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Advice: How Do I Make New Friends?

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on making lasting new friendships.

Finding New Friends

I'm a 23-year-old single mom going to school, and I don't have any friends. It has been 10 years since I had a real best friend. I had addiction problems, and friendships were not important during that time. My friendlessness is extremely shameful to me and I'm terrified that any new friends will reject me when they discover it. I feel like I have to keep it all hidden and then end up closing myself off from potential friends. I feel trapped. Any tips on cultivating lasting friendships?

It's time to shift your focus to your strengths, not your shortcomings. To put addiction behind you, get your life together, and go to school while raising a child is a daunting challenge. Getting addicted is easy; getting beyond it is tough, and you've done it. I don't know anyone who wouldn't applaud you for that and want as a friend someone with such strength; you have a lot to teach others about grit and overcoming problems. It's time to discard the shame over your past by forgiving yourself for having stumbled. As you recognize, friends are important. School is one of the places where it's easiest to make them; and you are likely in classes with others who are in your exact situation. There's no need to hide your past or your friendlessness. That you didn't hold on to any associates from the past has undoubtedly helped you kick addiction and restart your life. Please be aware that most single mothers going to school experience a severe shortage of time for friendship, so the dilemma you find yourself in now is largely situational. Still, that shouldn't stop you from making yourself available for conversation and approaching others. Big friendships usually begin with small talk, making a comment—about an assignment, a test, the instructor, the weather—that reflects common ground. Compliments are good openers: "I like the way you answered that question." Be sure to ask others questions about themselves, their interests, their experiences—and make sure the questions are phrased so that they can't be answered with a simple yes or no: "What did you do last weekend?"

Send your questions to askhara@ psychologytoday.com.