If James Taylor ruled the world, all we’d have to do is call and a BFF would appear on our doorstep. In reality, friendships are among the trickiest relationships out there.
As hard as it may be to find romantic love, it’s arguably even more difficult to pick a new pal we really connect with or to keep in touch with buddies from the past.
Twenty- and 30-somethings are among the most “social” people out there. With such an active presence on social media, they have constant opportunities to share the minutiae of their daily lives with hundreds or even thousands of people.
Yet at the same time, there’s good reason to believe American adults are lonelier than ever. A study of more than 1,700 19- to 32-year-olds found that the most frequent social media users were also three times as likely to feel socially isolated.
Plus, studies show that those virtual relationships aren’t nearly as satisfying as the in-person kind.
Forging new friendships or strengthening old ones isn’t always easy, so here are some tips that are more creative and practical than the old “just put yourself out there.”
1. Go on a friend date
Most of us have at least heard of the “blind date,” the idea of letting a friend play matchmaker and set us up with someone we’ve never met.
If you’ve just moved to a new city, have a friend set you up on a totally platonic date with one of their friends who lives nearby. You’ll have less to lose if the potential match doesn’t work out.
You can also download BumbleBFF and go on a kind-of-blind date. You’ll be able to see photos and basics about the other person before you meet. Ah, finally — someone else who likes funny dog videos and breakfast pizza!
2. Be authentic
It’s time to get super clear on what you love to do. Because when you pursue hobbies and activities you enjoy, you have a good chance of meeting people with similar interests.
Check out that local lecture on modern literature or sign up for a sushi-making class. Each event is a chance to meet a whole roomful of like-minded buddies.
You can also volunteer your time and talent with a nonprofit that resonates with you or download Meetup to find nearby folks with similar interests. And if you can’t find the group you want, why not start one? A little vulnerability could lead to lifelong connections.
3. Get up close and personal
Creating a close connection takes time. Two hundred hours, in fact, according to a 2018 study.
When you’re just starting to get to know someone, foster intimacy by talking about something deeper than the sucky weather. Gradually disclose something meaningful about yourself and see if your new friend will do the same.
If you need fodder, each of you could answer the question “If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?” This technique will have you bonding in no time.
4. Be persistent
While not everyone has the courage to do it, most of us know how to pursue a crush. Swipe right. Send flowers to their office. Invite them to a concert of a band you know they’ll love. Ask them to check “yes” or “no” under the question “Will you go out with me?” on lined paper.
Oh, wait… are we not in third grade anymore?
Apply similar (but less romantic) tactics when pursuing a potential friend. For example, send the person an email asking them to lunch or coffee next week, and follow up afterward to say you had a good time and mention something specific that was funny or memorable.
5. Set a goal
It might sound superficial, but the next time you go to a party, tell yourself you want to leave with three new friends (or maybe just one).
That way, you’ll be more open to meeting people and starting in-depth conversations instead of just smiling at the person ahead of you in line for the bathroom.
6. Say cheese
Seriously. We’re including smiling on this list because it’s a way more powerful tactic for making connections than you might believe. For one thing, smiling takes you out of your own head and makes you think more about the image you’re projecting.
- Plus, a 2015 study found that when creating new relationships, people are more responsive to positive emotions than to emotions like anger and sadness. That is, you’re more likely to connect with someone when you share a smiley moment than a grumpy one.
Campos B, et al. (2015). Attuned to the positive? Awareness and responsiveness to others’ positive emotion experience and display. DOI: 10.1007/s11031-015-9494-x
So go on, show off those pearly whites.
7. Don’t take it personally
We pretty much know what it means when a romantic partner tells us, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But if you invite a new pal to coffee or a movie and they turn you down, don’t freak out.
Maybe they really are busy with work. Maybe their family relationships already take up too much time. Consider that it really isn’t you after all. Perhaps you can take a rain check and try again in the future.
8. Think outside the box
It’s possible that up until now, all your friends have been 20-something women who work in fashion. But why limit yourself? Variety is the spice to life and all that.
You could just as easily hit it off with someone 20 years older than you who works in finance. Be open to forming new relationships with co-workers, neighbors, and classmates, no matter how different from you they appear to be.
They’ve seen us weep over the death of our goldfish and laugh so hard that our abs are sore the next day. But now that we’re all “professional,” it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of brand-new social circles and forget all about our old friends.
The tips below will help you keep those ties strong by being honest, forgiving, and supportive.
1. Loosen up
So, Sara forgot your last birthday and Mark never made it to your holiday party. As hurtful as their seeming lack of interest might be, try to cut your old pals some slack.
Instead of assuming they’ve become mean or don’t care about your relationship anymore, consider that they might be overwhelmed with work or family responsibilities (and remember that you’ve probably been in the same boat at times).
2. Speak the truth
There’s nothing like a pal who can tell it to you straight. When a friend asks you a question about a new job or relationship, try to be as open as possible. You’ll build a sense of trust, and your friend will be likely to reciprocate with honesty about their life.
3. Be virtually present
Even though social media can’t substitute for real friendships, Facebook can be a great way to find old friends and strengthen old ties if you engage thoughtfully.
Posting general status updates (“Just ate breakfast! Delish”) doesn’t do much for close relationships. But posting on someone’s wall to congratulate them on getting in to graduate school can be really meaningful.
4. Keep it brief
Many of us have been in this situation: We get an email from an old pal and put off responding to it until we have the time and attention span to write a novel-length response (i.e., never).
A better plan is to send frequent, short emails so you stay in the loop about each other’s lives and never go too long without an update.
5. Put it on paper
By the time we come home from a long day of work and errands, we may have little energy left for a catch-up session. But if there’s already an “appointment” on the calendar, we can’t miss it.
Schedule regular phone calls or Skype dinner dates with pals who live far away — there’s a good chance you’ll be glad you didn’t skip it!
6. Go with the flow
When a friend experiences a big change, such as moving to a new city, getting married, or having a baby, your relationship with them is bound to change, too.
Instead of fretting that things will never be the way they used to (but why can’t we stay up all night drinking wine and discussing the meaning of life?), focus on what you have in common now.
Be supportive of your friend’s new life. Remember, they’re probably still the same person, just with a little more life experience.
7. Be active with your buddy
Say you two used to go bowling together every week, but you haven’t been in touch for a year. Instead of setting up a potentially awkward coffee date to reconnect, suggest hitting the bowling alley like in the old days.
It’ll give you a chance to rekindle your friendship while doing something you both enjoy. It’ll also remove some of the pressure to make small talk.
8. Get outta town
Research suggests that experiences may make us happier than actual items.
When a friend moves far away, consider saving up for a little road trip to visit and hang out in their new stomping ground. Likewise, let your friend know your couch is always available.
9. Try an app
If you’ve moved far away from your old network, never fear — there’s an app for that. Marco Polo is basically like the love child of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger.
There’s even a voice filter to make you sound like you just inhaled helium, should you feel so inclined. The creative possibilities of this app make long-distance connections super fun.
Scientists have long known that humans are inherently social creatures, wired to benefit from close relationships with family, romantic partners, and of course, friends.
A landmark 1988 study found that people with the fewest social connections had an overall higher risk of dying than people with meaningful relationships.
What’s the deal? Research suggests that social isolation increases cortisol (stress hormone) levels in our bodies. This may lead to inflammation, loss of sleep, and even genetic changes — all risk factors for chronic diseases and earlier death.
As if that wasn’t enough to convince you to go find a bestie, a review of 19 studies found that social isolation is also associated with dementia.
So while it’s perfectly reasonable to want some alone time (c’mon, does anyone need to know you watched an entire season of Stranger Things in one weekend?), nothing can replace the value of a close friendship.
Sometimes it just happens — we bond over a mutual love of Harry Potter or kittens, and next thing we know, we’re meeting for weekly brunches.
But other times it’s harder, and we can’t help feeling like we’re the only person at the party without a partner in crime.
Whatever the circumstances, it’s important to keep at it and not get discouraged. With enough self-confidence, flexibility, and patience, you can find friends in almost any situation — and keep them for life.