9 Ways to Make Friends as an Adult
Friends can help prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness, but making friends as an adult can be difficult. These expert tips will help you develop meaningful connections and land a new BFF.
Making friends may have seemed so much easier when you were a kid. Share a seat on the bus, share a secret on the playground, and just like that, you’re friends for life (or at least for elementary school). As adults, the game board changes. Life has a way of crowding out friends. You might move to a new city, spend more time with a spouse or a partner, or grow apart from friends. Your kids could become your focus, or a challenging job might zap more free time and energy than you think. You could be so busy, you might even think who has time or needs friends?
Actually, we all do, says Deena Manion, a California-based licensed clinical social worker who focuses on mental health issues. “Having friends as adults is not much different than having friends as kids in terms of our social and emotional well-being,” says Manion, who is also the chief clinical officer for Westwind Recovery in Los Angeles. A circle of friends eases feelings of social isolation and loneliness, she says. And your pals increase your sense of belonging and purpose. Think of friends as your oasis from routines and responsibilities.
How to make friends as an adult
The good news is that if your friend group has dwindled, you can take time to set a path to find new ones. Know that there are definitely besties, or at least kindred spirits, out there to connect with. “Human beings were not meant to be isolated,” reassures Laura Morse, a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Atlanta. “Relationships are part of our core base of needs and even more today with the pandemic.” She is seeing more clients these days who are struggling with depression and anxiety, in part because they lack human interactions, especially during the height of the pandemic with social distancing measures and previous lockdowns.
Research shows that friendships better both our bodies and minds. In a 2019 report published in Innovation in Aging, researchers say having friends and social connections improves older adults’ mental well-being. And it makes them more likely to maintain their independence and physical functioning as they age. To help you put yourself out there and find a best friend, or even just a companion to chat with, our panel of experts offer a few tips to help you get started.
Start with who you know
Many adults spend a lot of time at work, so if that’s your situation, look to this potential pool to start your search. Lauren Hamby, a community treatment counselor with Grady Health System in Atlanta, suggests a “three-stroke” approach to new friendships by starting with an olive branch. “Extend an offer to grab a drink after work, or maybe a walk or brunch over the weekend,” says Hamby. “If after the third [invite] nothing happens, then move on.”
Sure, people are busy, she says, but friendship is a two-sided effort. If the person you are reaching out to isn’t ready to take your friendship to the next level and reciprocate, that’s fine, just keep looking. You can also offer to do an online hangout if either party feels uneasy about meeting up in person due to Covid-19.
Get a hobby or new pastime
There’s nothing like a shared interest to create a friend connection. Striking up a conversation at a yoga class or group activity can bring people together in a way that surrounds common interest, says Manion. So join a book club, garden club, tennis or soccer team, playgroup for the kids, monthly happy hour for parents, bunco group, or any activity you enjoy that involves others.
Luckily there’s a wealth of groups that you can connect with online and in real life, so check out Facebook groups and your local Meetup, where you can join a group or start your own. As for how these get-togethers shake out in our pandemic present, you can find ways to meet outdoors, indoors if everyone is fully vaccinated, or online.
Love animals? Spend a weekend at an adoption event. Concerned about the environment? Volunteer to help clean up days local waterways. Want to make a difference in a child’s future? Be a mentor at your local school. Not only will you make your community stronger, but you’ll also connect with like-minded people who share your passion.
Give it time to grow
No one wants to be smothered—especially in the early days where expectations may not be the same on both sides. Are you looking for someone to share all your hopes and dreams with or just a sideline buddy at your kids’ soccer games? “Rushing someone into a friendship could lead to issues with boundaries,” says Morse. Let the friendship evolve naturally, she says, so mutual trust and emotional connections develop.
Nurture the “garden” you already have
Like everything worth having, it takes effort to maintain friendships. As we grow up, leave home, and change jobs, we leave friends behind. “When you and all your friends live in different places, you must put forth effort to continue to maintain friendships,” says Hamby. It’s often easier to nurture the relationships you have—or had—than starting fresh.
Don’t be a doormat
It’s important to pick friendships where there is mutual care and balance, says Manion. “If your friend just wants to dump all of their [stuff] on you and is not interested in your life, they probably should go to a therapist instead of to you.” Friends who are “emotional vampires” and drain you with their crisis du jour can be more work than worth, she adds. True friendships should provide a break from daily stressors, not add to them.
Prioritize your time
We get it. There’s only so much time in a day, so prioritize your commitments, says Morse, whose private practice includes counseling for women’s issues and couples. “We all have limited bandwidth, so focus on the quality of the time, not the quantity.” A quick cup of coffee to connect, whether in person or online, can be as rewarding as a weekend away to support the friendship.
Consider a social media match
Finding a romantic partner online is routine these days. But finding a best friend? You can do that too. While several apps to make friends exist, the most talked about is Bumble BFF, which is part of the Bumble group of social apps.
Create a profile, upload pictures, and wait for friendship connections. Safeguards exist to limit misuse, such as only showing your profile to same-gender users, but Manion still advises meeting for the first time in a public place when using online apps. Provided you’re safe, apps to make friends can help you make friends in a new city, especially when you don’t know anyone else yet.
Step away from the screen
The world is slowly reopening from its pandemic pause, and we’re all getting back out there. Now is the time to reconnect and refresh the relationships you sidelined while hunkered down. “You have to choose to actively engage instead of the passive interaction of virtual,” says Morse. And if you are still connecting to others virtually, Manion says use as many senses as possible, so you can see the smiles, their eyes and create emotional connections.