How to make friends as an adult

Strategies for finding pals that actually get you, and yes, it can still happen.

Strategies for finding pals that actually get you, and yes, it can still happen.

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This article was originally published October 18, 2017.

Making friends as an adult can feel a lot like dating. It can be awkward, uncomfortable, and downright confusing. What should we say to someone we want to be friends with? When's the right time to ask someone to get together one-on-one? And where can we actually meet new friends in the first place?

As a therapist and friendship researcher, that last question just might be the one I'm asked about most often in my work. As much as I'd like to share a list of specific ideas, what works for one person might not make sense for another. However, I can give you some very specific tips if you're serious about finding meaningful mates, and if you're willing to put yourself out there a little. Here are some of the places and ways to successfully meet new people and potential friends.

Choose to be in social spaces

Taking part in an organized activity is a great way to meet new people because it gives us opportunities for interacting with others that we just don't have once we leave school and invest in our other relationships and responsibilities. That said, not all activities are created equal.It's easy to think that friendships happen organically when we're surrounded by people, but this isn't always the case. It's important to choose activities that are inherently social. Having the expectation that you'll chat or partner up with someone else can make it a lot easier to strike up a conversation that eventually leads to a friendship. Instead of going to your regular yoga class, try something like a running or walking group, boot camp, or team sport. The same goes for public spaces. If you typically head to a nearby cafe to catch up on e-mails, find a coworking space (wework is a helpful starting point).

Go with your genuine interests

Take a minute to think about the things you genuinely enjoy‒ your hobbies, interests, and passions. Similarity is often the starting point for a real, close friendship. And pursuing the things that actually interest you will help you find people with whom you'll really hit it off. What's more, knowing you have something in common can make it easier to approach someone and help you bond over your shared interest. If you're looking for inspiration, Meetup allows you to sign up for local events catering to a wide variety of interests. Volunteering is another great way to pursue something you care about, whether it's your love of animals, the environment, or people, and connect with others who feel similarly passionate.

Draw on your strengths

Feeling confident and "in your element" can go a long way towards helping you feel comfortable meeting new people. That's why it helps to draw on the things you're good at. If you are good with languages, sign up to learn a new one. Coordinated? Try dancing. Pursuing the things you are already good at allows you to put all of that extra energy into meeting new people. It also gives you the chance to offer a helping hand, which can be a great way to approach people and build a friendship.

Use your life stage

Going through a big life change can really disrupt our existing friendship groups. It also just so happens to be a time when social support can matter the most. The good news is that going through an exciting, difficult, or meaningful life transition with someone, whether it's the transition to university or retirement, can create bring you closer together. Use this to your advantage by finding others who are going through a similar experience by attending local events, support groups, or activities. Friendship apps are another helpful way of connecting with others who are also looking to make friends during a significant life change, like a move to a new city or becoming a new parent.

Think twice before bringing someone along

Bringing a family member or close friend with you can make the thought of meeting new people a little less anxiety provoking. And choosing the right person as your wing-man or wing-woman might actually help you to put yourself out there. But you want to avoid being in a position where you're inadvertently using this person as a crutch. That's why it's important to think about whether you're more likely to branch out when you're alone or in the company of someone familiar who makes you feel safe.

Be flexible yet persistent

Stepping outside of your comfort zone or usual routine is so important. If you tend to go to the same places and spaces, and aren't meeting new people or connecting with anyone, it might be worth trying something new or visiting a different neighbourhood.

At the same time, as tough as it might be, it helps to revisit places where you've come across someone you'd like to get to know better. Repeat interactions are so important. It's often the thing that gives us the courage to approach someone for the first time or to suggest getting together in a different context or environment. And it's ultimately what helps us move from casual acquaintances to close friends.

Miriam Kirmayer is a therapist and Ph.D Candidate in clinical psychology specializing in young adult and adult friendships. She is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and The Everygirl and works with the media to make information about well-being, mental health, and relationships available and relatable. Connect with Miriam on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.