Learning how to make friends as an adult is HARD!
I feel like they should have warned us.
But when you think about it, it makes sense...
In school, you have classes, labs, study groups, organized functions, clubs...all sorts of ways to meet new people and connect.
But once you’re working 8-5 (or 7-6 if you’re like most of us), it becomes a lot more difficult to find the time and energy to invest in other people.
Not to mention finding people your age and with similar interests in the first place!
And once you DO find those people, how do you turn them into friends?
We’ll cover all these questions and more!
In this article, you’ll learn:
Making Friends Is a Marathon...Not a Sprint
One of the most important things to remember when you’re on a quest for new friends is that you can’t just “snap!” your fingers and make friendships happen, Thanos-style.
Friends aren’t magic.
And people require some time to build meaningful relationships.
It’s a lot like going to the gym. You can’t just work out like a savage for three days and expect to see results. It takes months of persistence and effort to see gains.
Building friendships requires consistency and commitment on your part.
If you want good friends, you have to be a good friend. And that means showing up, participating, and bringing value to the relationship.
But how can you become someone that people want to be friends with?
By setting up systems instead of goals.
Saying “I want to make friends,” is a goal.
A great goal! But if you just stand there and say “I want to make friends!” you’re not going to get very far.
You have to make a plan and take action to achieve your goals. Remember, the winners and losers in every game ever played had the same goal. To win!
The difference between the winners and the losers is the systems they put in place and the effort they put into those systems. If you build the right system, the goal happens naturally.
Let’s talk about what systems you need to put into place when you’re learning how to make friends as an adult.
If you invest the time, you'll reap the rewards!
1. Explore Your City
I’m willing to bet you have never met a stranger by sitting alone in your apartment.
Firstly, because that would be breaking and entering on their part which makes a future friendship unlikely.
Secondly, because even if you did manage to strike up a conversation with the intruder, what would you have to talk about? Apparently, he knows the city better than you do.
You would be astounded how many of my clients tell me they just can’t seem to meet people...but it’s because they’ve allowed themselves to become trapped in their routine (and inside their apartment!)
To meet people, you must go to where the people are.
Go enjoy your city!
Your homework for this step is very simple.
You don’t even have to talk to anyone yet. Just start exploring your city and find some neat places that you like to hang out in.
I know this can give people some anxiety, but that leads me to the next point…
2. Get Comfortable Going Out Alone
This is crucial if you want to learn how to make friends when you have none to go out with.
It’s human nature to feel safer traveling in a pack. But to attract new friends, you have to learn to be comfortable on your own. And not just because you don’t have someone to go out with.
Think about it! When you’re out and about and you see a large group of people--or even just a pair of friends in conversation--how likely are you to interact with them?
Not likely, is what I’d guess.
Because while the possible pain of rejection is acceptable with one person, we’re programmed as social animals to avoid being shunned from the entire tribe at all costs.
If you want to be approachable, you need to be brave enough to show up alone. It will be uncomfortable at first, but there are so many ways to get around that:
Meetup is a great resource for finding adult, club-like activities and get-togethers of like-minded people.
Once you’re used to being alone in social situations, you’ll be more confident (because you feel more competent.)
And when you’re confident, people are more likely to interact with you and like you. Win-win!
And once you’re feeling comfortable and confident, it’s time to practice actually talking to people.
3. Make Starting Conversations Automatic
It is deeply uncomfortable to talk to strangers...at first. Like any new experience, it comes with waves of adrenaline that can make us anxious, nervous, hyper, or freeze us completely.
But also like any other new experience, the new wears off the more you do it.
Remember jumping off the swing for the first time? Or letting go of the monkey bars? Or climbing back down the tree?
Terrifying. Until it wasn’t anymore.
Likewise, the best way to start up conversations with possible new friends is to make starting up conversations automatic. Put your systems into place!
A mindset I teach my private coaching clients is: “People are nice, but you have to go first.”
Because if everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move, nothing will ever happen.
A great exercise to help get you started is the If/When/Then formula.:
Make a list of 3 possible intros and conversation starters so you always have something to start with. (Do it right now!)
But remember, simple is best.
All you have to do is introduce yourself and most people will immediately answer.
It’s a reflex. And (I know this is hard to believe but it’s true) they are just as nervous as you.
You know that feeling of relief you get when someone talks to you at a party where you know no one?
You can BE that person!
If you get nervous, remember: People are generally nice, but you must go first!
Feeling anxious about what to say?
If “Hi, I’m [Your Name]” isn’t cutting it, try some of these conversation starters out:
Meetup or Club Event
4. Be Approachable
If you are looking at your phone, you are not inviting conversation.
This is important. SO important. So I’m going to say it again:
If. You. Are. Looking. At. Your. Phone. You. Are. Not. Approachable.
Over 80 percent of human communication is non-verbal.
So try to convey to people that you are relaxed, confident, and open.
You can do this by standing with your arms relaxed (not crossed if you can help it), a soft smile on your lips (no teeth), and looking around the room.
Leaning against the wall and flipping through your phone makes you look absorbed in what you’re doing and people will assume you don’t want to be interrupted.
Would you ever approach someone on a phone and talk to them? Nope.
Also, if you meet someone's gaze, hit 'em with the 'ol slight smile and eyebrow-flash. (I explain more in this video)
5. Pick Meetups and Groups You ACTUALLY LIKE!
I mentioned this briefly above, but it’s worth repeating.
I hear a lot from readers and clients that they can’t make friends because they’re not interesting enough.
Or because they feel like they don’t have anything in common with the people they meet.
I cannot stress this enough.
Go to places you like and that host things you are interested in.
That’s how you’ll find people who like those things too.
If you go to a meetup for D&D, you’re going to meet people who like to play D&D.
If you join a sci-fi book club, the people there are much more likely to know who Isaac Asimov is than the average co-worker.
If you are super into working out, meet people in classes at your gym!
It works for EVERY interest! And it will be 1,000 times easier to talk to them because you already know they’re interested in the same things as you!
If you’re having trouble pulling the trigger, trick yourself with a little mind game. My mom used to use it on me to get me to eat vegetables. It’s called, “Just try it once and see if you like it.”
If you hate it, you never have to go again. Really. I promise.
The point is to find something you love doing with people who also love doing it. That’s what friends are.
6. Have Great Conversations
Now I know this is easier said than done. But I’m going to help you break it down into manageable bites.
First of all, work on your conversational mindset.
When we struggle with social interaction, it’s human nature to feel like people are going to dislike or laugh at us.
That they’re noticing every small mistake you make and logging it away.
This is the Spotlight Effect rearing its ugly head.
But the good news is, everyone is WAY too busy thinking about themselves to think about you.
In fact, they’re worried about what YOU think!
So make your mindset about you, and decide to have a good time. 99.9999999% of the time, everyone around you in a social situation also wants to have a good time.
Once you decide to have a good time, you can focus on helping others to be a part of your good time. Think about what you can give socially rather than what you can have. People will feel this positivity in your attitude and be drawn to it.
Second of all, be bold. Bravery isn’t the absence of fear. It’s being afraid and doing something anyway.
Everyone (everyone) has a little social apprehension. It’s nerve-wracking to meet new people.
But the fun ones, the cool ones, the nice ones, the popular ones… the people we all admire are the ones who just do the damn thing anyway.
Talk to people.
It gets easier every time you do it and (unless you’re living a James Bond kind of life), the world will not end if it doesn’t go the way you want it to.
If you don’t click, just say “Nice to meet you!” and walk away! It’s that easy!
Third, listen. One of my favorite facts in the universe is that to be considered a great conversationalist, all you have to do is shut up.
People love to talk about themselves and feel good about the person who lets them. So let them!
Check out this case study from my private coaching client Victor:
7. Use the Soft Invite
You showed up. You met people. You had great conversations...
Probably the hardest part of how to make friends after college is taking it to the next level.
There is no schedule of mandatory classes to guarantee you’ll see them again!
You want to have coffee and get to know them. Develop your friendship.
But how do you do that without coming off as overly familiar or desperate? It’s a weird middle ground to exist in.
Friendship limbo if you will.
My friend Rob Riker was on my podcast and he discussed a method he calls “the soft invite.” It’s something some people do naturally, but I had never heard it spelled out before.
And now I’m freaking obsessed.
The soft invite is the perfect way to gauge interest from a potential friend without putting too much pressure on the situation. It goes like this:
Talk about an event you have coming up that you’re excited about. That can be a movie coming out, a group outing, a different meetup or class… anything.
If they say “Oh, that sounds fun! We should totally do that!” or something similar with some excitement in their voice, invite them to that event.
A casual, “Oh would you like to come along? I’d love to have you,” is pressure-free and very friendly.
If they say yes, exchange numbers so you can send them details! If they say no, let them know the offer stands and then wait until you see them again and invite them to the next event.
If you’re turned down several times, go ahead and take the hint and move on. If they’re interested in pursuing a friendship, they will reach out to you.
Here's Rob and I talking about the soft invite on my podcast (skip to 21:31)
8. Keep the Connection Warm
At the risk of sounding like a sales bro, it’s important to keep your friendship leads warm.
You can have a truly amazing conversation with someone, but if you don’t see them for two months, all that rapport will be gone.
Send a text, a meme that reminds you of the conversation you had, or share an article or post about something they mentioned liking.
It’s good to send the first text the day after you meet them.
Then a week later if they don’t respond. If they don’t respond to the second text, back off until you see them again in person.
The Double-text Rule.
And if they do respond at first and then stop, remember the rule of double-texting.
Never send more than two texts in a row without a response at first.
(Once you’re solidly friends, these things don’t matter.
But in the beginning, it’s almost like dating. You don’t want to come across as needy and scare them off.)
If people have to scroll to read everything you’ve sent, you’ve sent too much.
Two texts maximum. Then you wait. It’s the unspoken rule of digital conversation.
This leads me naturally to...
9. The Effort See-Saw
All relationships require effort…ON BOTH SIDES.
That’s very important. No such thing as a one-sided friendship.
Obviously, a 50/50 split of effort is ideal, but it’s not always realistic, especially at first. People are busy. They have adult lives and worries and insecurities, just like you.
Humans are funny like that.
So assume the BEST and put in a little extra effort.
Be willing to go 70/30 at first!
Invite them to get-togethers, double text them, start the conversations. After a few days or weeks, you should notice reciprocation if it’s a viable friendship.
But if you reach out repeatedly (think 2-3 times) and they just keep turning you down, bow out gracefully and let it end.
Sometimes people just don’t click. Pour one out for the friendship that never was...
There are over 6 billion people on earth. You’re bound to get along with some more than others.
Signs someone is (unfortunately) not interested in being friends:
How To Make Friends Action Steps:
Now we have some systems in place to start working on how to make friends as an adult:
And now you're well on your way to making a new friend!
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Over the last 15 years, I’ve learned... (Read More)
• 5 Ways a Communication Coach Can Help You Become a Better Communicator
• The Ultimate Guide To Joining & Enjoying Group Conversations
• How to Never Run Out of Things to Say