When we were kids, we imagined that we’d have it all when we’re older — a beautiful house, a fulfilling career, a loving partner who can make us laugh.
And of course, what’s never missing in this grand picture are our crazy friends. We envisioned that we’d hang out on weekends and do fun things together until our dying day.
Ahhh, youth! When everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Fast forward to just a few years later, and here we are — all grown up with an okay life and an okay job but ABSO-FREAKIN-LUTELY FRIENDLESS!
What happened? When did we become uncool?
It seems only yesterday that we were inseparable from our besties but now we barely see our college friends, much less our childhood BFFs. Everyone is either too busy, too far away, or too annoying (hey, let’s get real). They’re now basically just strangers whose birthdays we still remember.
Friendships just withered one by one without us noticing it.
I say “we” not just to be empathetic but because it’s something I’ve experienced myself.
I used to always have a tight group of friends. We hang out daily and share everything like we’re those kids from FRIENDS and Sex and the City…probably like you and your friends and everyone else. A life without them just seemed impossible.
But now, I only have less than five friends and we’re lucky if we meet twice a year. I spend most of my time watching sitcoms and doing grown-up things like the grown-ups I used to find boring when I was a kid.
But later I realized that although adulthood sucks, it’s kinda awesome too. It’s awesome because almost everyone is experiencing these adult things and adult problems.
Here’s some data to make you feel less alone. These are findings according to a study on friendship conducted on 2,000 Americans.
- The average American hasn’t made a new friend in five years
- Friendships peak at age 23. This is for 64% of the respondents. For the thirty-six percent, it peaks even before age 21.
- The average American has a total of 16 friends.
Three friends for life, five people they really like and would hang out with one-on-one, and eight people they like but don’t spend time with one-on-one or seek out.
Count yourself lucky if you still keep in touch with some of your close friends even if you mostly just send memes and maintain a friendship online.
We sometimes obsess over our problems that we fail to see that others have it the same way and even worse. You’d probably heard this a lot of times but it’s true that protecting yourself from negative energy and having a good perspective on things really makes a huge difference in your happiness.
But hey, I also believe in the power of discontent as long as it’s not eating you up. Only very few people look at their source of unhappiness in the eye and would actually acknowledge it and fewer people do something about it.
If you’re truly not happy with your lack of friendship, go ahead say it. Acknowledge what you hate about your life because it’s the first step for any kind of change to happen.
Once you’re done, roll your sleeves and flex your muscles because it’s time we do something about it.
Here’s our 5-step approach to making new friends as an adult
Step 1: Do the inner work
I’m not a huge fan of “The Secret” (in fact, I agree that The Secret is complete BS) but one thing that I find true is that mindset matters a whole lot.
One single thought can actually affect our lives because it affects how we approach things. It’s like the butterfly effect wherein one small change can end in really big results. And yes, it starts with our mindset.
A good mindset and a good attitude will lead to a good approach which increases the chances of achieving the goal and makes the journey fun. Here are some “inner work” you should do before you reach out to a single soul:
First, don’t be too hard on yourself
Do not blame yourself for being an introvert (that’s who you are), for your crippling anxiety (you’re trying your best but it takes time), for being too lazy to meet friends (you have too many responsibilities!).
Do not blame yourself for the life you have now and for having limitations. Take it easy!
You can restart any friendship at any given time as long as you don’t have any drama involved. You can also start making friends now and still have quality relationships. And you know what else? You can do them at the pace you want.
Hey, if you make one good friend a year, that’s a big thing!
Look, friends come and go so don’t beat yourself up for lost friendships. Never make your life harder with self-pity and negative self-talk. Be your own best friend before you even reach out to others.
Be more open
Maybe you have the feeling that the only genuine friends are those from high school and college and that anything after that is just acquaintances. Not true!
You may be too influenced by Hollywood’s versions of best friends that you disregard those who you meet later in life.
We all gotta start somewhere and if it isn’t from childhood, it doesn’t mean it’s for life (well duh, you lost many of them, didn’t you) but if you start later in life, it’s still good. It can even be better!
I’m sure you know that as we get older, we get pickier about friendship. We simply have no time for fluff and things that feel forced.
Yes, be picky with the quality but be more open with the kind of people you let in your life. You can do this by:
- Hanging out with someone you think is “not your kind of people”
- Attending a party which you think is lame
- Befriending people younger than you or older than you
I understand that we always want to be “with our people” but I have friendships with people from different walks of life and they always offer something unique. I enjoy many of them despite the different backgrounds. This is adult friendships and it’s actually kinda fun!
Next time you say no to another invite, think of the things that you can still enjoy with them and give it a shot.
Deal with your mental health issues
Depressed? You have to do something about depression first before you can actually make quality friendships?
Anxious? Get inspired by these people who have severe anxiety and take steps to manage it.
Manage your mental health with therapy and it will do wonders in your relationships. It is a must!
Don’t try to make friends turn them into instant BFFs. We all know real friendship takes a lot of time. Don’t expect fast results…in fact, don’t expect results at all!
Friendship is not a project with a goal, it’s just a way of enjoying life more. The more you treat it logically, the less beautiful the result will be…and the experience!
Instead, treat friendships as sort of like a gift — a gift you give others and yourself.
Nurture it now and then but don’t expect anything from it. That’s what adult friendships are like and that’s exactly how it should be. We all have our lives to deal with and friendships should just add color to your life, not become the main thing.
It doesn’t mean that you should put a limit to what you can give. By all means, go ahead and be a good friend — a great friend even as long as you’re not yet creepy. However, don’t expect them to do the same.
Alright, we know it’s tough not to expect anything in return (don’t put more effort if you think it’s a one-sided friendship) but when it comes to mindset…it’s better to expect less.
Start friendships but don’t expect them to be your BFFs. Just be curious with people and don’t turn them into goals just because you put in the effort to be with them. Friendships are not like that.
Manage your social anxiety
If you’re nervous to be around people, you’ll lose a lot of opportunities to start friendships.
Imagine the friendships you could have had if you are not as shy as a potato. Imagine if you just stay a little longer at parties.
If you’re always dying to leave because you’re not comfy with people, it is very hard to make new friends.
Deal with your anxieties because they won’t go away on their own. You need to talk to a therapist so they can guide you and manage your anxiety with the most effective technique that matches you.
Read books on how to talk to people
There are so many good books on how to be more friendly.
I was so shy since I was a kid so months before I entered University, I read up on a book on how to talk better. I believe it was a classic Reader’s Digest book titled Write Better, Speak Better. Damn, I’m old!
What’s great about reading and watching videos on something you want to do is not just the skills you will learn but it also makes you want to do your best because you’ve invested time on actually learning things.
You cannot back out and be chill at this point. You’re on a mission.
Treat it as a challenge
I know this is something personal but try not to take it personally. You can do this by treating it as a game.
Just try to push yourself to be friendly and less inhibited. If they won’t reciprocate, so what? It’s just something you do for yourself.
Your world will not end because it’s just a challenge you put yourself into, not a measurement of your worth.
Step 2: Define what you want
Take a hard look at your life and tell yourself that you only want to add things that will enrich it…that you have no time for noise and drama.
What type of people do you want to add to your life?
Do you want to maintain a FEW friendships (aka strong ties) but you’re also craving to meet a lot of people you won’t consider BFFs (aka weak ties) because you are genuinely interested in people?
Do you want to maintain just a few strong friendships because you prefer quantity over quality when it comes to interpersonal relationships? If that’s the case, why are you unhappy? Do you want to meet them more often?
Do you consider your hubby to be your one best friend but you want that you have more friends as a couple?
Be clear of what you want instead of just collecting potential close friends.
What kind of friendships do you really want? Be honest. There is no right or wrong answer. Then figure out the mindset and the logistics.
Needs for friendship vary from person to person and it also varies in every stage of our life.
Here are some questions that can make it clearer to you:
- How many close friends do you think are ideal? Put a number. The ideal is 3 BFFs, 8-10 close friends, and 10 or more people you do things with like hobbies and organizations. Is this also what you want?
- What type of people do you want in your life? List down characteristics or even list down specific people.
- What type of people do you NOT want to be in your life? I know I said don’t be picky but don’t waste time on people you’re 100% sure you don’t want in your life just because you have no one to hang out with. It will make you miserable.
Step 3: Get the skills
Sure, friendship has to be just chill and there’s nothing you can and can’t do regarding compatibility. However, friendship requires certain skills the same way relationships require a certain skill set to make it successful and easy.
There are many skills needed but we can narrow them down to two because they’re all you need for now.
Empathy & Respect
Empathy is simply being able to step into the shoes of the other person. You know a person has no empathy if they keep talking about their new home if you just told them that your house burned down.
This is an extreme case and probably never happens in real life but you know those people. Those people who you don’t want to hang out with because they only focus on themselves.
You can show empathy by:
- Being genuinely curious about the other person
- Paying attention to their triggers and trying not to activate them
- Making the conversation more or less even
- Not asking certain questions or let go of a topic if you feel they’re uncomfortable with it
- Not making them feel they’re crap
There are people who are so awesome yet have very bad communication skills. Don’t be one of them. Good communication is the foundation for enduring true friendship and it’s also a basic requirement for any type of relationship.
Good communication skills mean:
- You say what you mean and mean what you say
- Use of body language
- You have something to talk about other than the weather
- You know when to switch topics
- You know when to shut up and ask more
- You know how to tell a joke
- You know how to listen
- You know how to exit gracefully
- The list is long but it will take you a lifetime to be good at all of them. Just focus on these first and you’re good to go.
Step 4: Go make friends!
I know it sounds overwhelming to “just make friends” but it doesn’t have to be.
You have all the time in the world to do this so you can take just one small step. Here are some ways you can make friends easily:
Reach out to people you already know
Do it online if you’re still a little shy or lazy. Give a little heart to their IG post, react to their stories, send a message.
There are so many ways to connect online to the people we’ve actually met in real life. This can serve as a good practice if you have social anxiety because there’s little risk in online chats.
Go ahead, have the time of your life commenting and messaging people. They won’t think you’re weird. Promise!
Meet people through Reddit and apps
Again, something you can do without much risk and effort. The important thing to remember is that you have to choose the people or groups of people close to you.
If you’re in the UK and you chat up and form deep connections with people who are from Japan, don’t expect that your craving for friendship will end because nothing beats meeting people face to face.
Go join online groups with people living nearby.
Talk to your neighbors & the folks you meet constantly
The term WEAK TIES was coined in 1973 by the Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter. Weak ties are the people you see infrequently and near-strangers with whom you share some familiarity.
Having neighbors to chit-chat with would make you feel less lonely plus it’s cool to know you have people who can lend you sugar and babysit your cat when you’re away. Talking to your favorite cashier and barista would also add warmth to your day.
These little interactions are as important as the ones we keep with our BFFs.
Say “YES” to invites
Unless it’s MLM or a group you despise, unless you have a deadline the next day, go ahead and just say yes to the game night, the party, the road trip, the food crawl…whatever you still find exciting.
We lose motivation to try things because we’re tired, we’re too busy, we’re interested but not super interested.
Look, you gotta get out and explore. Just get your ass off that couch, take a shower, and go. You can’t keep complaining and feeling blue but turn down the opportunities that can solve your problem.
Making friends take work. Do the work.
Get nerdy with your hobbies
If you’re into miniatures, I’m sure you have a miniature group somewhere.
If you play guitar, go audition for a band (a small town one because it’s more fun). If you’re into saving the world, go ahead and volunteer.
Most friendships are formed through work and hobbies. When there’s shared interest, it’s just much easier.
Step 5: Maintain connections
Once you established a friendship of some sort with someone, you gotta nurture it.
Think of each friendship as plants. You take home a small plant with you so you gotta water it for it to grow. Some plants require to be watered daily, some only require once a week or even once a month.
Don’t just collect newfound friends and get lazy after!
Some of the most charming people with good communication skills lose friends because they don’t know how to maintain friendships. You gotta do friendship maintenance if you want friends.
Here are some things you can do to nurture your newly established friendships:
- Reach out to them at least once a month
- Respond to messages!
- Send thoughtful gifts once in a while
- Schedule a face-to-face date because it’s the only way to deepen connections
- Online maintenance (Liking some posts, sharing some articles, etc)
After doing all of these for a year, I guarantee you that it’s IMPOSSIBLE for you not to make good quality friendships. Just totally impossible.
We’re all a little bit lonely and we are craving for the kind of intimate friendships we had when we were kids. Unfortunately, that kind of friendship is not really sustainable now that we’re older.
We have goals, responsibilities, bills to pay, family members to take care of. Some of us probably have big problems to deal with like a disability or divorce.
People are gaining and losing friends regularly because we’re always changing and growing.
That is why next time someone chats up with you on the train or smiles at you while you get your laundry, don’t shut them off. It’s possible you both want the same thing: a small interaction that could lead to friendship…which if maintained, could lead to a long-lasting one.
Look around you. Think of how you can form small connections and give it a shot. A year from now, you’ll never say “I don’t have friends to hang out with.” It’s a guarantee!