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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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9 Tips For Finding New Friends As An Adult

By Ed LatimoreDecember 5, 2023
adult friends

Adult lives are hectic and busy, but that's no reason to neglect the most important thing: our social relationships. I've talked to many adults, and they feel like they don't have any true friends or meaningful relationships in their life.

Just about every person on the face of the earth is one tweet, one status update, or one email away, but we still feel alone. Technology has made distant relationships close but close relationships distant.

Over the years, I've learned a thing or two about how to make strong friendships as an adult.

I'm talking about becoming friends with the type of people who stick by your side no matter what's going on in your life. I've made adult friendships that are stronger than any bond I had as a teenager.

I'll tell you a little about how to build new meaningful friendships beyond casual acquaintances, as well as the wrong way to go about it. Because knowing what to do gets you just as far as knowing what you shouldn't.

1. Accept that your ability to make social connections needs improvement.

This is because most of us have never had someone teach us how to build a social circle. Instead, for most of our lives, we've just made friends with whoever shared a certain life stage with us: neighborhood kids, people we played on sports teams with, and classmates make up where the typical adults get their friends from.

These people may become lifelong friends, but this is often not the case. Interests change as we grow and many of us start to feel isolated when we no longer have the same thoughts, feelings, and interests as these people, if we ever shared them at all.

Consider the results of a survey of over 2000 Americans about making friends as an adult:

  • The average American says they haven't made a new friend in five years.
  • For the majority, popularity peaks at age 23.
  • For 36%, popularity peaks before age 21.
  • 82% feel like friendships are hard to find.

Similarly, a 2013 meta-analysis by researchers in Germany combined data from over 177,000 participants across 277 studies. They discovered that friendship networks had been shrinking for the past 35 years.

In other words, the research shows that adults are terrible at building and maintaining a circle of friends.

Social media keeps us busy with the illusion of a social life, but it really just distracts us from hunger pangs for real human connection. Part of having a happy life is having a list of people you see in person regularly that you enjoy.

Seeing your friends in person and having social interactions with them there, not just on a digital screen, is the key to having a happy life in real life.

2. If you have children, "use" them to help make friends.

We often feel overwhelmed by the number of things we need to accomplish during our adult lives. You are not alone if you feel socially isolated because of your children, work, relationships, and other responsibilities.

A study of young people's social networks found that those who were in relationships had, on average, two fewer close social ties. Those with children had lost out even more; they'd lost three close social ties, including family members.

The title of the paper sums up things well: "Romance and Reproduction Are Socially Costly."

The trick here is to remember that if you're a parent or in a relationship, you're part of a new world.

It's hard to be friends with people who live in a different world than you because they're operating on different priorities. But the nature of being a parent is that you'll end up with a lot of potential friends.

3. Don't make new friends at bars.

Too many adults, especially those socially stunted from college dorm life, think that finding friends means joining a group at the bar every Sunday to drink and watch sports.

I get it. I used to try and meet people just like this, but you’re not going to build fulfilling or lasting relationships by meeting random drinkers at bars.

Acting like an adult means forming your relationships with intention, with purpose. True friendship starts with spending time around people who are good candidates for building lasting bonds with. This means finding people who have similar interests that can bind you together.

4. Be passionate about something.

So if you want to socialize and build relationships, as mentioned above, join a community that revolves around what you are already passionate about or join a community whose passion you do not yet share but can develop.

I recommended the first route since it’s a more natural path to enjoyment, but your interests may be too niche to easily find a group that shares them. In that case, take the second path. It’s just faster.

Once you connect with people in a group, you have an automatic topic to discuss that you know they’ll enjoy. Spending time together is easy.

Now, that’s all well and good, but you’re probably thinking, "Duh ... of course you can hang out with people whose interests you share." That’s the easy part. Finding the group in the first place — that’s hard."

That’s fair. Figuring out which group to join and how to fit in with other members who’ve been there for a while is where a lot of people go wrong. That brings me to my next tip.

5. Find activities to build a social group around.

We live in the Internet age. It’s not difficult to identify new interests or find communities. There are groups and activities for everything. Your goal is not to find individual people, but communities.

Don’t open Facebook and stalk individuals who claim your hobby on their profile. Communities and groups are more welcoming to strangers, and they provide a greater chance of meeting someone you’ll be compatible with.

If you make ten new acquaintances, chances are good you’ll become friends with at least one of them.

Get the numbers on your side. That’s no guarantee you’ll get along with everyone in the circle. Involve yourself with multiple groups, all with a reasonable amount of people. The larger community size the more potential long-term friendships.

6. Be an unselfish expert or an eager newbie.

Once you’re part of a group, getting people to like you is straightforward. Present yourself to the group in one of two ways: as the unselfish expert or the eager newbie.

The unselfish expert approach works if you find a group of people doing things you already have some expertise in. This approach establishes your instant value to the group. They’ll want you to stay because you bring a wealth of knowledge and experience. Leverage this respect into real friendship.

The opposite approach is if you enter the group with zero knowledge but you make up for that with zero ego. You’ve got an authentic curiosity for learning everything you can.

You’re the new guy. Everybody likes the new guy.

7. Get people to talk about their favorite things.

People generally like to talk about what they enjoy, so get others in the group talking for hours by asking them to show you the ropes.

The best phrases to use run along the lines of, “Oh, wow, I’ve never heard about that. Tell me more!”

By allowing others to present themselves as experts, you’ll make them feel smart and important. The trick is to then use what you learn and show that you are taking the advice of your new group.

People love when a person takes their advice. It’s a way to bond because you’re demonstrating trust and respect. If you respond to other members’ teaching with enthusiasm, you’ll cultivate true friendship.

8. Transition to socializing outside of the group.

Over time, something cool will happen. You’ll get comfortable both as a student and an expert in-the-making. You can blend the two based on who you’re speaking to.

Whatever you do, don’t be the person who never listens and only complains. Don’t be the newbie who doesn’t really want to learn, who just lurks silently without engaging.

People generally can’t stand the selfish expert who refuses to share knowledge and the know-it-all who assumes no one else knows anything either. When you're likable, people will want to spend time with you — even outside of the group.

9. Step out of your comfort zone.

This is huge for introverts and people with social anxiety. If you’re going to make friends as a full-grown adult, there’s no reason to be intimidated.

These approaches will get you started, but they’re not the entirety of friendship.

No matter how you go about finding a community, make an effort to talk to people beyond the group’s subject matter. Act like a real person with original thoughts, deeply held values, and genuine sympathy. There are natural ways to transition to different topics and show you care about the other people you want to get to know.

After a while, these new friends will become old friends.

Life is hard. Friends make it easier. Now go make some.

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader." - John Quincy Adams