The Grown-Up’s Guide to Making New Friends
Have you ever watched two preschool school kids forge a friendship on a playground? They’re so open … so honest … and often, so direct about it. “Do you want to be my friend?”
For adults, the friendship playing field gets a little murkier, especially at work. We ease into friendships in more subtle ways. We’re a little more discerning about the people we choose as friends. We test the waters as we gradually build trust.
In addition, friendships often change as we go through different ages phases of our life. Moms frequently bond in preschool parking lots. Mid-career professionals meet at networking events. People who’ve gone through similar life changes (divorce, widowhood, a cross-country move, etc.) support each other with genuine empathy.
Be thoughtful about making friendships at work. Some people do form deep, fulfilling friendships with colleagues. For others, these relationships can become strained — especially when the needs of the business clash with the bonds of the friendship. It’s best to keep work friendships collegial. By all means, share a meal or go out for drinks for friendly, light conversation and some good laughs. But do maintain appropriate boundaries.
As adults, it can be harder to make new friends, but it’s no less important for your well-being. And it doesn’t have to be as awkward as you might think! These Power Challenges can help you create new friendships and strengthen existing relationships.
Power Challenge 1: Welcome New Friendships
While there’s no proven formula for making new friends, one thing is for sure. You must be open to meeting and befriending new people. As adults, we often get so comfortable in our own circles that we neglect to expand them.
Related: The Freedom of Breaking out of Your Comfort Zone
That means “putting yourself out there,” literally. Join a group activity such as a class at a gym, or volunteer for a special committee with an organization you enjoy. Make sure the activities involve small groups, where you’ll have to interact with people and get to know them.
Start friendly conversations with people who seem open to it. Begin by asking general questions related to the situation or environment. For example: “I’ve seen you in this class a few times. Have you attended other classes as well?” or “Hey, welcome to [your company or organization]. How’s it going so far?”
If you’re an introvert, remember that not everyone thinks the same way you do. Many people welcome the chance to engage in friendly, casual conversation. Crave a deeper connection? Be patient. Break the ice, then allow small talk to pave the way to getting to know each other.
Like Rome, friendships aren’t built in a day. Start by laying the foundation, brick by brick.
As the conversation warms up, or the next time you see the person, take it a step further. Invite them to have lunch. Exchange contact information. Share an article or funny meme you think they’d enjoy.
Take it slowly and pay attention to their signals around friendship. Are they receptive to your gestures? What happens when the ball is in their court? Notice their reactions. This will help you figure out if they’re interested in pursuing the friendship.
Whatever happens is okay. Not all connections are destined to become lifelong relationships, so don’t get discouraged. Use your best self’s creativity and optimism to continue putting yourself “out there.” Your new friends do exist. You just haven’t met them yet!
Power Challenge 2: Grow New Friendships with Intention
You’ve probably heard about scheduling a “date night” with your spouse to ensure you have quality time to spend together. In the same way, friendships require time and attention. Sometimes we need to be intentional about growing these friendships.
To grow a friendship, schedule a time to get together on a periodic basis in person or via video. For example, try meeting regularly — and do your best to show up. Cancel or postpone only when absolutely necessary. Show your friend how much you value your relationship by making your time with them a priority.
You might have friends you don’t see or talk to often, but as soon as you connect, it’s as if no time has passed at all. That doesn’t happen without first developing a solid foundation for your friendship.
“It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” – John Leonard
As you cultivate a new friendship — whether at work or in your personal life — it can be helpful to have a conversation about how much you enjoy spending time with them. Telling your friend that you value your relationship makes them feel appreciated. And who doesn’t want that!
Power Challenge 3: Seek Balance in Your Friendships
The most fulfilling and longest-lasting relationships have give and take on both sides. You’re there for the person. They’re there for you. Sometimes you’re the one they lean on. Sometimes you do the leaning. Both of you value your friendship, and it shows through your reciprocal actions.
Your free time is limited. Spend it with people who give and take in a way that feels right to you.
Notice how you feel after spending time with your friend. Did you have a chance to share what’s going on in your life? Did your friend listen fully? Did they get to share with you? Were you fully present with them?
If you have misgivings, feel a bit frustrated, flat or irritated — or worse, obligated — you may be in a one-way friendship that isn’t fulfilling enough for you.
Your free time is limited. Spend it with people who relate with you in a way that feels mutual and reciprocal. Some days you might need more than your friend does, and vice-versa. I’m certainly not suggesting that you keep score! But it is important that you feel an overall sense of balance in the friendship.
That said, one-sided friendships aren’t necessarily bad. If there’s something you enjoy about being around that person, great! But notice the imbalance and don’t let these friendships consume all your time and energy.
The Beauty of Grown-Up Friendships
Friendships add a layer of richness to life. Your good friends allow you to whine and complain a bit. And they won’t take you seriously when you say you want to throw your beloved spouse off the nearest bridge!
Related: Add Some Fun for Productivity
Friends can help you process events and work through tricky situations. Good friends will tell you the truth, even when it might be hard to hear. When you’re navigating your own personal speed bumps, your friends will offer a new perspective, objective advice and reassurance that you’re not alone.
Friendships can be among life’s greatest gifts, especially when they help you — and your friend — become the best versions of yourselves. Talk about a fun adventure!
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