Good friends are good for you.
“Good friends bring so many colors of happiness in your life by relieving stress, giving comfort, and removing loneliness,” says Amber O’Brien, PsyD, a psychologist with the Mango Clinic in Miami.
Where to Make New Friends
Mahesh Grossman, a 62-year-old hypnotherapist and owner of Berkeley Hypnosis in Berkeley, CA, has made many friends over the years by joining peer-led meditation groups, 12-step groups, and church groups.
“Everyone goes out to dinner after the meeting. I get to know them a little bit at the restaurant. Then I make an effort to grab a one-to-one meal with several members within the first few months,” Grossman says. “This eventually leads to friendship with some of those people and more comfort with the group as a whole.”
You might find new friends when you:
Join a group or club. Find a local group where people with interests like yours meet regularly. Try a book club, religious group, parent meetup, music group, or biking group. “The key is to fish in the right pond,” Grossman says.
Take a class. Sign up for a class at your local college, senior center, or gym. Learn Italian, dancing, or a new card game. When the topic interests you, you’re likely to find people who share your passion.
Look locally. You may be surprised by how many events are happening right in your community. Look in your local newspaper or community bulletin boards. Go online for neighborhood listings. Search the name of your city plus the words “social network” or “meetups.”
Volunteer. People who work together often form strong connections. Meet people by volunteering with a community center, charitable group, hospital, museum, or place of worship.
Join a social circle. One of the easiest ways to meet people is to surround yourself with people who have large friend groups of their own, O’Brien says. “You may already have people in your life who have a lot of friends,” she says. Join them when they invite you out. Ask for introductions. Take the first step and start a conversation with someone new.
Making Friends Online
It may seem easier to make friends online because you can find people around the world who have similar interests. If you’re an introvert, online friendships may feel more comfortable.
But if you live in different areas, you can’t easily meet up or hang out in person. And online friendships may become unbalanced, where one person has a stronger emotional attachment than the other.
“Making new friends online is cool and fascinating, but it can get challenging,” O’Brien says. Try to set healthy boundaries to avoid problems.
How to Start a Friendship
Friendships take time, but you can take steps to spark a relationship and nurture a connection.
Say yes. When you’re invited to a gathering or event, accept the invitation. Return the favor by inviting them somewhere. Extend your own invitations and ask a friend or acquaintance to get coffee or lunch.
Take the initiative. “You don’t need to wait for anyone to reach out to you and take the first step. Instead, become the kind initiator, even if you’re an introvert,” O’Brien says.
Start the conversation. When you’re with someone you’d like to know better, start a conversation. “Share something about yourself,” O’Brien says. “Likewise, let them share about themselves.”
Show interest. Even if you’re just meeting someone, you can make them feel comfortable by asking the right questions and being a good listener. Ask open-ended questions. Encourage them to open up by saying things like, “Tell me more.”
Smile. Make eye contact and smile. “Smiling while keeping good eye contact will create a positive effect on the other person,” O’Brien says. They’ll feel more comfortable and interested in the conversation.
Share. As you get to know each other, try sharing small but more personal things about yourself. “If you’re open with them, it gives them permission to be open with you,” Grossman says. But don’t go overboard. Take it one step at a time.
Do a small favor. Small acts of kindness often lead to intimacy and connection. It doesn’t have to be big or obvious; just a little gesture creates a feeling of good vibes.
Keep it going. When you meet someone, exchange numbers. Call or message them later. Ask if they’d like to get together again. “Staying in touch is crucial,” O’Brien says.
What Not to Do
Avoid these common missteps:
Don’t change who you are. Don’t act different just to fit in. “Always be yourself, genuine, and honest,” O’Brien says.
Don’t brag. Boasting gives people a negative impression and may be a turnoff.
Don’t be too aggressive. Coming on too strong may turn people away. Ease in with friendly conversations before you suggest meeting up for coffee or a run.
Don’t expect results right away. “It takes time to establish a strong bond between two people,” O’Brien says. “Do your best, but keep your expectations low.” Research suggests that it may take 10 to 15 conversations before you feel like friends.
How to Know When You’re Friends
Signs of a new friendship include:
- The other person starts taking the initiative and calls or messages you.
- You feel comfortable and natural with them.
- You’re not hesitant to share or do something in front of them.
- You respond to them with empathy, and they do the same with you.
“First, there’s the becoming stage, where they do something to show they value your connection. They begin to text you or invite you to something,” Grossman says. Eventually, you become hangout buddies. And then, over time, you’re in regular contact and feel like true friends.