Six Mistakes to Avoid When Making Friends
Are you making the worst mistake of all?
Posted December 18, 2017
I have a confession, and as a friendship researcher, it’s one that I find particularly difficult to accept: There is, unfortunately, no rulebook for making friends as an adult.
Of course, there are strategies and tips that can help. But there’s no changing the fact that making friends can be difficult, confusing, and deeply personal. What works for one person or in one situation won’t always be the same for another. And it’s this kind of specificity that makes it a challenge to offer hard rules or advice about the things we should do to move casual acquaintances to close friends.
With that said, sometimes the most helpful way to understand how we can make new friends is to recognize the behaviors we should try our best to avoid. None of these are deal-breakers; more often than not, there’s a way to come back from a slip-up, misunderstanding, or awkward conversation. But remembering these common mistakes can make it a lot easier to kick-start a new friendship with confidence.
1. Failing to moderate your interest or excitement.
Finding people you “click” with can be tough. That’s why it can be so exciting (and such a major relief) when you meet someone you’re genuinely interested in befriending. Showing your enthusiasm can work in your favor: It’s often a clue that you’re interested in getting to know each other. That said, it’s a careful balance. Being overly complimentary, asking too many personal questions, or jumping at the chance to point out all of the things you have in common might come from a place of sincerity, but these can also read as disingenuous or desperate.
Instead of feeling like you need to show all your cards at once, remember that friendship is a process. It’s appropriate (and often preferable) to start small and channel your interest into sharing fewer, better questions or talking points. It can also help to take a cue from the other person: The more open or effusive they are, the more confident you can be that sharing your own excitement or relief won’t drive them away.
2. Overlooking yourself.
Giving someone the space to talk about themselves is a good strategy, but showing up and owning your own place in the conversation is equally important. Sharing your favorite activities, experiences, and perspectives give you the chance to figure out if your personalities and interests are compatible. What's more, opening up about something personal, even if it's something small like your favorite Netflix series, communicates that you trust someone to react without judgment or criticism, which can be an important way to build trust and closeness.
Talking about yourself might be uncomfortable. It can feel self-centered (but if this thought has crossed your mind, you probably have little reason to worry). However, thinking that you should focus exclusively on the other person robs both of you of the chance to form a more meaningful connection.
3. Over-relying on technology and social media
Whether it’s using apps to meet new friends or catching up with a quick message when things get busy, technology plays an important role in helping us develop and sustain our friendships. But no amount of meme-tagging, text messaging, or e-mail threading is a match for real-life interactions. We just don’t communicate online the same way we do in person; the discussions tend to be more superficial and less conducive to building friendships.
What’s more, our mannerisms, sense of humor, and personality don’t always read well online. This can lead to missed opportunities or worse, miscommunications. Technology has its place, but when making friends, try to elevate the quality of your interactions—not just what you share but how you choose to share it. Picking up the phone or suggesting you get together might seem less convenient and even more anxiety-producing, but it makes a big difference.
4. Not being true to yourself
When making friends, it’s easy to fall victim to the “shoulds” we impose on ourselves: “I should have more friends,” “I really should go to that party,” “I should be more outgoing or extroverted.” The reality, though, is that imposing these kinds of rules or expectations can be wholly counterproductive. Instead of getting caught up in self-imposed rules, focus on the things that genuinely represent who you are and the kinds of people you’d like to meet. Choose the places or settings where you’ll feel most comfortable approaching someone new. Find activities or hobbies that reflect your real interests. When chatting with acquaintances, try to avoid feeling the pressure to be someone you’re not. Agreeing with someone’s point of view or sharing what you think they want to hear for the sake of getting along will likely do more harm than good in the long run; people will spot insincerity sooner than later. Sticking to the things you’re actually passionate about will help you attract people with whom you'll have the best chance of forming authentic friendships.
5. Investing in the wrong people.
The older we get, the more we realize how precious our time is. We only have so much to give and, somehow, we've already managed to divide it among the other important people in our life. That’s why investing in the wrong kinds of friendships—unreciprocated, draining, toxic, or riddled with envy—can be such a mistake. Not only can these relationships take a toll on our mental health and well-being, they rob us of the opportunity to form more supportive, mutually beneficial friendships with others. Invest your heart wisely and focus on quality over quantity.
6. Doing Nothing
Don’t fool yourself: Doing nothing is still a decision to do something. Choosing to avoid meeting new people; to avoid following up on an initial conversation; or to passively remain in a destructive friendship when you’re hoping to make new friends is likely the worst mistake of all. We tend to make excuses for ourselves when we feel challenged or uncomfortable: I'm too busy. Too tired. I'm not outgoing enough. Not attractive enough. But the social support we get from our friendships is too important to excuse or overlook.
The same way that dating takes a surprising amount of time, energy, and self-compassion, so too do friendships. Friendship doesn’t just happen automatically. Commit to yourself by showing a willingness to engage with new people and to use the information you have about your strengths and relationships to find the strategies and advice that make the most sense for you.