Admitting that you want to make new friends can feel a bit vulnerable—like there might be something wrong with you for not having enough friends in the first place.
But there are plenty of reasons why a perfectly lovable adult (hey, that’s you!) might want to expand their social circle. During the pandemic, many people have had friends move away or relocated to a new city themselves. Others have lost touch with friends in the tumult of the past few years. And even in ordinary times, it’s perfectly natural to be interested in forming new relationships with other human beings.
Indeed, the desire to make new friends as an adult—and the awkwardness of figuring out how to do it—is so common that the New Yorker has numerous satirical articles dedicated to the subject. The classic advice is to take a class or join a club or volunteer, all of which are effective strategies. But the deeper, more existential question isn’t where to find potential friends, but what to do in order to forge connections. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Become a regular
Whether you’re interested in hiking, board games, or dance, there are endless Meetup and Facebook groups available to locals hoping to bond with like-minded enthusiasts. But you have to give them a real chance—which means attending the same group at least three times, according to friendship coach Danielle Bayard, author of Give It a Rest: The Case for Tough-Love Friendships. (For those who are still avoiding large in-person gatherings, the same logic applies to virtual events, too.)
“A lot of time we think we’re going to join a meetup group and then we go and don’t find our new best friend, we quit,” Bayard tells NBC’s Better. “You have to see people over and over again, specifically weekly. That way, you can remember what you talked about the week before and bring it up again. That’s how we build a relationship.” Part of the reason it can often feel easier to make friends in high school and college, after all, is that students have a steady schedule of classes and extracurricular activities, putting them in close proximity to the same people over and over again.
Similarly, one good way to set the stage for friend-making is to become a regular at your neighborhood coffee shop, yoga studio, or dog park. Make a point to show up at the same time most days. Soon you’ll start to recognize other regulars, giving you more opportunities to chat and figure out who you might like to know better.
Build your own social circle
If there’s not a preexisting group that jibes with your interests, there’s also something to be said for building your own social circle from scratch.
When Misha Glouberman first moved to Toronto, he wanted to make friends with other people who were interested in the internet. So he set up a bar night for people in tech that met every other week, as he explains in his 2011 book of essays The Chairs Are Where the People Go, coauthored with Sheila Heti. “I was completely new in town, but just by starting something like that, you really put yourself in the center of all kinds of things,” he writes.
Taking on the role of host requires courage; you have to be able to get past the fear that no one will turn up to your event. But the upside, as Glouberman writes, is that organizing events “gets you more than friends—it can create a whole community.”
Extend an open invitation
Asking a potential friend if they want to get lunch can be as nerve-wracking as asking someone on a date. One way to get around the awkwardness—while also casting a wide net—is to extend a general invitation.
This works best if you’re in a text-based group chat, like a Slack channel filled with coworkers or a WhatsApp group of parents with kids in the same preschool class. Throw out an invite like, “I’m planning to work at a coffee shop tomorrow morning if anyone wants to join,” or ask the group if anyone feels like getting after-work drinks. You’ll get to know a variety of people this way, and find out who else is interested in social outings. That helps address one trickier aspect of making friends: It’s not always obvious who’s got space in their life for new pals, and who’s too busy for (or simply uninterested in) regular hangouts.
If you’re on the introverted side, you may prefer one-on-one chats over group outings. In that case, you might want to opt for a variation of the open invitation: The “join me” text.
The join-me text is a low-pressure way to ask someone to hang out while simultaneously implying that if they say no, it’s totally cool, as you’re already a fulfilled person with lots of cool plans and interests. For example: “I’m thinking of going to the free concert in the park this weekend; want to come?”
Get a little vulnerable
Perhaps you want to deepen your relationships with people who are more like acquaintances. One way to move into friendship territory may be to talk about a problem you’re dealing with. Research shows that we like people more when they’re open, and that when others show vulnerability, we see their actions as demonstrating strength and courage.
Still, it can be hard for some of us to talk about the difficult parts of our lives, especially when we don’t know the other person well just yet. What if a potential friend backs off when you mention that you’re recently sober, or becomes visibly uncomfortable when you mention that a family member has cancer?
It’s always a possibility that someone will react poorly in the face of self-disclosure, in which case they’re probably not great friend material anyway. But chances are that they’ll feel closer to you and be more likely to share the messy parts of their own lives—setting the stage for an authentic bond.
On the flip side, should you find yourself sharing too much too soon with a potential friend, demonstrating a little self-awareness can both of you move past the cringiness, as Deborah Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, tells The New York Times. Just say, “Sorry, that’s kind of heavy!” and ask them a question about a different topic.
Be like the golden retriever
As a neurotic type, my own approach to making new friends involves taking the internal energy that I would usually spend panicking about whether people like me, and redirecting it outward in the form of exuberant amiability. I call this the Golden Retriever Technique. As I explained in an essay back in 2017:
If you’ve ever met a golden retriever, you know that when you walk in the door, they are very happy to see you, and they are zero percent worried about whether you are happy to see them. They don’t think, ‘Oh man, this person seems too hip for me, gotta act casual with my chew toy over here.’ If they accidentally knock a mug off the coffee table with their tail, they don’t assume you will hold it against them. They don’t worry if their political opinions seem unsophisticated or if their bark is annoying. They just say, ‘Hi, hello, I’m glad you’re here,’ and they bounce around to show their appreciation and suggest a game of fetch.
Under the rules of the Golden Retriever Technique, if someone gives you the brush-off, you accept their decision, but you don’t take it personally. You just frolic away to find someone who does want to hang out, confident that a new friend is waiting for you.
Give it time
After a few dinners, you may discover that you and your potential pal aren’t such a good match after all. That comes with the territory of meeting new people—we’re not all going to click with one another, and it’s all right if the friendship fizzles. But it’s also a good idea to remain open-minded as we get to know others, as Heather Havrilesky explains in an advice column for New York Magazine.
Some of your closest, lifelong friends may not seem like close, lifelong friends for the first five or six years you know them. Seriously. It takes time to figure out who matters, who listens, who tells the truth, who comes through in a pinch, who’s down to earth, who appreciates you and accepts your flaws, who says the right thing at the right time, and who makes sense all around.
Whether you and your potential friend have much in common isn’t necessarily that important, Havrilesky says. What’s important is that you’re kind to each other, and that both of you keep showing up.