Tips for Making Friends as an Adult

By Dr. Jess Relationships Making Friends as an Adult

The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life. But when we consider putting effort into our relationships, we tend to focus on intimate partnerships as opposed to platonic friendships, which is a shame, as all types of connections have the potential to be just as rich and meaningful.

Research suggests that strong friendships are associated with lower stress levels, boosted mood, higher self-esteem, healthier habits, and positive mental health. One review of 148 studies (totaling 308,849 participants) revealed that social support increases survival by 50% and can be just as healthy as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit.

Another study showed that one person’s happiness spreads throughout their social group to friends of friends – up to three degrees of separation, with the happiness effect lasting up to a year. Having happy friends increases your chances of happiness by 10-15%, and even when a friend’s friend is happy, your chances of happiness increase by 5.6%

The link between overall wellness and friendship is strong, and making new friends as an adult can be challenging. It’s not as easy as in your teens and twenties when you likely had fewer responsibilities and a more flexible routine. Research suggests that we lose friends as we age, and our friendship circles can shrink when we connect with a new romantic partner. Of course, it need not be so. As with all things in life, we must be intentional about making and maintaining friends, so if you’re in the market for new platonic connections, consider one or more of the strategies below to get started.



Go Out Alone

When you receive an invite to a gathering or event, your first inclination may be to ask about a plus-one, but this approach may be holding you back. Traveling or attending events with a companion makes you more likely to stick to yourselves and less likely to meet new people. This is especially true for couples who tend to go most places in pairs. You may tend to talk to one another instead of pushing your comfort zones and making new connections.

If you love to bring your partner (or a friend) out with you (or you typically move in the same social or professional circles), make a point of sometimes going your separate ways when you walk in the door. Standing alone at a party or event can force you to strike up conversations with strangers and increase the likelihood that you’ll make a new potential friend. And if you’re coupled, you’ll have more to talk to your partner about at the end of the day/night, as you will have enjoyed a broader range of conversations and interactions.

Talk to Strangers

 Some cultures are intentionally collaborative, while others are more reserved. If you’ve ever moved from one town, city, or country to another, you’ve likely observed cultural and even regional differences in the way people relate in public. In some places, you’re expected to say good morning to strangers on the street; in others, a nod of the head in the elevator is too much and can send them running. Regardless of local norms, consider being friendly to strangers. Sit in a coffee shop without staring at your phone and see how eye contact and genuine smiles can lead to human connection. This doesn’t mean you’ll build close friendships with every person you meet, but you never know where a conversation will lead.

Meet Up in “Unfamiliar” Places

 When you’re on the road (or in the air), consider attending meetups that align with your interests. A quick scan of Facebook events (or a Google of the city you’re visiting + events this weekend) will return a range of results – anything from the arts, sports, politics, food, drink, and everything in between. When I travel, I often play pickup sports with strangers. Meetups are generally posted online or on Facebook/WhatsApp, and I’ve always felt safe meeting up with a group of athletes on the beach or in the park. Since we’re playing field sports, it offers the perfect balance of chatter on the sidelines and shoulder-to-shoulder interaction on the field. I’m not friends with everyone I’ve met, but I do have some long-standing long-distance friendships, including a few that have blossomed into sporadic meetups years later when we happen to find ourselves in the same town at the same time.



Move An In-House Activity Out of the House

If you tend to read, work, or scroll on your couch, consider taking one of these at-home pastimes into a public space like a park, library, or coffee shop. It can be as simple as drinking your coffee on your stoop or front lawn instead of retreating to your balcony or backyard. Or you might take one workout outside – join yoga in the park or visit a dog park after work, even if you don’t have a furry friend. We often do what feels most comfortable, but there is so much potential outside our comfort zones –in romantic relationships and friendships.

Seek to Connect with Life-Stage Peers

While having a diverse group of friends can be great, it’s often easier to cultivate and maintain friendships with those who share a similar lifestyle. For example, if you have a newborn or young kids, your schedule is more likely to align with those who have the same. And if you’ve recently retired, you might find that a 55+ sports league is more likely to attract people with similar interests. This is why it seems so much easier to make friends while you’re in school – you share schedules and move in the same spaces. You can replicate this to some degree into your 30s, 40s, and beyond.



Volunteer, Take a Course, or Sign Up for a Team

This strategy may seem obvious, but it does work. If you attend programming that genuinely interests you, you’ll likely find connections with whom you share common values and/or passions. Of course, you don’t need to go into every interaction hoping to collect besties at every turn, but being intentional about how you spend your time and being open to new connections is an important first step.

Consider the “Old”

While considering the possibility of making new friends, keep an open mind when it comes to old ones. The beginning of relationships tends to be easy and exciting as you learn more about one another and enjoy the honeymoon phase of friendship. Maintaining relationships over the years, decades, and beyond can lead to more opportunities for friction, difficulties, and awkwardness. But when you consider the time it takes to make a new friend, it may be a reminder that reaching out to an old friend might be a worthwhile investment. Some projections suggest the following:

It can take 50 hours to move from being an acquaintance to becoming a casual friend.

Approximately 90 hours are required to become a real “friend”.

And to become close friends, it can require up to 200 hours.

If you’re considering reaching out to an old friend to rekindle an old connection, start with something casual on social media; maybe share a happy memory to reminisce in their DMs. And if the friendship fizzled on account of hard feelings, open yourself up to taking responsibility and starting a vulnerable conversation. You deserve rich relationships – from the boardroom to the bedroom and beyond. Don’t be shy about pursuing new friendships and allowing yourself to enjoy connections of all kinds. A friendship doesn’t have to be perfect to be meaningful, so give your friends grace, extend the same courtesy to yourself, and enjoy the imperfections that are inherent to all human connections.