Making new friends can be intimidating, but it is definitely rewarding. After all, friends are a big part of our life for most of us. They are the ones who walk through life together, share our ups and downs, pains and joys. Without friends, life would not be the same at all.
Why are friends so important?
Our society tends to emphasize romantic relationships. We believe that just finding the right person will make us happy and fulfilled. But research shows that friends are actually even more important to our psychological well-being. Friends bring more happiness to our lives than practically anything else.
Friendships have a huge impact on your mental health and your happiness. Good friends relieve stress, bring comfort and joy, and prevent loneliness and isolation. Developing close friendships can also have a powerful impact on your physical health. Lack of social connection can pose as great a risk as smoking, drinking too much, or leading a sedentary lifestyle. Friends are even tied to longevity. A Swedish study found that, along with physical activity, maintaining a rich network of friends can add significant years to your life.
But close friendships don’t just happen. Many of us strive to meet people and develop quality connections. However, regardless of your age or circumstances, it is never too late to make new friends, reconnect with old ones, and greatly improve your social life, emotional health, and overall well-being.
The benefits of friendships
While developing and maintaining friendships takes time and effort, healthy friendships can:
Improve your mood. Spending time with happy, positive friends can improve your mood and improve your outlook.
Help you achieve your goals. Whether you’re trying to get in shape, quit smoking, or improve your life, encouragement from a friend can really boost your willpower and increase your chances of success.
Reduce your stress and depression. Having an active social life can boost your immune system and help reduce isolation, a major contributor to depression.
Support you in difficult times. Even if it’s just about having someone to share your troubles with, friends can help you cope with a serious illness, the loss of a job or loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, or any other challenge in life.
Support him as he ages. As you get older, retirement, illness, and the death of loved ones can often leave you isolated. Knowing that there are people you can turn to for companionship and support can provide purpose as you age and serve as a buffer against depression, disability, hardship, and loss.
Increase your self esteem. Friendship is a two-way street, and the give and take side contributes to your own sense of self-worth. Being there for your friends makes you feel needed and adds purpose to your life.
Know what to look for in a friend
A friend is someone you trust and with whom you share a deep level of understanding and communication. A good friend:
- Show a genuine interest in what is happening in your life, what you have to say, and how you think and feel.
Accept you for who you are
- Listen to yourself carefully without judging yourself, without telling yourself how to think or feel, or trying to change the subject.
- Get comfortable sharing things about themselves with you.
Since friendship works both ways, a friend is also someone with whom you feel comfortable supporting and accepting, and someone with whom you share a bond of trust and loyalty.
Focus on how a friendship feels, not how it looks
The most important quality in a friendship is the way the relationship makes you feel, not how it looks on paper, how alike you seem on the surface, or what others think. Ask yourself:
- Do I feel better after spending time with this person?
- Am I myself with this person?
- Do I feel safe or do I feel like I have to watch what I say and do?
- Does the person support me and treat me with respect?
- Is this a person I can trust?
The bottom line: If the friendship feels good, it’s good. But if a person tries to control you, criticizes you, abuses your generosity, or brings unwanted drama or negative influences into your life, it’s time to reassess your friendship. A good friend does not require you to compromise your values, always agree with them, or ignore your own needs.
Tips to be more friendly and social (even if you are shy)
If you are introverted or shy, you may find it uncomfortable to expose yourself socially. But you don’t have to be outgoing by nature or the life of the party to make new friends.
Focus on others, not yourself. The key to connecting with other people is showing interest in them. When you are really interested in someone else’s thoughts, feelings, experiences, and opinions, it shows and they will like you for it. You will make many more friends by showing your interest instead of trying to get people interested in you. If you’re not curious about the other person, stop trying to connect.
Pay attention. Turn off your smartphone, avoid other distractions, and make an effort to truly listen to the other person. If you pay close attention to what they say, do and how they interact, you will quickly get to know them. Small efforts go a long way, like remembering someone’s preferences, the stories they’ve been told, and what’s going on in their life.
Self-disclosure: the key to turning acquaintances into friends
We all have acquaintances, people with whom we exchange little chats as we go about our day or exchange jokes or ideas online. While these relationships can be fulfilling in their own right, what if you want to turn a casual acquaintance into a true friend?
Friendship is characterized by intimacy. True friends know the values, struggles, goals, and interests of others. If you want to go from acquaintances to friends, open up to the other person.
You don’t need to reveal your innermost secret. Start small by sharing something a little more personal than you normally would and see how the other person responds. Do they seem interested? Are they reciprocal by revealing something about themselves?
Friendship requires two, so it is important to assess whether the other person is looking for new friends.
- Do they ask you questions about yourself, as if they want to know you better?
- Do they tell you things about themselves that go beyond small talk?
- Do they give you their full attention when you see them?
- Does the other person seem interested in exchanging contact information or making specific plans to meet up?
If you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, the person may not be the best candidate for friendship right now, even if they really like you. There are many possible reasons why not, so don’t take it personally.
How to meet new people
We tend to befriend people we run into regularly: people we go to school with, work with, or live close by. The more we see someone, the more likely a friendship will develop. So, take a look at the places you frequent as you begin your search for potential friends.
Another important factor in friendship is common interests. We tend to be attracted to people who are similar, with a shared hobby, cultural background, career path, or children of the same age. Think about the activities you enjoy or causes that interest you. Where can you find people who share the same interests?
Making new friends: where to start
When looking to meet new people, try to open up to new experiences. Not everything you try will lead to success, but you can always learn from the experience and hopefully have fun.
Volunteering can be a great way to help others and meet new people at the same time. Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to regularly practice and develop your social skills.
Take a class or join a club to meet people with common interests, such as a book group, dinner club, or sports team. Websites like Meetup.com can help you find local groups or start your own and connect with others who share similar interests.
Walk a dog. Dog owners often stop and chat while their dogs sniff or play with each other. If having a dog is not right for you, volunteer to walk dogs from a local shelter or rescue group.
Attend art gallery openings, book readings, conferences, music recitals, or other community events where you can meet people with similar interests. Check with your library or local newspaper for events near you.
Behave like someone new to the area. Even if you’ve lived in the same place your entire life, take the time to re-explore the attractions in your neighborhood. Newcomers to any town or city tend to visit these places first and are often also interested in meeting new people and making friends.
Cheer on your team. Going to a bar alone can seem intimidating, but if you support a sports team, find out where other fans go to watch the games. You automatically have a shared interest, your team, which makes it natural to start a conversation.
Unplug. It is difficult to meet new people in any social situation if you are more interested in your phone than in the people around you. Take off your headphones and put your smartphone away while you’re in the checkout line or waiting for a bus, for example. Making eye contact and exchanging small talk with strangers is good practice for making connections, and you never know where it might lead!
Overcome obstacles to make friends
Is there anything that is keeping you from building the friendships you would like to have? Here are some common obstacles and how to overcome them.
If you are too busy …
Developing and maintaining friendships takes time and effort, but even with a busy schedule, you can find ways to make time for friends.
Put it on your calendar. Schedule time for your friends just like you would with errands. Make it automatic with a permanent weekly or monthly appointment. Or just make sure you never leave a meeting without setting the next date.
Mix business and pleasure. Find a way to combine your socializing with activities that you have to do anyway. These could include going to the gym, getting a pedicure, or going shopping. Errands create an opportunity to spend time together while still being productive.
Group it. If you really don’t have time for several individual sessions with friends, organize a group meeting. It is a good way to introduce yourself to your friends. Of course, you will first need to consider whether they are all compatible.
If you are afraid of rejection …
Making new friends means exposing yourself and that can be scary. It is especially intimidating if you are someone who has been betrayed, traumatized or abused in the past, or someone with an insecure attachment bond. But by working with the right therapist, you can explore ways to build trust in existing and future friendships.
For more general insecurities or fear of rejection, it helps to assess your attitude. Do you feel like any rejection will haunt you forever or show that you are unpleasant or destined to have no friends? These fears get in the way of making satisfying connections and turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Nobody likes to be rejected, but there are healthy ways to handle it:
- Just because someone isn’t interested in talking or hanging out doesn’t automatically mean they’re rejecting you as a person. They may be busy, distracted, or have other things to do.
- If someone rejects you, that does not mean that you are worthless or that you are not worthy of love. They may be having a bad day. Perhaps they misunderstood or misinterpreted what you said. Or maybe they just aren’t a good person!
- You won’t like everyone you meet, and vice versa. Like dating, building a strong network of friends can be a numbers game. If you are in the habit of exchanging a few words with strangers you know, rejections are less likely to hurt. There is always the next person. Focus on the long-term goal of making quality connections, rather than obsessing over the ones that didn’t work.
- Keep rejection in perspective. It never feels good, but it is rarely as bad as you imagine. Others are unlikely to be sitting around talking about it. Instead of punishing yourself, give yourself credit for trying and see what you can learn from the experience.
For better friends, be a best friend yourself
Making a new friend is just the beginning of the journey. Friendships take time to form and even longer to deepen, so you need to nurture that new connection.
Be the friend you would like to have. Treat your friend the way you want him to treat you. Be dependable, considerate, trustworthy, and willing to share your time and yourself.
Be a good listener. Be prepared to listen and support your friends the way you want them to listen and support you.
Give your friend space. Don’t be too clingy or needy. Everyone needs space to be alone or spend time with other people too.
Don’t set too many rules and expectations. Instead, allow your friendship to evolve naturally. They are both unique individuals, so your friendship probably won’t develop exactly as you expected.
Forgive. No one is perfect and all friends will make mistakes. No friendship goes smoothly, so when there is a bump in the road, try to find a way to overcome the problem and move on. It will often deepen the bond between you.