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22 Experts Share The Best Ways To Make Friends As An Adult — Even When It Feels Impossible

Photo: Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
group of friends posing in selfie

If you sense that we have begun to feel more isolated as a society, you're not imagining it.

A survey published in May by the American Psychological Association found that due to all the changes in the last few years, people in North America and Europe have experienced a 5% increase in loneliness.

After all, making friends as an adult can be challenging!

In addition to the feelings of sadness and potential depression associated with having few or no friends, extended periods of social isolation can lead to potential long-term health consequences. A study published in June by the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom found that socially isolated people are 26% more likely to develop dementia later in life.

Because it seems like the problem is getting worse over time, we wanted to help people overcome their isolation if we could. So, we asked our YourTango Experts for their best advice on how to make friends.

RELATED: 7 Strong Communication Skills People Who Know How To Make Friends Have In Common

How to make friends as an adult — advice from 22 top relationship experts. 

1. Be yourself and be persistent.

You've got to go where like-minded people are, but that's not always obvious. Adult education classes, exercise classes, meetups and meeting friends of friends are some of the places adults find like-minded folks.

The next key is to be willing to be open and vulnerable. We're drawn to people who are real and relatable. We're drawn to people who claim their space.

So go forth and be yourself, and be persistent. It takes time and multiple tries to find your people.

— Suzanne Manser, PhD, psychologist and writer

2. Take it step by step.

Making friends is a process, and any process can be systemized. The way I teach my clients to make friends has multiple steps.

Step 1: Find places that other people are. Whether that's finding a local hangout spot (coffee shop, bar with events, club, class, gym, concert) and go with the intention of talking to at least one person there.

Step 2: Talk to people there. Use components of small talk. Ask they how they are doing, discuss the event/location you're at and when they reference something you have in common, continue the conversation by linking your connection.

Step 3: Figure out if you like this person. Are they nice? Do you have anything in common? Do they seem interested while talking to you?

Step 4: If you like this person, ask them to be your friend. I know this seems scary and weird, but I have found that the most direct way is often the best way. The script I use and teach is, "Hey, you seem really cool, we should be friends/hangout sometime. Can I have your number?"

If they want to, they will say yes (yes! you did it!)

Step 5: After you have gotten their number, invite them somewhere. If you're nervous about having to talk the whole time, invite them to an activity. Local bars typically have activities on weeknights, play cards, see a movie, anything like that. That way you are building a relationship without having to talk the whole time.

Continue inviting them places and building the relationship, and when you're comfortable, ask if their friends would like to join. "Hey, I’m thinking of going to see a movie this weekend, do you and your friends want to join?"

— Amanda Chils, therapist and educator

RELATED: It's Not A Real, Irreplaceable Friendship Without These 7 Qualities

3. Just be friendly.

The simplest way to make friends is to start by being friendly. That means smile at people, say hello, and ask how they are. You can always strike up a conversation by sharing one genuine compliment. It might be an outfit, earrings or eyeglasses that you like.

You can try this when you are picking up your kids from school, at yoga, the gym, or even at the dog park. Wherever you go, there's often a quick opportunity to meet someone and say hello.

Another option is to take a class through the continuing education system. This way you'll meet someone with a common interest like cooking, sewing, or playing bridge. You'll be surprised how the person you speak to is often happy you started a conversation, so they didn't have to.

To stay in touch, ask for an email address, and from there friendship can blossom.

— Ronnie Ann Ryan, love and intuitive coach

4. Find common interests.

Part of the challenge and opportunity in making friends is being willing to show your authentic self to people who interest you. Identify common, complementary and intriguing interests. Explore a range of situations where you're likely to find and connect with such people.

Practice effective listening skills. In other words, the process takes time, intuition, empathy, patience and healthy curiosity. If you want to improve your confidence, that's another area to develop.

So be patient with yourself and the process; have reasonable expectations for yourself and others. There is no quick fix.

Ruth Schimel, career and life management consultant

RELATED: The Best Friendships Always Have These 3 Characteristics

5. Seize the initiative and be proactive.

Having gone through a divorce, single parenting, career change, and multiple relocations, I certainly experienced the struggle of making friends. That is until I stopped feeling sorry for myself, waiting for someone to include me and instead started taking ownership of my life.

I pushed through the awkward "new girl at school" feeling and embraced the opportunity in front of me.

Like many have suggested, I inserted myself into the community that offered what interested me — a support group, a fitness class, a mom's day out program. And at each, I found people who wanted to connect. I would invite someone for coffee or lunch. And like anything, action begets action.

I took responsibility for creating that momentum, and it paid off. And when the community didn't offer what I needed, I created it myself. I realized if I needed it, so did others.

For example, I loved reading and wanted to share this pastime with others. So, I started a book club with 3 women I had met. They each invited three, who invited three, who invited three, who invited three more.

This was in 2011, and to this day we celebrate one another's birthdays and have traveled together. It seems the love of literature and a monthly meetup over wine and cheese was just the bonding we all craved!

Ann Papayoti, relationship coach

6. Be sincere and accept yourself.

Making friends is an internal process as well as an external one. When we make friends with all parts of ourselves, including the sad parts, the lonely parts and the vulnerable parts then we can be with others.

Others will sense that we are sincere and accepting of ourselves and will be drawn to us.

Greg Mahr, psychiatrist and author

RELATED: 3 (EASY!) Ways To Make Friends As An Adult (Because You NEED Them!)

7. Project authenticity.

It seems easier to make friends when we’re younger, while we’re still developing our sense of personal identity. At later stages of life, we usually become more selective in our social contacts as we have a lot more clarity about our needs and the kind of people we like, trust, and enjoy being with.

I’ve been very fortunate to meet many great people through my work and business and some of them are now my dear friends! Consider the following when making friends:

1. Don’t expect the other person to fill your voids and heal your inner wounds. Most people try to avoid excessive emotional neediness and wouldn’t engage if they feel overwhelmed.

2. Focus on the positive you can bring to the friendship.

3. Try to understand what the person you want to be friends with is interested in and suggest activities and experiences you could enjoy together.

4. Be ready to listen, support and help when needed.

5. Respect their boundaries and privacy — if they don’t share much about themselves at first don’t take that as a rejection; everyone has their own timing when it comes to opening up and letting someone into their world. Most importantly, be yourself, because authenticity attracts! No need to pretend or make up stories to impress!

Also, reflect on the reasons why you want to befriend that person and make sure you are objective and realistic in your motives and expectations. A genuine and valuable friendship feels natural from the start and just like romantic relationships require dedication, integrity and appreciation.

— Angelika Matev, psychological astrologer and transformation coach

8. Use the available technology to make connections.

I love online dating and I think it's also a great way to make friends.

Apps like Bumble have sections like Bumble BFF that are designed specifically for people looking for friends. Or apps like Meetup that are catered towards people looking for friends to hang out with and do things they enjoy doing.

Erika Jordan, love coach

9. Get introduced by a shared acquaintance.

I lived in five different countries on three continents, either for work or education, often without knowing a word in a local language and not knowing a soul in a new place. My way of making friends, in order of priority:

1. Find a community of like-minded people. In my case, it would be a spiritual fellowship, such as a church, synagogue, meditation group, yoga/dance studio, etc. These friendships are based on more than just superficial acquaintance and are more likely to go deep.

2. Meetup groups are excellent for meeting people with common interests. Again, I would just show up, being open and saying I'm here because I don't know anyone in town.

3. Find local events. Local events such as fundraisers, group classes, community circles and dinners are often advertised on Facebook.

In all these ways of meeting new people, you often just need a "gatekeeper,” someone who would introduce you to others, tell you about new events and activities in the area, and through them, you get to meet someone you connect with.

I am more on the introverted side, so I am not actively seeking to meet new people all the time. Having a couple of deep connections is perfectly enough. I treat everyone I meet as a potential new friend and just see where it goes from there.

— Inga Nielsen, energy healer

10. Use your powers of observation.

When trying to figure out how to make friends, many people experience genuine social anxiety and fear. You may have a long history of rejection.

I recommend the strategy I call “Social Spy” to allow you to covertly view others to figure out what they say, how they say it, how they move the conversation along, etc.

Research in advance questions to ask such as, “How is your day going?” “What about that traffic jam?!” Mentally envision what you will look like, act like, wear and say and see yourself in action – even gesturing the movements.

Internal stories and confidence are what I have found to be the biggest roadblocks to socializing. Recall a time when you overcame something difficult, how you did it, and how it made you feel.

Utilize the lessons learned from planning, speaking up, problem-solving and self-calming to exit your comfort zone. Try these new strategies first on people you will never see again.

Practice yields confidence. Everyone needs a place to shine, feel good and have a sense of strength.

Caroline Maguire, M. Ed., author

RELATED: The Secrets Of People Who Are Incredible At Making New Friends

11. Really get to know yourself, first.

I was "Miss Happy Hour" back in the day, always organizing happy hours — the "it" person.

So, I thought I had lots of friends. On further investigation, I realized I knew lots of people, but I didn’t know everything about myself.

I got in touch with who I am as a friend – I am introverted (I like lots of time alone to reenergize), I’m a good listener who is OK with silence, and I like to create empowering environments for my friends and me to embrace and explore.

I’m someone who thrives on new adventures and learning new things. Count on me for a dry sense of humor, for confidentiality, and for being present in moments of celebration and trauma. We can talk every two months and pick up where we left off. I'm also a self-development geek (fire walks, outward bound programs).

Knowing this has helped me attract and support lifelong friends.

Ruth Littlejohn, spiritual and life coach

RELATED: The Most Counterintuitive Way To Make People Like You More

12. Embrace good, old-fashioned methods.

We all need friends, even if we are already in a relationship. In our busy world, it can be hard to find the time to meet new people.

First, you need to accept the reality that many people would love to be your friend. I think the old-fashioned way of making friends still works today.

Get involved in some organization, whether a non-profit doing work you value or a religious/spiritual community. If you have children, get to know other parents and see who you might meet.

Then invite people for coffee to get to know them better, and you will make friends. I am not saying you should not connect online because I believe it is possible to have online friends. However, I still think it is essential to have friends with whom you can spend time in person.

If you feel shy or fear being hurt, this might be an excellent opportunity to find a coach or counselor to help you build your self-confidence.

Before you start this new adventure, think of the qualities you are looking for in a friend. Then get out there and make it happen.

Roland Legge, spiritual life coach

13. Make real friends in the virtual world.

One of the best ways to make new friends is to connect on a common interest or cause you to care about — or simply to hang out with like-minded individuals on social media.

Engaging on posts for a while sets up a rapport to the point where you can then take a chance and direct message someone to show support, offer information, or commiserate. You never know, they could be just as happy to make a new friend, too!

I’ve been fortunate to have ‘met’ several friends online, and those friendships have transferred to real, in-person life, too.

Lisa Petsinis, career and life coach

RELATED: 7 Little Secrets To Making Real Adult Friendships That'll Last

14. Be a friend magnet.

To make friends, be a friend. Coming from a place of giving rather than needs is key.

Forming friends is really an inside job that consists of healing the wounds within and filling our own emotional tanks. The process of finding friends is similar to that of finding a life partner. If a person comes to the table with a feeling of hunger, it's a turnoff. Others unconsciously sense empty, needy energy and run the other way.

Tips and techniques are only marginally effective if we don't do this internal self-work. When we feel fuller, we radiate energy that makes us friend magnets.

Dr. Jamie Turndorf, author and media therapist

15. Be yourself and be curious.

Growing up, I changed school every single year. By the time I became an adult, I was a chameleon, always adapting to the group I joined to be liked.

Until one day it hit me: By trying to change myself to belong, I forgot half the people involved in the friendship.

I forgot me.

From that point, I decided that the first thing I needed to do if I wanted to find friends was to be myself. The second thing was to realize that others were probably going through the same challenges as me trying to be liked and trying to belong.

From that perspective, it became easier to make friends. I’m curious by nature, so I’m genuinely interested in learning about the people I meet.

People are people. Each time I go somewhere, I get curious. Who are you? What is your story? What do we have in common? How can I help you? Even if we have nothing in common, I will often learn something from the conversation.

Dr. Fabienne Slama, relationship coach

RELATED: How To Make Friends As An Adult (Without Being Weird Or Clingy)

16. Get them talking about themselves.

Be curious/interested. People generally like to talk about themselves so ask 2 questions and a “sharing” follow-up. Not 3 questions in a row. It may be received as “grilling” or intrusive.

Bill Meleney, counselor and coach

17. Be generous, authentic and compassionate.

Growing up as a shy, quiet, and introverted child, making friends has not been easy for me. I am not shy anymore. Yet I choose to stay quiet more often than talk.

Once an introvert, you stay an introvert. The best you can do is to be an ambivert when you feel comfortable.

Yet, I do have many friends and it is all because of two reasons. The first is my kind, generous and authentic personality, which I hear those who know me say about me even if I met them only once.

And the other reason is I take my relationships seriously including the ones I share with my friends. I never rush into anything, including friendships. But when I find a sincere person next to me I smile even if they are not smiling.

I let them speak if they feel like and I listen with compassion. And finally, I practice loving speech, as taught by the Buddha. So compassionate listening and loving speech allow me still have friends whom I have known for as long as I have been alive.

I do not carry a bias and with an open heart and mind, I also carry a kind ear and people open up to me and share their stories and their love.

Keya Murthy, M.S., clinical hypnotherapist and spiritual life coach

18. Accept people for who they are.

When you meet people, accept them for who and what they are. Do not speak to them as if they should be what you think they should be.

They do not need to be popular. They do not need to be vegetarian. They do not need to have the most fulfilling career. They do not need a lot of money. They don't need to like football. Or whatever you like!

Love people for who they are, even if it is different than you.

Heather Allen, social worker

19. Remind yourself that you are a good friend.

I recently moved to a whole different region, so this question is fresh for me. I tend to first observe who I might like to be friends with. Then I notice my butterflies about approaching someone, but remind myself that I have been and can be a good friend.

I ask my potential friend something about themselves, or the setting we’re in, with a lightly curious approach. Then I wait for a response, kind of like a tennis match. I don’t want to bombard the person with tons of questions, but I want to be alert and ready when they respond back to me.

Judy Tiesel-Jensen, PhD, couple and family therapist

20. Set small goals and plan your strategy.

Making friends can be challenging for all of us. While some people find it easier to reach out and initiate a get-together, others, particularly neurodivergent adults, find it much more challenging.

Set small goals for yourself: Instead of pressuring yourself to hang out with a group of people on multiple occasions, set up some one-to-one get-togethers with a friend, co-worker, classmate or extended family member.

Create a strategy for larger gatherings: think about who feels safe to talk to, who understands that you struggle with social anxiety and who you want to avoid and what to say to them. A one-line “Nice to see you, school or work is going fine, how are you” is enough to say to someone who makes you uncomfortable.

If you are feeling overloaded, slip away into another room for a few minutes to regroup. Plan for recovery time after a social event from the output of energy, thought and emotion that interactions demand of you.

Finally, follow these fundamental conversation tips. People like to talk about themselves and they also like to feel heard. Use reflective listening techniques (I heard you say X, tell me more about that) or (That sounds interesting. Can you describe/explain it further?).

Periodically, ask yourself, why am I talking now? Remember that a pause in a sentence doesn’t mean the person is finished speaking. If you are not sure, wait 10 seconds and then ask.

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist

21. Find your ‘tribe’ and grow as a person.

I love the quote, "Find your tribe and love them hard." It's what we all crave because our nature is to connect, to have community.

For all of human existence we have evolved in strength when we are supported by a village and able to be of service to that village ourselves. This is where we do our best.

Today's world makes that challenging, however. Shortened attention spans have made it difficult to trust and be vulnerable – which is what is required to gain friends. We respect and are drawn into those who are open, relatable and seem real. Who are just who they are.

The trick to making friends is to grow yourself by learning new things and getting around people. We will never make a strong bond with a tiny screen. We need real people interacting with us so that we know that we matter. This requires stepping out of the comfort zone of what we are familiar with and developing ourselves.

This very act of exploring the world, new skills and potential passions is a vulnerable beautiful state that can encourage organic conversations, support and even a feeling of "team" when we put ourselves into something new with people who are doing the same.

Rene' Schooler, relationship coach

22. Be ready to let friends into your life.

Other experts have shared great practical ideas for meeting new people and making new friends. For these to work well, we need to be ready to let friends in. This is an internal game. Here are some key tips:

1. When we tell ourselves (and others) things like "It's hard to make friends," we are priming our brain to show us evidence that this is true. In other words, we will unconsciously find ways to make it hard for ourselves, we may even unintentionally put out "signals" to others that discourage friendship, and we will often miss opportunities that may be right in front of us.

So the first step is to intentionally choose thoughts that support your desire to make friends — for example, reminding yourself every day that "every day I'm getting better and better at making new friends," or "I'm continuously becoming the kind of person who makes friends easily."

2. Start collecting, and focusing on, the things you like about yourself. This can be challenging for many of us ... but how can we expect others to like us if we're constantly judging ourselves?

And I guarantee there are things about yourself that you can like and appreciate — the trick is to give yourself permission to notice them. I recommend making a game of it. Challenge yourself to see how many likable traits you can catch in yourself each day, and see what you notice.

Then practice appreciating these aspects of yourself. I struggled to make friends for years, because I was constantly judging myself, and telling myself I wasn't really good enough for others to like me. When I started finding things I could like about myself, opportunities for friendship started opening up more, and it became easier to let those friendships in.

3. Take baby steps every day toward becoming the kind of person who makes friends easily. Taking continuous small steps, and giving yourself positive acknowledgment each time you do, will help you build confidence.

And over time you will start to find that connecting with others starts coming to you more easily and more naturally.

Anna McKinley, life coach

RELATED: You’re Not Alone — It’s Hard Making Friends As An Adult

Carter Gaddis is senior editor, experts & wellness, for YourTango.

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