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5 Skills for Making Friends as an Adult

Some guidance for the baffling process of adult friendship

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If making friends as an adult is a crisis for you, you’re not alone. It’s far easier to slip into loneliness than it is to make friends. Even when we are surrounded by people, we may still be clueless about how to turn those people into friends.

As I’ve been writing a book on making friends as an adult, I’ve come to recognize the various abilities that each of us can cultivate in order to make friends. Here are five.

1. Initiative. People assume that friendships should happen “organically” and fall into their life like years past, but this is not true when we are adults. When we were younger, we used to find ourselves in contexts that had all the ingredients for nurturing friendships: continuous unplanned interaction and shared vulnerability. As adults, we no longer inhabit these contexts by default. Adults who embrace “aggressive friending” or radical responsibility for making friends are the ones who do.

What does this look like? Inviting a coworker to get coffee, attending events, taking classes, introducing yourself to others at your gym class, and going to meetups.

2. Affirmation. One myth about making friends is that we have to be fascinating, charismatic, or hilarious to charm others into liking us. But being the type of person who others like is not about being particularly impressive, but rather about showing liking and affirmation towards others. People like others who like them. Think about it, who would you rather be friends with: someone charismatic or someone who makes you feel comfortable and accepted?

What does this look like? Compliment others, tell someone a moment when you thought about them when they were not around, scan for traits to like in people you meet, share if someone made you see something in a new light, and show enthusiasm when greeting people.

3. Security. Here’s why making friends takes security: it’s awfully exposing to try to connect with another person. We risk being rejected. Secure people assume that others like them, and this helps them gain the courage to initiate interactions and persevere in building friendships. When someone does reject them, they know that it doesn’t mean anything about who they are. They are also not quick to assume rejection in an ambiguous circumstance. Ultimately, secure people are assured that they are likable and have value to offer another person.

What does this look like? Not taking another person’s response to you personally, assuming others have positive intent (they probably got really busy and didn’t respond, rather than they hate me so they didn’t respond), assuming that others like you until they explicitly indicate otherwise, and having a kind internal dialogue.

4. Persistence. Making friends is a process that many of us don’t feel like we have the time or energy for. Even after we initiate, it may be easy to fall off and for our blossoming friendships to peter out. Embracing the idea that friendship takes time and is a process can help us calibrate our expectations and not put undue pressure on the buds of an early friendship. Just because you might not feel like best friends from the get-go doesn’t mean you won’t be friends at all. Friendship is cultivated through spending time together, and your friendship will likely transform the more you get to know each other.

What does this look like? Staying optimistic about new friends (and not making snap judgments about friendship potential), continuing to show up at social gatherings, and checking in.

5. Reaching out. Taking radical responsibility in your friendship-making also means that you take it upon yourself to reach out. When you meet someone initially, make sure you follow up and find more time to connect. It’s easy to get bitter and feel as if others should be reaching out to you, but that kind of strategy might just leave you bitter. Over time, friendships also tend to become more reciprocal, so just because you have to put in the work to make a friend now doesn’t mean you always will. Reciprocity will come, but in the early stages of the relationship, be prepared to reach out.

What does this look like? Inviting someone to hang out, checking in to see how someone is doing, and commenting on someone’s posts on social media.

It’s hard work to make friends as an adult, the kind of work that many of us are not prepared for since it used to be effortless. Initiating and facing potential rejection is vulnerable, but initiating is also necessary for connection. Embracing these five skills for making friends as an adult is ultimately embracing the idea that we have the power to create the social world we want for ourselves, and we are prepared to be intentional about doing so.

Note: This article is also posted on my website where you can take a quiz to assess your friendship skills.