When we’re kids in the playground, making new friends is easy. It’s natural for one child to approach another and simply ask, “Will you be my friend?” Sometimes kids bypass the perfunctory introductions and spontaneously start playing side-by side.
By the time we reach adulthood, however, our lack of self-consciousness disappears. Instead, many of us feel awkward and anxious about making new friends. Grownups, even very capable ones, fear they’ll say the wrong thing, come off as being needy, or that their overtures will be rejected.
Yet, because we are social animals, we are driven to connect. If you are feeling lonely and have a nagging feeling that you want more friends in your life, you are not alone. Here are some tips to make the task of finding new friends less daunting.
Be Open to Making New Friends
One of the biggest obstacles is attitudinal. Don’t succumb to the myth that everyone else already has their friends. People’s lives change over time. They graduate, move, marry, change careers, and get divorced—so the large majority of friendships don’t last forever. Friendships, even very good ones, often fray or come apart.
Remind yourself that there are other people who are just as interested as you in making new friends. Reach out with a smile, make eye contact, extend a greeting or a compliment. Take a risk and show your interest in connecting. If someone doesn’t respond in kind, don’t take it personally. It probably has more to do with them and their own life situation than it has to do with you.
Set Aside the Time
Friendships aren’t discretionary. In fact, a growing body of research suggests they enhance our physical health and emotional well-being. Having friends and social supports not only makes us happier but also makes us more effective parents, spouses and workers.
Many of us feel stretched beyond our limits as we juggle work, family and personal responsibilities. We’ve learned to multitask, stay connected 24/7, and wind up working more hours than the traditional 40-hour week. At the same time, we may be sandwiched between caring for young children and aging parents.
If you truly want to make friends, you need to set aside the time to make that happen. For example, designate a lunch hour to rekindle an old friendship or to nurture a new one. If necessary, arrange for childcare.
Get Out of the House
Many of us work at home and/or live in cold climates. Especially during winter, it’s easy to hibernate. Instead of spending all your free time behind a computer monitor, commit to placing yourself in situations where you can interact with people face-to-face.
Go to Work
While it’s true that workplace friendships can be a double-edged sword, work and friendship aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Because many of us spend more time at the office than we do anywhere else, the workplace can be one of the most fertile places for making new friends.
Okay, it might sound contradictory to #3, but it isn’t. The time you spend on the Internet can offer a launching pad for new friendships. If you’ve make a friend online, take that friendship to the next level by arranging to see a movie together or to meet over a cup of coffee. There are also online groups like Meetup.com specifically designed to bring people with similar interests together.
Is there someone at work with whom you seem to “click?” Ask that person to meet for lunch or for a drink afterwards. Admittedly, just like office romances, friendships can turn messy when two people no longer get along and still have to work together. But making new friends always entails some degree of risk—and those workplace war stories are usually the exceptions rather than the rule. Use common sense and approach workplace friendships slowly and judiciously so you build trust.
Pursue Your Interests
Working together or having kids in the same grade makes it easier to connect with another person because you already have a great deal in common. Similarly, when you set aside time (#2), get out of your home (#3), and focus on pursuing some of your own interests—whether it’s joining a gym, taking a course, or becoming a member of a political, civic or community group, you will be giving yourself a jump start in making friends. Seeing the same people on a regular basis, week after week, gives you a chance to scope out a pool of potential friends and identify those in your group who may be kindred spirits.
Don’t Limit Your Search
Many of us make the mistake of limiting our friendships to people who are “just like us.” Be open to people who are older or younger, perhaps at a different stage of life: Intergenerational friendships can be rewarding for both the young and the old. Don’t limit yourself to people who dress, live and act the same way you do. The ephemeral basis for connection is deeper than outside appearances.
Don’t Expect Perfection
No relationship is perfect and no one person, even a spouse, can fulfill all of an individual’s needs. If you expect too much too soon from any one person, you are likely to be disappointed. Recognize that misunderstandings and conflicts are bound to crop up in any relationship but they usually can be resolved with honest communication.
Bear in mind, too, that the foundation for a solid friendship is built over time. Friends start off as acquaintances and slowly become closer as two individuals begin to reveal and share parts of themselves with each other. Eventually, the relationship feels so comfortable that there is no pretense or formality: A friendship that has blossomed can feel as comfortable as slipping into a pair of jeans that have been washed twenty times. When this happens, the rewards of friendship are countless–and feel almost perfect.