Making friends has never been easy.
In grade school, alliances shifted and being the new kid was punishing. In high school you probably found your tribe, but everyone was awash in hormones and insecurity. In college you had to start all over again freshman year, but with the added benefit of living in the dorms.
But now, post-college a few years – or a few decades – making new friends feels … impossible.
Consider that the average American 30-year old has moved six times in their life – and that some sources say most of us move every 5 years – and trying to form stable, rewarding friendships as a working adult sounds positively quixotic.
How Do People Make Friends?
As far as I can tell, there are three ways the human animal forms friendships:
- Shared proximity
- Shared interests
- Shared values
Shared proximity means you’re thrown together with a group of people – like in school – and for survival's sake you just sort things out and form friendships. Shared proximity is probably responsible for most, if not all the friendships you form before you’re an independent adult.
Shared interests encompass things like bands, sports, and activities – all the things you choose to do that other people have chosen to do, too.
Shared values run a little deeper than interests and include things like religion, service, politics, and life views.
Work Is The New School … Except When It’s Not
I think we can agree that shared proximity is the most foolproof way to make friends. When I think back to when I had the most friends – and the most fun with friends – it was during school and college.
So the answer to making friends as an adult is obvious, right? Work! You’re with your colleagues for 8+ hours a day … it’s perfect!
Look, real friendships definitely come out of the workplace. But if work friends were the answer, why does this post exist? Why does it still feel so hard to make friends?
I don’t have any data on this, but I think the answer is that work is different than school. There’s more pressure to perform, compete, and deliver. There’s more stress. There’s more potential for personality conflict and more levels of hierarchy.
The simple answer is: work isn’t school, and it isn’t the same kind of petri dish for growing genuine, easeful friendships.
So how do you make friends outside of the place you spend the most time when you’re not sleeping?
12 Ideas For Making Friends As An Adult
Let’s return to the three ways people make friends: shared proximity, interests, and values. We’ve already discussed proximity: as an adult, mandatory proximity for an extended period of time is difficult unless you’re an astronaut or a hostage.
So these ideas focus on connecting with people who share your interests and values, but keep this in mind: what happens if you keep hanging out with people who share your interests? Over time, you’ve got your proximity!
As the saying goes, 90% of life is showing up.
The Part You’re Not Going to Want to Hear
It takes action. We have to make up for the lack of shared proximity with effort. Even though making friends as an adult isn’t dating, many of the same principles apply. You still have to step up, speak up, and put it out there.
Most of the ideas below create great conditions for friends to be made. But you still have to, you know, ask people to hang out. Do not assume it will happen naturally. It’s uncomfortable, but you have to make the first move.
Use these ideas to meet like-minded people (interests and values, remember), and begin incorporating them into things you enjoy (the way friends do). Invite a couple of the guys to grab dinner or see the new Marvel movie or go on a hike.
Commit to doing one of the following ideas in the next month and let us know how it goes in the comments!
Do The 1-month Intro Deal At 5 Different Places
Certain gyms, yoga studios, and martial arts centers have a core group of regulars who have turned their shared interest into real friendship. All you have to do is find a gym, studio, or class that’s achieved dojo-level camaraderie.
An inexpensive way to make your survey? Grab the one-month unlimited monthly pass and show up – at lot. You’ll quickly find a new tribe. If not, it’s on to the next proverbial dusty town.
In 12th grade my school made me volunteer with Habitat for Humanity for one. whole. day. I was so annoyed. On a Saturday? And we had to show up at like 7 AM? Total BS.
It turned out to be one of the best days of my life up to that point. The work was simple and physical. I learned some basic carpentry. But the best part: camaraderie with people who, a few hours earlier, had been total strangers. I ended up volunteering at that worksite two more times my senior year.
Working towards a common purpose as part of a group is a great way to connect with people who share both your interests and values. Even better, it’s totally socially acceptable to show up solo to a volunteering event. No spouse, bestie, or bro needed.
If you’re not sure where to start, try Volunteer Match. It’s a website that connects people to organizations that need a helping hand based on geography and interests.
Take a Class
Take it from a 30-something who’s in the middle of a career transition: community college is a fantastic place to meet new folks.
Sure, I didn’t have much in common with the 19-year olds in my classes but a lot of my peers were actual, like, peers. So many people in their 20s and 30s go back to school for work, life, and personal development reasons that it offers a great opportunity to get a bit of the glory days back and spend some time with people in and out of the classroom.
Pro tip: Make sure your class is geared toward interaction, like public speaking, a foreign language, or something with a lab (lab group = instant friends).
An oldie but a goodie, intramural sports leagues are a tried and true way to make grown-up friends. Joining a team is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to start making friends, and the ultimate permission to talk to strangers. Not only do you get to know your teammates, but there’s a whole other team to mingle with every week.
Another advantage to after-work sports teams? They’re regular and organized, which means you just have to show up at the same time every week.
If you need some help getting started, find out if Club Waka is active in your town. Whether it’s a soccer team that’s actually a bar-hopping team, or a regionally competitive kickball league (they are serious business), go out and do something mildly athletic in the name of friendship.
There is no “i” in team, but there are two “i’s” in friendship.
Find A Spiritual Community
I’m guessing if you’re reading this you’re either not the church-going sort, or you’ve already scouted your preferred house of worship.
Here’s the thing: If you’re not already into church … consider getting into church. Or something like it.
Whatever your beliefs, there’s probably a group for you. Or adjacent to you. The fact is, spiritual communities – like sports and volunteering – are one of the few places our society has created where total strangers can become friends without fear of stigma or being part of the out-crowd.
Start Your Own Group
If there isn’t already a group you’re interested in, start your own! I’ve done this very thing, first with motorcycles and then for new dads in my town. In both instances, I wanted to join a group …but there wasn’t anything already out there that fit my social profile. With motorcycles, I simply started asking around – anyone have a friend who rides, and might want to ride together? With dads, I actually took it to Facebook first, creating an open group and promoting it to my friends to spread the word.
Meetup.com is a great place to do market research for your group and spread the word once you’ve launched.
Try wrangling a couple of your existing friends into coming to the first few meetings. Be proactive and daring about inviting people you meet spontaneously. And most of all: be consistent.
Do Stuff With Your Dog
My wife came with a dog, which was great – I got a wife and a dog! It was also a huge bummer, though. Taking her dog to the park, the vet, and Waggy Wednesdays at the beer garden made me realize: I would’ve made so many more friends if I’d had a dog for my whole 20s.
Our culture is increasingly welcoming to people and their pooches. And starting conversation is as easy as, “What breed?” “How old?” or “Don’t worry, she doesn’t actually want to maul you!”
If you already have a dog, go do some dog stuff.
There’s an entertainment craze sweeping the nation. It’s not VR or axe throwing** … it’s board games.
Have you heard of titles like Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, or Photosynthesis? If not, it’s time to seek out your local gaming cafe or games store and get your dice on.
If you’re feeling spicy, try this: host a game night where you invite a couple of established friends, and they have to bring someone that no one else knows. Take your friends’ friends and make them your own.
**axe throwing leagues are, in fact, a great way to make friends
If most people fear public speaking more than death an improv class probably ranks somewhere in the 8th circle of hell. But for extroverts and the insane, improv classes are fun, challenging, and often hilarious.
Plus, nothing brings people together faster than small-group humiliation when your sketch bombs.
Reconnect (With Old Friends)
Sometimes the easiest way to make friends is to tap your old ones. No joke. How many people have you fallen out of touch with because of new jobs, new relationships, and the inevitable, crushing flow of time? Hop on facebook (if you’re old) or Insta (if you’re less old) and look people up.
Use An App
Ok, hear me out: there is an app for this.
Meetup, Atleto, and even Bumble and Tinder have friend-seeking functions.
Should you try this? Meh. Do we recommend it? Not really. But it felt negligent to leave it off the list!
Networking … For Friends
When we’re looking for a job, the advice is always to “work your network.” Why can’t the same be true for prospective friendships?
It sounds funny, but let your work and friend networks know that you’re looking to meet new and interesting people. Unlike when you’re looking for a new job while still employed, your friends won’t be offended that you want more friends.
It Takes Courage To Show Up Alone
Honestly, I think a huge impediment to making friends as an adult … is shame. Showing up to something by yourself feels like you're announcing to the world, “I need more friends! Because I’m lonely, or I smell!”
Showing up to anything – a new church, a new class, or a new bocce club – is hard. But the reality is most people won't even know you're there by yourself. And the ones that do, won’t shame you. Far from it. They’ll welcome you, remember when they were in your shoes, and more often than not a few will become your friend. When was the last time you were at a social gathering and thought, “I don't want to talk to that loser because he's here by himself.” You probably didn't even know who was there alone!
Like they say, 90% of life is showing up … to your Tuesday night axe-throwing practice.