our comfort zone is one of the main ways we grow.
We’re Not ‘Clicking’
- It’s easy to find fault in someone, and then extending that thought into thinking we don’t have enough in common with them.
We can also become obsessed with someone else’s flaws, which results in us giving up before we’ve even gotten started.
This is a bad mistake, and a common one. Try not to be too judgemental. You have many flaws too.
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Don’t fall into the above traps. Instead, be bold and adventurous. Dare to make friends.
- The most common reason we’re not making friends is because we’re not really trying.
- If you don’t have friends at the moment then you must decide and have the intention of making friends.
- Friendship comes from going out into the world and interacting with other people.
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And we’ll get to all the interacting stuff below, but let’s quickly cover some of the myths about friendships so something that isn’t true isn’t holding us back.
Myths About Friendships
As we mature, we lose sight of the importance of friendships as we try to balance our responsibilities and obligations. And the myths surrounding adult friendships don’t help matters, either.
Let’s get rid of these myths to make it easier for us.
“Don’t You Already Know How To Make Friends?”
When we’re children, we seem to understand how to make friends almost automatically. We may have even held a certain popularity at some point in the past.
Unfortunately, looking back like this can set us up for failure as adults because thinking that we already know how to make friends ensures that we don’t actually learn how to do it again.
It really is different when we’re all grown up.
- So no, you might NOT know how to make friends anymore—and you’re far from unique in this regard.
“You Need More Friends Than THAT”
Social media has also had an impact on how we view the number of friends we have. We start thinking of friendship as some type of numbers game, with whoever has the most being the winner.
But quality of friendship very much matters—yes, we keep linking to this study, and that’s because it’s enlightening for our health and happiness.
- It’s better to have one really supportive friend than a thousand online acquaintances.
“Who’s Your Bestie?”
By the same token, we can sometimes still get caught up in trying to define our BFF. And while this might have worked in high school, as adults it doesn’t really work.
- Different people meet different needs in our lives.
One person really can’t be everything to us:
- We may have a friend for intellectual conversations.
- A friend for intimate relations.
- A friend for sport.
- A friend for partying.
- A friend for just being social and chatting with.
People, including you, are varied, and have different needs and preferences at different times and different places in their life.
- Don’t try and make one person everything.
“Childhood Friends Are Best”
- Just because someone was your friend years ago doesn’t mean this is a friendship beneficial to you today.
Over the years, we go through many periods of culling relationships and removing the ones that aren’t healthy or no longer serve us.
And this is normal. But so is wanting to make new friends to fill in the gaps left.
“I’m Bad At Friendships”
Generally, we’re a lot harder on ourselves than we think we are, and we can pull back from others because we think we’re not good at being a friend, or in maintaining a friendship.
And it’s typically nonsense.
Being aware of our shortcomings (like not keeping in close touch regularly) gives you something to work at, like scheduling time with friends to maintain those friendships.
- Deciding to not try is the worst form of quitting, and just because you’ve outgrown some friendships along the way doesn’t mean you aren’t good at keeping friends.
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Okay, I think we’re ready to meet people, so let’s begin by covering how to make strangers your friends and learning how to talk to them. Plus 4 simple tricks for talking to anyone.
How To Make Strangers Your Friends
We spend our childhoods being told never talk to strangers, but then discover as we grow up that’s exactly what we need to do, repeatedly.
Indeed, if we’re going to learn how to make friends as an adult then not only do we have to talk to strangers and chat with random people repeatedly, but we need to learn how to do it as a matter of course or we’ll never meet new people and make new friends.
Granted, some strangers are easy and more comfortable to talk to, such as shop clerks or servers in restaurants, whereas others can be more complicated, such as the strangers you meet in social situations.
And as it happens, these strangers that we meet in social situtations are actually the people who have the potential of being your future friends.
- And these are the strangers who matter.
To some people (but not all), having to chat with this type of stranger can be quite intimidating, so how do we get past the initial trepidation and learn how to talk to them comfortably?
Throw Yourself Into The Deep End
This can be a scary one, and for sure you don’t have to do it straight away or until you’re confortable, but we wanted to include it first because if you always have someone to fall back on then you’re never going to truly take the plunge.
- Go to new places alone so you’re not tempted to stick with those you already know.
Make The First Move
Waiting around hoping to be noticed means you’ll probably end up waiting a very ling time. So don’t wait around, make the first move.
- Start a conversation (“I love your shoes, where did you get them?”, “Can you help me decide which would be the better present for my mum/dad/brother/sister?”).
- Offer assistance (“Do you need a hand with that?”).
- Ask for advice (“Do you know a good place around here to do X?”).
- Get up and join the fun rather than waiting to be invited.
Learn The Give And Take Of Conversation
When chatting with anyone, including when you chat with random people, you should be prepared to talk about yourself (but not excessively).
Good conversation should have an ebb and flow. For the most part, try not to let it get too heavy in any one direction.
Ask questions. Get the ball rolling by discovering new facts about the people you meet.
There is nothing more compelling than someone who comes across as genuine.
But the important thing to know, whether it’s a talk with someone you know or a talk with strangers, is to be honest and be you.
- If you’re truly looking for a friend then you can’t be someone you’re not because finding a friend when you’re not being you means that person has become friends with someone else.
How do you be you? There’s 2 big principles at work:
- The willingness to be vulnerable.
- And the lack of the need for approval.
If you’re nervous about being you then that’s okay. You can even say something about it or make it into a joke.
- Many people can identify with these same feelings.
Learn How To Be Friendly
While initiating conversation, know when to back off before you become too aggressive.
- Not everyone is going to want to talk.
If this is the case, let them go. You don’t want to be ‘that aggravating and annoying person’.
There’s plenty of other people to talk to so move on to someone else.
Know When – and How – To Quit
Likewise, if the conversation has died out or the interaction isn’t going well, know how to escape.
- An “I need” comment is a big help, such as “Excuse me, I need to use the restroom”, or “I need to talk to that man over there about something, please excuse me.”
Of course, you can just simply thank them for the interaction and move on, such as with “It was a pleasure talking to you about Hawaii. Thank you for the conversation.”
If you really like the person you’re talking to, get their card, or make plans to get together again before you go—after all, if it was online you’d add them to your friends list!
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On the whole topic of how to make friends and talking to strangers, William Butler Yeats perhaps said it best with “there are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”
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Tips On How To Make Friends
4 Tips On How To Talk To People
Sometimes it seems to be becoming harder and harder to just talk to each other, maybe because we’re living in the era of direct messages, tweets, emails, and texts.
But conversation is an art, and all this electronic communication can lead to us becoming rusty in the use of that art.
At some point, if we want to get ahead either personally or professionally, we need to know how to talk to people using something more than just the text on a screen.
And here are some tips for doing just that:
1. Ask More Interesting Questions
- Rather than asking questions that can be answered with one word answers, such as a yes or no, try asking questions requiring more complicated answers.
For example, rather than asking “how are you”, the response to which is nearly always “good”, ask “what are you up to at the moment?”.
Being able to ask more involved questions has 2 main benefits:
- It leads to more than 1 word answers, which is excellent ground for a conversation to begin.
- It can help serendipity, which itself can help conversation along and dramatically open the relationship up to more potential.
Serendipity is about setting hooks and memorable talking points. For example, when asked “what you up to?”, you respond with an actual (short) exposition of what you’re actually up to. Such as:
- “I’m currently involved with helping troubled kids get back on their feet. I’ve been writing a blog about it in an attempt to share my knowledge and help others and am trying to get an online hub together where we can all pool our resources together for the benefit of everyone. But what I really love is travelling and photography!”
There’s several hooks in the above, such as helping people, writing a blog, sharing knowledge, building something online, pooling resources, travelling, and photography.
2. Forget the Weather
This one is along the same type of lines, and for sure there is something to be said about the common ground that can be achieved with talking and asking about the weather.
But the tendency of falling back on the weather as a topic of conversation is not only tedious but it can be a death knell to the interaction.
- Turn weather talks back around by asking a related question and redirecting the conversation at the same time. For example, “You’re right, it’s been pretty hot out. It makes me think of heading somewhere cooler. Tell me, what’s the best vacation you’ve ever had?”
3. Learn the Power of Adding On
- This is a pretty simple technique where you take what someone else has said and add something to it, including adding a question at the end.
This helps keep things rolling even if someone else has stopped the conversation cold with a yes/no question, or maybe even the weather again.
For example, if you’re asked if you saw the game last night, you might say, “Yes, that play at the end was really something. It reminded me of a time when I went to see them play in person. Tell me, what’s the best game you ever saw?—or, have you ever played?”
4. Pay Attention to the Details
Become the person who notices when the situation is going south.
Be ready to jump in with a question or a new topic when you see people are getting uncomfortable with the situation.
- For a quick fix, pay a compliment. It puts the focus on someone else entirely and provides a handy distraction (“I love your shoes/hair/car!”).
Becoming a great conversationalist will become more natural with practice.
- Pay attention, but don’t over think things.
- Natural conversation flows effortlessly. So remember, the important thing is to relax, and be your friendly, personable self.
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With all this talk about talking we seem to have missed one of the most important points when interacting with people.
A Key Ingredient To Being A People Person
If you could boil down one key ingredient to being a people person, it would be to listen.
Often times people are too wrapped up in themselves and don’t listen, but this is the one skill that will serve you well.
- Not only will you stand out as being someone that actually listens, but because you’re actually listening you’ll hear things that you can then talk about.
Not listening is even more systemic these days with the proliferation of smartphones. Everywhere you look, whether they’re on their own or in company, people’s heads are buried in these devices all the time.
Benefits Of Listening
As mentioned, when you become a good listener you’ll stand out from the crowd and people will take notice of this personal trait.
More people will actually approach you and in many cases they won’t even know why.
Of course, it’s not as if you announce to the world “I’m a good listener. Come talk to me.”, but it’s something that will happen more naturally because you’re listening.
Many people mistake listening with giving advice, often interrupting in order to do so. This is seldom a good idea and, if you really feel the need to say something, wait until they stop talking and you’ve been given the cue to speak.
- In fact, unless you’re very knowledgeable in the subject of the conversation, you generally want to avoid giving advice as much as possible.
What Is Listening
- Listening involves paying attention to and hearing what the other person has to say, and then interpreting what is being said.
If you need to respond, you can acknowledge what was said.
- A common trick here is to repeat back what they said but in your own words. This does two things: it affirms that you were listening and it affirms you actually understood what they said. After all, maybe you interpreted it wrong, and this repitition of yours gives them the chance to correct you.
Sure, this can sometimes be awkward for the person talking, but it’s helpful to ensure you did understand what they said and is a common tactic of counselors—and it’s necessary if you do need to make sure you have actually understood them.
Encouragement & Empathy Go A Long Way
Words of encouragement or empathy can go a long way. Which one you choose depends on how the conversation is going.
This is different to offering advice. You are letting the other person know you heard what they said and are responding supportively.
Stop Talking About Yourself
In many conversations, one person will speak about themselves. When that person finishes, the other person will speak about themselves. And for sure, this can often be the ebb and flow of conversation that we covered above.
But this is also a common form of conversation where neither party is truly listening to the other.
- Instead, take an interest in the other parties andlet the conversation be about them.
To further the conversation, ask questions about what was said. This shows you are interested. People love to talk about themselves. Let them do this.
You will have plenty of time in other conversations to talk about yourself.
Teach Yourself To Listen
- Listening is a skill, and just like any skill, it takes practice.
Being a good listener automatically makes you more of a people person. People will notice, too. They may even comment about it.
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Okay, so we’ve got chatting, we’re meeting new people, but how to we go about building these relationships into some more meaningful?
How To Build Friendships
It Takes Time
- Don’t expect to have or build a great relationship with someone immediately. There’s no quick fixes here.
It takes time. You need to become familiar with others, and they need to become familiar with you.
Don’t force it—you might break it. Just give it the time that it needs.
Don’t Take Shortcuts
If you try to take shortcuts to a better friendship you’ll find that it backfires on you. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it won’t.
- You can’t buy true friendships, nor should you try.
You want your relationships to be genuine and long lasting and to remain authentic with yourself while doing it.
Don’t Just Use Online Resources
There are plenty of resources including social media that can help build relationships. Sometimes these are even excellent ways (sometimes the only ways) to connect with people.
However, it should not be used as your only means to build your relationships.
Good old fashioned networking is going to go a long way in helping you with this. Don’t ignore it.
Don’t Make It All About You
We touched on this above, but relationships won’t last very long if you make it all about you.
- In fact, making it more about others will make those people more responsive to you.
Likewise, the more you give, the more you will get in any relationship.
- People respond positively when they see that you are not selfish and willing to go out of your way to help others.
Of course, there’s always the freeloaders who like to take advantage. But forget them. Cut them out of your life and be done with it.
The adage of ‘opposites attract’ only works for magnets, and the truth is that people love to associate with others who are similar to themselves.
Just think about your own relationships to realise the truth of this.
- Are you into sports? Then find people who like sports.
- Politics and religion are two other common and passionate examples.
- Speak to more people who share your interests.
While it’s good to align yourself with people who share your interests, you should not shun people who don’t.
- People who hold views or interests different than yours can provide a perspective you would never have gotten without interacting with them—these people can make you a better person.
Keep an open mind.
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Actionable Steps For How To Make Friends As An Adult
- Reach out to people. This could be people at work who you have never interacted with before, or friends of friends that you’ve interacted with but never really ‘met’. Do this at least once a month.
- Become interested in these people. Find out what their likes and interests are.
- Use the tips described above to build your relationships with them.
- Put your phone away and stop having your head buried in it when you’re out in the world. This is avoidant behaviour and you really need to attenuate it if you want to make friends. You’re missing many opportunities. Do this for at least a week.
- Start making small talk and mini-conversations with people in the real world. Many of them you likely see every day. Say hello. Be friendly. Pay a compliment. Offer to help. Ask them about something. Lots of these people are likely feeling as lonely as you.
- Having the conversation end after “Hi, how was your day?”, is perfectly fine. In fact, it’s great because it’s easing you into the experience of meeting new people and talking to strangers slowly.
- Join a club/group/meet up that caters to your job or interests. Commit to going there at least 3 times.
- Don’t do this online. That doesn’t count. Do it face-to-face. You could do both if you’d like.
- No matter how you do it or which club you join, make sure you make an effort to get involved, either with striking up small talk with people or with the group itself.
- Do you have any relationships that are estranged? If so, think about ways you may be able to repair the relationship.
- Start by analyzing how the relationship may have became estranged in the first place and seeing if you can repair some of the damage. Chances are high that the other person feels the same way and it’s just that they’re too shy to do what you’re doing.
- Use some of the above ways to try and make amends.
- Make an effort to stay in touch.
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The thing you now need to do is get out there and do it! We can think about things until the cows come home, but we must act for things to actually happen.
- Remember, the most common reason we’re not making friends is because we’re not really trying.You must have the intention of making friends to actually make friends.
4 Interesting Questions To Strike up Conversation & Make Friends
- What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?
- What book influenced you the most?
- What excites you?
- What’s the most important thing I should know about you?
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