Wondering how to make friends? You’re not alone. Almost half of Americans say it’s hard to make new friends, and the average American adult hasn’t made a new friend in five years.1
Five years! Why is this so hard? It’s because friendships are formed through shared experiences, which is why a lot of our ride or die buddies come from childhood or college.
But as we age, we have fewer of those shared experiences. We settle into our routines of work and family and errands and isolation, and before you know it, you look up and realize you’re lonely.
We must take this seriously. Friendships are your emergency fund for life. And I’m not just talking about the “friends” you thumbs-up on Facebook. I’m talking about the life-giving, pee-your-pants-from-laughing-too-hard kind of friends. The people you call when your power goes out and you need a place to crash for the night. The people who know your good stuff and your bad stuff and still love you.
And make no mistake, it is hard to make friends. It’s awkward and messy, and it takes time. But if you want to live a full life, you must do it.
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I’m so proud of you for showing up and figuring this thing out. Here we go.
1. Decide to take risks.
All friendships start with risk. You’ve got to put yourself out there, try to connect, and see how people respond. It’s scary, but it’s worth it. You are worth it.
So, at the beginning of this endeavor, decide you’re okay with awkwardness and rejection. It’s not always going to click or work out, and friendships come and go. Don’t take any of that personally—just keep choosing to show up. Even if small talk, eye contact, friendliness and smiling aren’t first nature to you, you can learn the skills you need to learn to connect with people and make friends.
By the way, if you’re facing some serious social anxiety or need to work on some basic skills for connecting, I encourage you to find a therapist who can guide you through this process.
2. Be intentional.
We live in a fast-paced, individualistic and isolated world. Making friends is an act of will. It’s intentional. You have to be purposeful about choosing friends, spending time with them, following up, having weekly gatherings—whatever it takes to connect and stay connected. This means that you might need to let go of some habits and time wasters that are standing between you and friendship.
3. Focus on being a good friend.
If you want to have good friends, you must first be a good friend. Are you the kind of person people want to be friends with? I’m not talking about personality here. I’m not saying you need to be the funniest girl in the room or the life of the party dude.
I’m talking about character and service. Are you kind and respectful? Are you a good listener? Are you generous with your time? Do you show up for people? Focus on serving others—making them feel seen and known and valued—instead of thinking first about what you can get from them.
4. Go first.
If you feel frozen in this area of making friends, go first (this rule applies to any part of your life where you feel stuck). You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Taking initiative is a powerful choice that leads you to action. If you can’t find a group you’re looking for, start it. If you’re wishing your neighbors were more friendly, make it a point to say hi to them every chance you get. Take initiative and create the things you’re looking for.
5. Ask your friends for friends.
This one is for people who are in a new city and looking for community. Even though I’d never call your Facebook “friends” real friends, you can use the loose ties you have on social media—and your friends living in other parts of the country—to connect you with people in your new city. If you have a friend you respect and trust who wants you to meet someone they like, go for it. Your chances are good.
6. Open up your home.
Hospitality is a lost art in our culture that we desperately need to recover. It’s the foundation of human connection. Unfortunately, we’re fairly good at entertaining, but we’re not good at hosting. These are two very different attitudes. Entertaining is having swept floors, charcuterie boards and décor hand-selected by Joanna Gaines.
But you don’t need any of that to practice hospitality. Just start opening up your home and see what happens. Let the neighbor kids come over and play with your kids. Have a weekly “leftover night” where you invite people to bring whatever they have in their fridge and eat around your kitchen table. Having people in your home will deepen your relationships in a beautiful way.
7. Make the ask (and see what happens).
When my family and I first moved to Nashville, we knew very few people. After a few weeks of making connections, we had two different couples over to our house for dinner. After dinner, we sat down and asked them directly, “Will you be our friends?”
Yes, it was weird and awkward. But you know what? One of the guys we asked actually had tears in his eyes when he responded, “No one has ever asked me that before.” People crave connection—they’re sometimes just waiting for you to take the first step.
Be generous with your invitations. If there’s a coworker you’d like to get to know, ask them out to lunch or coffee. If you regularly show up at the dog park with other dog parents you think are cool, ask if they’d like to take your dogs on walks together. Sure, you don’t know what they will say. But remember, you’ve already decided to take risks. Just see what happens!
8. Find people who are interested in the same things you are.
Follow your interests and hobbies and quirks to find like-minded friends. If you love being outside, connect with a hiking group. If you like MMA, host a watch party on fight nights. Whatever your thing is—birdwatching or CrossFit or crime documentaries—find people who are doing those things in your community.
I’m a Christian guy, and my church community has always been an important place of connection for me and my family. If you’re not a person of faith, you might consider serving your community through a nonprofit that’s doing good work in your area.
Let’s pause for a moment of honest self-reflection: If your only “hobby” is streaming TV after work, then start first by creating some new habits in your own life.
9. Plan an adventure and invite others to join.
Remember: Friendships are formed over shared experiences. Nothing will bond you like a wild and whacky adventure, whether it’s a day trip to tour a neighboring city or a weekend camping extravaganza. Quality time comes from quantity time.
One time, my wife and I asked a couple at church if they’d be interested in doing a vacation together. It was super risky—you have to choose wisely if you’re asking someone to spend that much time with you. But you know what? It went great. That trip helped us connect on a deeper level than we ever had before.
10. Say yes to invitations.
The flip side to taking initiative is being open and available when people ask you to join something. I have a friend named Caitlin who decided to say yes to a trip to the lake when she had just moved to a city. Honestly, she didn’t want to go. It would have been easier to sit at home and eat Chinese takeout. But she was brave, and she went. And on that trip, she ended up meeting some lifelong friends, including the man who would become her husband.
I’m not saying that if you get invited to a lake, you’ll meet your future spouse. You might go, and it might be terrible. But if you have a disposition of yes, and you keep showing up, it will pay off in the end.
Be adventurous. Sign up for things. Go to parties when you’re invited. Don’t assume that it will be a disaster or that you won’t get along with those people. Just go.
11. Be patient with the process.
Making friends is going to be messy and good and maddening. It might take a while. You might put hours into getting ready for an event, attending said event, and walking away without making any meaningful connections. That’s okay. The right relationships will work out. The best relationships take a while to sprout and bloom and grow. Don’t rush. Just keep focusing on what you can control and be openhanded with the people you’re given.
Get More Tips on Making (and Keeping) Friends
I’ll keep banging this drum until the day I keel over and die: We need each other. We were created for connection. Try as we might, we cannot do life alone. I talk about relationships and the importance of human connection nonstop in my new book, Own Your Past, Change Your Future. It’s a not-so-complicated approach to relationships, mental health and wellness. Check it out here.
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