If you fear that someday you’ll end up alone, you are not alone: It’s a common, probably universal concern. Though many of us love our solitude, none of us wants to be stranded there.
We naturally address this worry by holding fast to the friends we’ve got — old friends who know us well, and with whom we have a history. They say, "Make new friends, but keep the old; one’s like silver, the other’s like gold," but old friends aren’t like gold so much as they’re like comfortable old clothes — cozy, easy, unconstricting, funky, and casual.
Having these old hold-fast friends is a great insurance policy, but so is cultivating your ability to make new “old” friends fast.
These days, people move on or just move. Our lifestyle options have become vast, and we’ve become more flexible about shifting between them. The more options we have for how and where to live, the greater the chance that old friends will become incompatible with time. If you’re good at making new "old" friends, you’ll be able to replace old friends when they grow incompatible.
Here are some tips for making deeper friendships faster:
1. Cut through small talk. Experiment with transitioning from small talk to deeper topics, testing the waters for how honest and informal you can be with new acquaintances. Let your hair down and see if they reciprocate.
2. Weavidence. Prove that you want to explore, not just reciting what you already know at each other, but collaborating in weaving new thoughts. To provide evidence, pick up on things they say and build on them, especially things they said earlier: “I was thinking about what you said yesterday, and it makes me wonder about this…” It shows that you’re really listening.
3. Target your radar for people who are always learning, not already learned. Deep friends aren’t know-it-alls; they’re people who are still exploring and can stand to admit that they’re wrong. They can “stand corrected,” dignified not because they knew it already, but because they’re able to change their minds. Signal that you’re always learning, and you’ll draw a lot of know-it-alls who want to mansplain the world to you. But you’ll also draw fellow inquirers with whom you can explore reality together.
4. The warmest hottest topic. It’s amazing how comedians can unify an audience, one person alone on stage getting thousands of people to laugh and feel a common bond. What’s their secret? There are a few snarky, know-it-all comedians who unify the audience through what I call “weglee,” the glee of feeling exceptionally smart, exceptions to human nature, laughing at the fools out there. But the great comedians go the other way: Through self-effacing humor, they invite their audiences to laugh “at them with them.” They unite people through their “calm anxiety.” Life is an anxious affair for all of us. It’s great when we can sit together surveying the human condition, all of us inescapably in it. The human condition is the warm, hot topic that makes new friends into easy old friends quickly.
5. To be a good listener, listen for patterns. Everyone has stories of a different life from yours. Sometimes the stories are boring, but sometimes the stories are less boring if you tune in to the right register, the big-picture implications, like what we get when we read great fiction—life lessons between the lines for you to draw from your interpretation of their life choices and the consequences.
6. Listen for and respect boundaries. Don’t pretend you can afford to be honest about everything. That’s exceptionalism too. We all have our “don’t go there’s"; don’t pretend that others shouldn’t have them. When you touch a nerve, notice it and back off. Get as close as you can, but no closer.
7. Become a “noping” connoisseur. We create undue distance from people by shaming and punishing them for crossing our boundaries. Don’t do that, and look for others who don’t either. Cultivating intimate honesty with new friends involves taking risks, saying things that may not work well and then backing off. If you’re befriending someone who shames you quickly for taking a risk with them, you may be dealing with someone with whom you can’t really get that close. Look for those who say, "Nope, let’s not go there,” in empathetic ways. And return the favor.
8. Connect where the connecting is good, not where it isn’t. What do old friends and old couples all have in common? Over time, by trial and error, they’ve learned to interlock smoothly, expanding into the safe spaces and staying out of the unsafe spaces. They’ve learned where they have to tuck in their elbows to make room for each other. If that’s the secret to old friendships, that’s what you have to achieve efficiently to make new friendships feel as good as old ones. You can do that by learning quicker from the trial and error.
9. Seek the exceptionally unexceptional. New old friends are those who feel relieved to meet someone who can laugh at the mess that is the human condition, not act above it like they are exceptional. Gravitate toward the exceptionally unexceptional, people who accept that they have all the same issues that other people have. They have more to talk about, more to explore. That’s a lot of what we count on from good old friends — a feeling of safety and trust that comes from relaxing into being bozos on the cozy bus of funky realism, riding the ups and downs of life. Old friends trust each other, because they’ve gone through a lot of life’s humbling downsides side by side. To acquire that seasoned ease with new “old” friends doesn’t take years. It takes an attitude shift that makes brothers and sisters of your fellow humans enjoying and exploring the bumpy ride together.
Keep the old friends, of course. But feel confident that if you can’t, you won’t be stranded. If there’s one thing this world has lots of, it’s people.