It seems simple enough, but making friends as an adult can be a very daunting task (long post warning!). In elementary, middle, and high school, you are surrounded by classmates 5 days a week for 8 hours. You spend a lot of time with your homeroom. You may have had ice breakers in the different classes to learn about your classmates. There were so many opportunities to get to know one another, that it was just natural that friendships would form. Throw in parent friendships, which may aid in kid friendships, and extra-curricular activities, and you have the basis for your ability to make friends. If you moved around a lot as a kid you probably either have awesome skills at making new friends, or are quite fine being on your own.
College was similar, but lots more people, and there’s no guarantee that you will bump into the same people all the time. If someone was not the same major as you, you might not have reason to interact. So then you might make friends that are more interest-based or shared your degree program. Again, though, there were several instances to bump into people and potentially form new relationships.
Then you hit the “real world” and you have coworkers. Coworkers are not your friends. Yes, you may form friends from your coworkers, but don’t assume that everyone you work with cares about what you did for the weekend. And if you have known someone for 3 years and never been to their house, had lunch with them offsite, or know their spouses/children’s names, then you are just work friends/colleagues. It’s important to have different expectations for differing types of relationships.
There are going to be three main types of friendships I’m discussing (leaving out romantic relationships gone astray that you “decide” to be friends):
- The one-offs: people you meet in the airport, in line at the grocery store, crossing the street, small talk while you wait for your coffee, and someone in the elevator at work in a building you don’t work in. You may see these people once and never see them again. You may not even exchange names. It’s quite possible to make friends with a One-Off, but because you may not see them again, there’s a tiny window in which to make an impression.
- Referrals: Friends of friends or people you are introduced to. This might be at a wedding or party/event that your friend is holding. Most of your interactions will occur with the friend that introduced you.
- Frequent Folks: This is your best bet. These are people you see all the time. More below.
Firstly, assess your situation. Read a person’s body language and tone when trying to strike up a conversation. I am going to focus on the Frequent Folks, because that is a really good starting point. The one-offs are good practice for making small talk and making connections because since you may never see them again, you really can’t mess up. I love talking to people in airports. I’ll go a whole flight learning so much about another country, and not even knowing their name; having the most awesome conversation. And that is all it is – enjoying another person’s presence for a limited time, with no expectations. I’ve met a NY Times Writer writing about a War Lord that was hiding in Tulsa, Ok. I’ve met a Veteran who had some awesome stories to share. And I met a lady from Brazil who was not happy about being asked to move her seat so a couple could sit together, because in Brazil you can’t change seats like we do. We ended up talking about the history of linguistics and how language and culture have influenced the world. And before you roll your eyes – if you are getting clear signs your neighbor on the plane does not want to talk (headphones on immediately, a short ‘hello,’ a mean leave me alone glare, etc) then by all means leave them alone. But when someone wants to chat, it can be a beautiful thing.
In order to meet a Frequent Folk you need to frequent a place. That means going somewhere consistently. It should be something you enjoy so that you can meet like-minded people. If you love football, go watch Monday Night Football somewhere. If you want to work out go to the gym the same time every week. Sign up for Karate if you’ve always wanted to try it. Take a dance class for 10 weeks. Go to the same service times at Church each week. Study at the bookstore on Thursdays. Take a Zumba exercise class. When you frequent a place, especially at the same time each week, you are more likely to run into the same people each time, increasing your opportunities of crossing paths. Strangers don’t become friends the first time they see eachother, usually. After seeing someone for 3 Wednesdays at Tennis, it becomes easier to say “Hey I’ve seen you around a couple times, where do you play?” and that can easily become someone you play with outside of Tennis lessons. With Facebook, it’s so much easier to connect after you feel like you are friendly with someone. You can request them as a friend or like the page of the business and find out about other events related to that topic.
The point is, as you see someone more frequently, it becomes easier to be comfortable enough to break the ice and say hello or make conversation. Because you have a commonality, there is a natural topic to start on. And it takes some work to find out who just wants to be an activity partner (guy/gal you play basketball with only) and a more well-rounded friend (movies/dinner/etc). Not everyone is looking for new friends either, so you really have to find the right connection. Once you’ve been talking with this new person, someone has to organize the first gathering outside the place that you met. Depending on the relationship, it can be coffee, or it can be to hang out along the lines of how you met. So if I meet someone at the Tennis club I might be able to play with them outside of lessons, and then also watch the US Open or something. If I make friends with someone from hiking, I might become friends with them and they may invite me with their friends on additional hikes, so that I can meet more people.
When you are new in town, or your situation has newly changed (newly single, newly married, out of school, in the workforce, new parent, first time home-buyer, etc) there are always people like you who were in your situation. If you put yourself out there, you can find people that you connect with. Never take it personal if someone doesn’t want to hang out with you. Perhaps your personalities don’t gel well, or they just aren’t looking to form new relationships. And when you are the resident, remember how it felt when you didn’t know anyone, and help those who are looking to meet others – maybe connect them with groups/organizations that you found helpful when you were new.
So, to recap:
- Assess your situation – read body language and tone when deciding whom to talk to
- Smile, look friendly and approachable
- Do things you enjoy in a consistent way
- Make small talk, say hello, initiate conversations with people that seem friendly
- Connect – become a friend on Facebook, exchange phone numbers
- Make plans – Ask the person if they would be interested in doing something outside of where you met them. Keep it light and fun as you assess them and see if your personalities match
- Don’t take it personal. If they are a good fit, great! If not, it’s ok, now you know.
- Work. It takes work to maintain friendships. This will be discussed in a later post, but texting and calling to check on someone is never over rated. At the very least, hit them up on their birthday. It all depends on the type of relationship you want to have. If you are always inviting them places and they don’t reciprocate, you may not be high on their priority list. Refer to #1 at all times. If they are always inviting you out and you are always busy, consider making time for them.
I hope these tips help you if you were looking to make some new friends. 🙂