The first step is to embrace the awkwardness.
When you’re younger, the opportunity to make new friends is sort of built into your life. Just the simple act of waking up and going to school increased your chance of striking up friendly banter with a classmate. And if you did struggle to make friends as a child, you were probably told that it gets easier as you get older. And it does! When you’re a more mature and fully-developed human, finding people with like-minded interests and priorities who you respect can be easier. But, at the same time, as we grow up, such effortless opportunities to make new and meaningful connections disappear. Between the daily demands of our careers and families, cultivating new friendships can understandably slip to the bottom of the to-do list.
“Making friends as adults is not something that we’ve learned to prioritize in our culture,” says Jess Johnson, who co-wrote a modern guidebook on how to make friends called I’ll Be There (But I’ll Be Wearing Sweatpants) with her friend Amy Weatherly. “We look at it as a luxury instead of a necessity. But friendship isn’t an extra — it’s really important for our mental and physical health and our overall well-being. We have to start investing in it intentionally again.”
Staying put during the pandemic felt isolating, which forced us to take stock of the relationships we’d been watering…and which we’d been neglecting. “So many of us have a cavity wound where we want friendships, but we’ve been filling it up with being busy with work, our schedules, with anything,” says Weatherly. “When the pandemic hit, that cavity got totally exposed. We couldn’t ignore it anymore.” Suddenly, she says, “we wanted to know our neighbors and the people around us.”
So where do you go to find friends with common interests as an adult? How can you move beyond the mundane weather talk with your neighbor? What does it take to expand your inner circle? We asked Johnston and Weatherly to share their tips on how to make friends later in life.
How to make friends as an adult
Admit to yourself that it might be awkward at first
It can feel uncomfortable walking up to a stranger and saying, “Hey, wanna be friends?” But you have to pull yourself out of your comfort zone if you want to make new acquaintances. “It’s weird to introduce yourself, strike up a conversation with a stranger, or walk into brand new territory alone,” says Weatherly. “But go, initiate the conversation, send out the invitation, because you might be one conversation, phone call, text, or yoga class away from meeting the friend you’ve been looking for.” The important thing is to find solace in the process. “Feeling weird or uncomfortable is not the worst thing we can experience,” says Weatherly. “Loneliness feels worse. Connection is worth the chance.”
Frequent the same spots
Instead of trying dozens of coffee shops all over town for your morning latte or taking a class from every spin instructor at your local studio, make an effort to stick to the same spots or schedule. “Repetition matters,” says Weatherly. “You will eventually strike up a conversation with someone once you see each other over and over.” Adding new weekly rituals — whether that’s signing up for a continuing education class, joining a new book club, or chatting up your childrens’ friend’s parents at drop-off — is a great way to increase your chances of running into the same people. Plus, it’s an easy icebreaker if you already have a common interest to talk about.
When it doubt, flatter and ask good questions
If conversation starters don’t come naturally to you, notice something you admire about the other person. Then tell them what it is. Maybe you love their Chelsea boots or their manicure. “Compliments work,” says Johnston. That’s actually how these two writers initially became friends. Weatherly was a huge fan of Johnston’s articles, so she reached out online and told her how much she loved her work. That simple outreach led to more and more conversations, and the two ended up writing their new book on friendship together. The duo also launched a Facebook community called Sister, I am With You, which has over a million followers filled with women of all ages who are just as passionate about making new friends as Johnston and Weatherly are.
“Compliments are huge, but you also have to get good at asking questions,” says Johnston. “Don’t worry about being a fascinating person. Learn to be curious and fascinated by the other person.” Start simply and respectfully (no prying questions or comments regarding personal topics or cultural differences you might not be fully informed on): Ask what their interests are, where they’ve traveled, or what they’re passionate about. “Be curious,” says Johnston.
Don’t forget to get out of your own head
“Something a lot of women struggle with is insecurity,” says Weatherly. “If we don’t think we still have some wounds from childhood and high school friendships, we’re wrong. We’re still carrying those around.” The best way to heal from that is recognizing there are others out there who might relate, or who also feel insecure.
“Realize that whatever you’re feeling or struggling with, they’re probably feeling the same thing,” says Johnston. “If they’re feeling insecure and nervous, how can you put them at ease instead of trying to figure out how to calm yourself down or to act normal?” Remember to always put emphasis on the person. “Who are they? What are their strengths? What is some gold in them that I can dig out?” says Weatherly. “We spend so much of our lives focused on ourselves. But you have to care about the other person to truly build a meaningful relationship with them.”