Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Make and Maintain Friends as an Adult

In this time of disconnection, it's important to invest in relationships.

Key points

  • Remote work has made the process of friend-building even more challenging and more important than ever before.
  • Social relationships support us personally and professionally, with real health impacts.
  • To create effective relationships, you have to put in the time to make them work.
Source: matheus-bertelli/pexels

In a little more than two months, approximately three million graduates will walk across stages across this country to accept their diplomas and venture out into the world. This moment of transition represents years of hard work and may be accompanied by feelings of excitement, anticipation, and perhaps more than a little nervousness. You might be wondering: Will I be successful in my chosen profession? Will I like the new city or town where I’ve chosen to live? Will I make a difference? As anyone with a few years of experience knows, so many of the answers to these questions reside with you. But right now, it can feel like a big, gaping unknown.

What you may not anticipate is that one of your biggest challenges will be learning how to make friends. The educational system in this country is built around residential communities and social organizations and exists on a campus with several thousand people who are in one’s peer group. Unfortunately, the rest of life isn't like that. With the move to fully remote and hybrid work experiences, the process of making friends has become even more challenging, especially in early professional roles. And it’s become more important than ever.

Why Friendship Matters

It’s easy to say that everyone wants friends. But why? What is it about these relationships that's so important? At a very basic level, close friendships make us happier. Social relationships also make us healthier; more to the point, a lack of social relationships can have detrimental health effects, including but not limited to increased rates of hypertension, diabetes, and depression. We want friends because we want connection, and connection improves our overall well-being.

Source: Duy Pham/Unsplash
Source: Duy Pham/Unsplash

From a work standpoint, Gallup has found that “having a best friend at work” is key to employee engagement. Not only does that mean more productive and reliable employees for the organization; for the individual, it means finding greater meaning and purpose and having more fun at work. Notably, Gallup has found the impact of having a best friend at work has increased over the pandemic, likely due to the overall disconnection that occurs in fully remote and hybrid workplaces.

Tips for Making Friends

In this age of social media, follower counts, and LinkedIn networks, it’s important to recognize that the above benefits do not accrue due to having the most friends. It’s having a few deep relationships that matters. Which should be liberating. Gallup doesn’t say you should have a hundred friends at work; they recommend “a” friend. So let’s look at how to find those people, no matter your stage.

1. Draw Upon the People You Have.

One of the great parts of being an adult is recognizing that you don’t have to keep all the people in your life just because they’ve been there before. And some of these people can be incredibly useful resources as you start to expand your friend group. Not only can a roommate help cut down on costs in these first years, but they are also a great way to build your community, especially if you work in different organizations.

If you move to a place with a strong alumni community, sign up for those events when they’re available. Spend time building relationships with your new colleagues, even if it feels like you have nothing in common with them. You never know; you may end up great friends with someone in a different life stage than you. And remember: None of these people have to be your friends for life. You need to cast a wide net to find the small group of people who will eventually fall into that category.

2. Figure Out What Matters to You.

As mentioned above, one perk of adulthood is choosing who gets to be there with you. And one responsibility of adulthood is figuring out what matters to you and then building an intentional life that aligns with those things. Call it core values, call it interests—whatever it is for you, take some time to identify what matters to you, and then put yourself in those places with those people.

If you find meaning in volunteering, seek out an organization you can serve. If your faith is important to you, join a church. If you like rock climbing or hiking, find a group that does that. And, if possible, ask someone to join you who holds similar interests. Chances are, they’re looking for ways to find their people, too, and will be grateful for the outreach.

3. Push Yourself Outside of Your Comfort Zone.

When I first moved to the town I’m in now, I was in my mid-thirties and a giant introvert who was more than happy to sit on my couch alone in my downtime. But I knew that wasn’t going to help me to build the community that I needed. I made a deal with myself: For one year, I had to say yes. Say yes to coffee invitations, say yes to invites to join groups and organizations, and say yes to any opportunity that put me into a room (literally or figuratively) with other people. And at the end of that year, I was allowed to let them all go. At the end of that year, I kept about three things: I had met a ton of great people, and I had built some truly meaningful friendships.

In your first year in a new place, push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Be safe! But remember that no one is going to stop by that couch in your apartment to make friends with you.

4. Put in the Work.

Finally, remember that all relationships are work. We don’t really like to think of them this way, especially when it comes to friends. But no effective relationship is one-sided. You have to reach out, show up, and demonstrate an interest in other people.

Creating friendships is not just about meeting people. There is a significant amount of maintenance work that must be done, as well. And this is why you will have to make some cuts along the way. Because as you soon will learn, another big challenge you are about to face is that there simply is not a lot of free time in your day. Not everyone can, or should, be part of your experience. Like anything else in life, you will get out of your relationships what you put into them. So invest wisely and intentionally, and you will reap the rewards.

More from Allison E McWilliams Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today