Making new friends as an adult

Friendships are important to one’s well being, even for introverts like me, with quality being more important than quantity. It is easier to form friends when one is younger, during one’s school and college days, when one is thrown together with peers for extended periods of time with few responsibilities and relationships can develop organically. But once one starts working and settles into a nuclear family, it becomes more difficult to form new friends, since work place friendships can be tricky to handle. Also, when one starts working, one tends to move to different locations and lose not only the physical proximity that is conducive to maintaining existing friendships but one has fewer opportunities to make new friends.

This article by Marisa Franco discusses how to make new friends.

Our adult lives can become a monsoon of obligations, from children, to partners, to ailing parents, to work hours that trespass on our free time. A study of young adults’ social networks by researchers at the University of Oxford found that those in a romantic relationship had, on average, two fewer close social ties, including friends. Those with kids had lost out even more. Friendships crumble, not because of any deliberate decision to let them go, but because we have other priorities, ones that aren’t quite as voluntary.

Such is the pace and busyness of many people’s adult lives that they can lose contact with their friends at a rapid rate. For instance, a study by the Dutch sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst found that, over a period of seven years, people had lost touch with half of their closest friends, on average. What’s especially alarming is that many of us seem to be losing friends faster than we can replace them.

If we’re not careful, we risk living out our adulthoods friendless. This is a situation that’s worth avoiding. Friends are not only a great source of fun and meaning in life, but studies suggest that, without them, we’re also at greater risk of feeling more depressed. It’s telling that in their study ‘Very Happy People’ (2002), the American psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman found that a key difference between the most unhappy and most happy people was how socially connected they were.

Social media can give the illusion that one is well connected because one may have lots of ‘friends’ on the networks but those can be superficial, really more like acquaintances than friends.

The article suggests various strategies to overcome the hesitation that many people have to initiating contact with others. The fear of rejection is a big one, that people might not like you. But Franco says that people tend to underestimate how much others, even those they may have just seen, like them. She mentions studies that find that after meeting people at some event, people thought that others liked them less than what the others actually reported. She suggests that one should join various groups as well as devote time to keeping in touch with old friends.

Recently, someone posted on my Nextdoor group that she had just moved to the area and would like to meet people in the area. She was flooded with responses from people who said that they would be delighted to meet her and suggested all manner of specific things that they could do together, from hikes to shopping to just getting together for coffee. Because she took the initiative to put herself out there, she made plenty of contacts. Not all of them will develop into friendships, of course, but there is a good chance that some will. But she also tapped into the fact that there were many others who were also seeking to make new friends.

Franco says that one needs repeated encounters with people for friendships to form.

Related to this, other research conducted in the 1960s showed that we’re primed to like people more if we know that we’ll see them again. In this case, researchers presented female participants with profiles of two female students. The two profiles were similar, except that the participants were told that one of the women would be their partner for ongoing discussion groups. The participants reported liking this woman more. When we know we’ll see someone again, we want to make our future interactions harmonious, so we like them more now.

The lesson here is that, if you want to make friends, you should commit to showing up somewhere for a few months. If you go to one event, feel uncomfortable and don’t return, you’re selling yourself short. If you persist, you’ll feel more comfortable, get to know people more and – thanks in part to the mere exposure effect – they’ll come to like you more as time goes on. You need to push past the initial awkwardness and keep trying, because it won’t be awkward for long.

Franco suggests that if we meet someone congenial at some group event, we should not hesitate to ask to meet them elsewhere.

For many people, the most difficult step that Franco suggests in making the transition to a friendship is to be vulnerable, by revealing some weaknesses or difficulties in one’s life.

I like to think of an acquaintance as someone you know of, whereas a friend is someone you know. To make true friends, you have to share things about yourself and ask people questions, so that they share about themselves too. You don’t have to share whatever you might tell a therapist but, deepest darkest secrets aside, you still have much to share. Tell people what your passions are, how you spend your free time, or what you’re looking forward to, and ask them for the same. My advice here is based on research from the 1970s that found that first-year undergraduates who were more open about their vulnerabilities to their roommates tended to form deeper friendships with them too. More recent studies have found that, when strangers are getting to know one another, the more they share about themselves, the more they end up liking each other. If you’re looking for ways to deepen your connections, vulnerability is the way forward.

Of course, there is a thin line that separates sharing one’s vulnerabilities with being self-pitying or whining about how tough one’s life is, which can be off-putting.

All in all, this was a good article, full of practical suggestions.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    She was flooded with responses

    I’d be interested to see the comparative response to a man doing the same. I think I can predict the result.

  2. mnb0 says

    “Social media can give the illusion …..”
    I never understood this. On internet I don’t have friends.
    In The Netherlands it’s pretty easy to meet new people, no matter your age: join a club or political party.

  3. anat says

    mnb0 @2:

    I have met people on internet discussions with whom I’ve had rather intimate conversations, and from whom I have received friendly advice (and to whom I have given such advice, to the best of my ability). In what way are these not friends?

  4. anat says

    My family moved quite a bit when I was young, and as a result I became used to losing contact with any non-family person I befriended. As a result I avoid making really close friendships (other than my spouse). I also notice that my social needs are probably below average: I can go through entire workdays not talking to anyone from the moment I leave home till I get back there without saying a word and not notice (and this was true before the pandemic too). Just being around other people, listening to them, etc is enough. I don’t see myself ever just trying to socialize with random strangers (though I do see myself joining some meetup or some other group with a purpose of some kind).

  5. René says

    I react(ed) strongly to this post. I’ll post a comment (maybe) later. To derail yet another thread (as I have been accused of doing recently over at PZ’s), can I just ask of my compatriots to abstain from capitalizing the definite article in “the Netherlands”? That usage originates in poor teachers explaining that while we Dutch, in Dutch say ~I live in Netherland, in English ‘Netherland’ doesn’t exist as a singular.
    Who (TF) would write an address to a friend in the U.S., as

    Mr. John Doe
    Several thousandth such and such Road
    The United states

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