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How to Make Friends as an Adult

Recreating childhood infrastructures.

Key points

  • It can become more challenging to make friends as an adult.
  • It's possible to make deep and meaningful friendships at any age.
  • Recreating childhood experiences and situations can help us make new connections.
Source: monkeybusinessimages/Shutterstock
Source: monkeybusinessimages/Shutterstock

The innocence and ease of childhood are something many of us reminisce on. Of course, not all childhood experiences are the same, but often social circles are abundant and available. Children are around many other children during their school days, and even more so through extracurriculars, sports, or other activities. Making friends in childhood, although not always easy, is readily accessible.

As we age, the accessibility and "ease" of making friends can become difficult and daunting. I gain insight and understanding from the clients I serve. A "hot topic" often presented in sessions is the difficulty of making friends in adulthood. A strong social circle is an important piece of mental health, but what happens if we don’t have one or struggle to find one?

Unfortunately, this is a reality for many because the truth is that it does become more challenging to make friends as an adult. We’re busy or tired from work; maybe we move to a new area and simply don't know others, or maybe it’s social anxiety. But herein lies the common question, "How do I make friends as an adult?”

Accessibility and Connection

The infrastructure of childhood is based on being around and exposed to many other children. One cannot make friends if one is not exposed to others that can become friends. As adults, we are less exposed to others. Post-COVID, many of us have adapted to remote working situations, which is further isolating. Even those who go into the workplace may be socially limited.

Children must focus on their classes in school, but even between classes, there is free time (e.g., lunch, recess, and breaks). As adults, many of us utilize our breaks to continue working to stay ahead of deadlines. By doing so, we miss out on potentially valuable connections and reinforce social disconnection as a norm.

Further, we live in the digital age. When we do take breaks, many of us are focused on our phones, social media, or listening to music. As such, creating a foundation where we are exposed to others and allow ourselves to be present in conversation is mandatory for social connection and friendships.

Committing to Shared Interests

It’s not rocket science that shared interests, hobbies, or activities connect others. In childhood, we are exposed to this through different extracurriculars or hobbies we choose to engage in. What also makes childhood slightly different is “mom and dad will make me go to karate even if I don’t want to.”

In adulthood, the accountability is on yourself, making it much easier to curl up on the couch and watch a movie instead of going to the weekly pottery class. Once we negotiate priorities by skipping, this subconsciously sends the message that the pottery class (e.g., socialization) isn’t that important. Further, we all know how difficult it is to get back on track after falling off. It’s important to connect with others through a mutually shared interest and invest and commit to showing up and participating in the interest.

Mere Exposure Effect

In psychology, there is something called the mere exposure effect. This is a psychological phenomenon where we find a preference for things or people that are familiar or known to us. Things that are familiar are perceived as less threatening, and we become more open to them by default. This happens constantly and usually subconsciously. For example, this may be taking a preferred route home from work, going to a store a few more miles down the road, or ordering the same meal at a restaurant. It’s comforting because it’s known and predictable. We can use this phenomenon to build friendships as well.

I once had a client tell me about one of her best friends she met at a coffee shop. It was an unintentional friendship built on the mere exposure effect. Several times a week, my client would stop at this coffee shop where the same barista was working. After a few weeks, their faces became recognizable to one another. They started to engage in small talk while the barista made her coffee and found they had many shared interests. They eventually decided to meet outside the coffee shop and are currently self-proclaimed best friends. We may not all find our new best friend in a coffee shop, but we can put ourselves in situations where we are exposed to familiar faces.

Ask Engaging Questions

In general, people like talking about themselves. They like to share their experiences, beliefs, and opinions. As humans, it’s also our natural tendency to be drawn to others that show an interest in us. We want to be seen; we want to be heard. This can be done by asking more questions, but the types of questions also matter. All too often, a conversation starts with someone commenting or asking a question. Perhaps there is some back and forth, but the conversation quickly fizzles, and there is an awkward silence. Most of the time, this is due to a lack of engaging questions. Consider the following dialogue:

“I like your scarf! Where did you get it?”

“Thank you! It’s actually from Italy.”

“Oh wow, that’s really cool.”

And the conversation fades.

Now consider the same conversation with engaging questions:

“I like your scarf! Where did you get it?”

“Thank you! It’s actually from Italy.”

“Italy, wow! How is it? I’ve always wanted to travel there.”

In this example, the comment was engaged, meaning it set the tone for an open-ended dialogue about Italy, travel, etc.

Let Social Media Help

For those who did not grow up with social media, turning to it to gain friendships may feel unnatural. However, social media is here to stay and can be an excellent tool for developing social circles. Many social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook allow for group creation. Social media groups are a great way to bring together like-minded or interest-minded individuals. Further, don’t be afraid to use the apps. Certain applications like Meetup are specifically made to unite people around a common interest.

Developing friendships in adulthood requires effort, but if we seek to formulate a foundation similar to childhood, we can mimic environments in which friendships are made. Further, remember that friendships can be made at any age. Know your purpose, place yourself in probable environments, put in the effort, and be open-minded.

More from Claudia Skowron MS, LCPC, CADC
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