How to Make Friends as an Adult
Reading Time: 7 minutes
I noticed something interesting today. Over the last decade, more and more people have been searching for “how to make friends as an adult” on Google.
I don’t know why this is happening, and I’m not here to play the blame game. Adults want more friends and need real answers, not another dissertation about the root causes of adult loneliness.
Below, I share a few ideas and techniques that have helped me build a socially vibrant life as an adult. Not everything that has helped me will help you, but I suspect that some of it will.
Okay, you get it. Let’s get to the good stuff so you can stop listening to a stranger on the internet and find more friends to share life with.
Don’t be a hermit
We played a game called “hermit” in my fraternity. If you were asked (forced) to play, you had to grab six beers, sit in a corner of the room, and stare at the wall in silence until you finished your beers. Hermit is a great game for getting drunk, but no one makes friends playing the game.
Making friends in adulthood follows a similar dynamic. Friendship is built on shared experience, and you can’t have that shared experience if you play the adult version of hermit, which is to stay at home, DoorDash your ice cream, and watch Friends for the fourth time.
So if you’re serious about making more friends, pick up a sharpie and write “I WILL NOT BE A HERMIT” on your bathroom mirror. Then, go out into the world in whatever ways you can manage.
Work from the same cafe for a week and practice chatting with the baristas. Say hello to people at the dog park. Say yes to any invitations you get. Do anything but sit in your house expecting that people will knock on your door and cure your loneliness. No one is coming to save you.
Now that you’re motivated to leave the house, let’s talk about how to be with people.
Don’t be dull
You’re a weirdo. I’m a weirdo. We’re all weirdos. Not weirdos in a creepy way, but people with beating hearts and blushing faces and eccentric beliefs and interests.
Don’t hide your quirks from people. Tell a stranger that you think Bukowski is a beast of a man, but that his poetry makes your blood pump. Let a colleague know that you want to open a food truck that serves pupusas and peanut butter pie. Don’t settle for dull, surface-level talk.
Sharing what makes you tick helps you in three ways. The first is that you can exist in the world as YOU, not some shell of a person who walks through life afraid to be who they are. The second is that you find kindred spirits. And third, sharing your interests makes you more interesting, and being interesting is worth at least 25 likeability points.
But Calvin, what if people think I’m weird? You’re going to have to get over that. Some people will think you’re weird, but who cares? We’re all heading for the grave one day. It’s better to be a weirdo with friends than dull and lonely in your brief moment on this spinning rock.
Park your ego at home
People don’t care that you went to Princeton, traveled the world, and now make a living as a fledgling writer. Let your grandma tell that tale. No one worth knowing cares about what you’ve done or what you own; they care about who you are.
Who you are is revealed by how you behave. Are you present, curious, positive, honest, kind, reliable, and overall a good lad who will show up in both the good times and the bad? If so, you’ll make more real friends than the stuffy credentialites who sip espresso martinis and ask, “So…what do you do?”
Pretend that every person you meet is God herself. You can’t impress God. She already knows all of your good deeds and dirty secrets. The best you can do is to learn from her.
When you believe that everyone is a god who can teach you something, you will stop being a judgmental asshat and start finding points of connection with more people.
Store clerks, cab drivers, used-book store dwellers, naive youths, temporary lovers, and snoopy neighbors will suddenly become wells of wisdom and friendship.
Most of these people will not become friends, but some of them will.
Don’t fret about bad impressions
It feels crummy when you say the wrong thing at a party or are irritable and “off your game” when meeting new people. I’ve had many restless nights in bed replaying the tape in my head about how I could have done something differently in a social encounter.
However, time has revealed that almost all of my fretting about social stumbles has been a big waste of time and energy.
No one becomes your friend because you present yourself perfectly. The people who you want to stick around enjoy your company even when you’re not as charming or affable or funny or graceful as you want to be. They like you despite (and sometimes because) of your quirks.
So if you flub something up, dwell on it for a bit, but let it go as fast as you can and go on living.
Find the forums that work for you
There are endless ways to meet people, but depending on your interests and personality, you will find it easier to form friendships in some contexts than others.
Some people love meeting friends of friends; other people dig meeting strangers. Some people enjoy one-off events; others enjoy regular meetups over shared hobbies. Some people love going out for drinks; others thrive at intimate dinner parties and poetry readings.
Don’t worry about whether you’re an extrovert, introvert, or whateververt. There is no “right” or “best” way to meet new people or nurture relationships. All that matters is that you find what feels good to you.
If you don’t know what you like, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, try many activities over the next six months, and pay attention. Stop doing the stuff you don’t like, and double down on the forums that you enjoy.
Be responsive and flexible
The early stages of friendship are fragile. You and the other person are feeling each other out. If there is an initial flame, nurture it with gasoline. Respond to texts, send memes, share invites, and change your schedule to make time for the person.
Don’t be a “sorry for the delay, but I’m a bad texter and have been busy” type of person. Your lack of responsiveness will suck the air out of the flame of friendship and leave dog poo on its doorstep. And you will be left standing in the stinky ashes wondering why you still don’t have friends.
Avoid lukewarm connections
Friendship is a decision between you and another person to make the time and space to get to know the weirdest parts about each other. For this process to work, you both need to be into it.
Sadly, that’s not always the case. Sometimes you think someone is awesome, but they don’t think the same about you. Other times, someone likes you, but you’re kinda “meh” on them. And sometimes, you’re both only hanging around because it’s convenient.
Don’t waste time on any of these variations of lukewarm connections. These sluggish relationships will suck the limited time and energy you have, preventing you from building the rewarding relationships that are available if you find the courage and patience to build them.
And if someone you like doesn’t like you, don’t take it personally. You may not be their cup of tea, or they may already have a vibrant social life. The reason does not matter. What matters is that you don’t waste time with people who don’t want to have you in their lives.
Even when it’s fast, it’s slow
In college, you can make friends quickly. Making friends as an adult is different. People are busy, spread out, and often less open to letting new people into their lives.
They’re also in different stages of their lives. Some people are in grind at work mode, others are in young parent mode, and others are drifting souls who aren’t sure if they’ll be in the same town a month from now.
The complex social landscape of adulthood means that adult friendships take more time to build. It often takes at least a year to build enough trust and shared experience with a new person to call them a real friend.
So don’t get too worried if you’ve been trying for a few months and don’t have new besties. That’s normal!
Don’t forget: people are lonely as hell!
Do you know what this picture is? It’s the sad and lonely inner world that plagues most people in our hyper-connected and fast-moving era.
Modern life gives us free porn and burgers in bed, but it is also overwhelming and leads many of us into an isolating spiral of worry, comparison, and doubt. And if you stay in that spiral for too long, you may begin to believe that you’re the only lonely person out there.
The good news is that you’re not the only one. Not even close. Most people are spiraling and want more friends to share this crazy life with.
So as a final tip, do yourself a favor: Stop feeling bad about yourself and the current state of your social life. There is a vast world of fellow lonely souls who want to connect with people like you. If you want proof, put on some pants and interact with the real world.
Talk to 10 strangers. Host a dinner party. Organize a morning run. Take a drawing course. Just get out there. You’ll be surprised by the warm reception you’ll receive. And little by little, your social life will become more vibrant. I promise.
Alright, I’m done babbling for now. Put your phone down and get after it.