A fairly common social issue people have is that they’re not sure how to make friends and put together a social life for themselves. There are quite a few ways someone can find themselves in this situation:
They’ve moved to a new city and don’t know very many people yet.
They’ve been in a long term relationship and have let their social life wither.
Their old friends have slowly been dropping out of the picture (moving away, busy with work or a new family, etc.) and haven’t been replaced by new ones.
They feel like they’ve grown apart from their current friends and want to make entirely new ones.
In the past they were happy being alone a lot of the time, but now they want to be around people more often.
They never really knew how to make friends and have always wished their social lives were better.
Below are my thoughts on how to make friends. I’ll cover a basic structure first, then go into some attitudes and principles towards the whole thing that I think are important. I’ve noticed people who are already good at making friends naturally tend to do most of the things I outline below without thinking about it.
Bare bones guide on how to make friends
Here are the basic steps to making friends. It seems simplistic, but there can be a lot to each point. People who struggle with their social lives often stumble on one or more of them as well.
1. Find some potential friends
To make friends you first have to find some possible candidates. There are two main ways to do this:
Draw on your current contacts
This won’t apply to people who have just moved to a new area and don’t know anyone, but often you’ll already have the seeds of a social life around you. You don’t necessarily have to go out and meet ten strangers to have one. It’s often easier to turn existing contacts into full-fledged friends than it is to meet new ones.
There are probably a handful of people you already know who could end up becoming part of a new social circle. I’m talking about people like:
Acquaintances you’re friendly with when you run into each other, but who you never see otherwise.
People at work or in your classes who you get along with.
Friends of people you know who you’ve gotten along with in the past.
Someone who has shown an interest in being your friend but you never really took up the offer.
People you very occasionally hang out with, who you could see more often.
Friends you’ve gradually lost contact with who you could call up again.
Siblings and relatives close to your age.
Meet some new people
Getting more out of your current relationships can go a long way, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes you’re at a point where you need to meet entirely new people. Not having easy access to potential new friends is a big barrier for many people in creating a social circle. I go into more detail here: How To Meet People.
Overall, I’d say the easiest things to do are:
Being in a situation where lots of potential friends are around, and you naturally have to get to know them through your day-to-day interactions. Work and school are the two big ones.
Meeting one or two good people and then getting to know all their friends. If you hang out with fifteen people, you shouldn’t have to have met them all individually.
Being into hobbies or communities where you’ll naturally meet a lot of people, ones you already have something common with and a built-in activity to do with them.
Overall, meeting new people may require making an effort to pull out of your day-to-day routine. Also, the easiest way to naturally meet a lot of people is just to live a full, interesting life and run into lots of potential friends as a side effect.
2. Invite potential friends to do something with you
Once you’ve met some people you get along with, ask them to hang out. This is the most important step in my experience. You can meet all the people you want, and they can think you’re great, but if you don’t take any actions to do something with them in the future, then you won’t form many new relationships. People will stay as the guy you talk to in class, or the girl you chat to at work in the break room.
This seems basic, but lonelier people often hit a wall here. There may be someone they joke around with at work, or chat to in one of their classes, but they won’t take the step of inviting them out and taking the relationship to the next level.
If you’re on the shyer side, you might be a little hesitant to invite people out too. While it is a little scary at first, and there is some risk of rejection, it’s fairly easy to get used to. It’s not nearly as bad as asking people out on a date, for example.
Make a habit of getting people’s contact information
There have been plenty of times where I’ve met someone I got along with, and would have liked to hang out with in the future, but I only saw them a handful of times before they dropped out of the picture. I didn’t have their phone number or email address, so I had no way to get in touch with them.
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of getting people’s contact info fairly early. Ask for their phone number or email address, or ask if they’re on Facebook. That way if an opportunity to get together comes up, they’ll be easy to reach. Also, if they have your info, then they can get a hold of you if they want to invite you to something.
Have a basic grasp of how to make plans
To hang out with someone you’ve got to plan it. Sometimes the process is straight forward. You ask them if they want do something, they agree, and you set a time and place.
At other times trying to nail down a plan can be tedious and unpredictable, especially when more than one other person is involved. Try your best to get used to it. It personally helped me to accept this wasn’t a situation where I could perfectly control and arrange everything ahead of time. I had to come to peace with the uncertainty of trying to organize events.
If inviting people out and arranging plans all seems like a big hassle, it also probably feels that way for them at times. They shouldn’t always have to step up and organize things for you. Do some of the lifting yourself at times.
More details here: Advice On Making Plans With People
Do your best to accept every invitation
Of course if someone asks you to hang out, then that’s even better. If someone invites you to do something, then you should go. Why turn down a free chance to get out there with people? When you’ve got more friends and different options competing for your time you can be more choosy.
If you’re more of a shy or solitary person it’s easy to mull over the invitation and rationalize that it won’t be that fun and that you don’t want to go. Ignore those thoughts and go anyways. You never can be sure how fun something will be until you show up and see how it is for yourself.
Sometimes you’ll have to inconvenience yourself for the sake of your social life. You may get invited to a movie you don’t particularly want to see, or someone might call you up on Friday evening as you’re about to go to bed, asking if you want to go out. Whenever you have two or more people in the equation, you’re going to have to compromise sometimes. Again, just being out there outweighs these minor annoyances.
Another thing to consider is that many people will stop inviting someone out to things if they decline too often. They may have nothing against the person, but the next time they’re planning an event think, “Paul never comes out when I ask him, so no point in letting him know this time really.”
3. Once you’ve got some budding friendships, keep in touch, and keep hanging out
Keep in touch with friends through the phone, email, MSN, Facebook, etc. Hang out with them on a regular basis. Basically, enjoy each other’s company and let the relationship naturally develop and deepen. Of course, show all the traits of a good friend: nice, reliable, fun, open, trustworthy, etc., etc., etc.
Every friend and acquaintance has a right amount of time you need to spend with them. Some relationships are more casual and you only hang out every month or less. Other people will wonder if you’ve died if you they don’t see you every week. What the amount is for each person tends to naturally work itself out over time. Of course, don’t be needy and over-rely on one person to fulfill all your social needs.
Some people may not have a problem with meeting people and hanging around them once or twice, but run into trouble in the long run. Don’t fall out of touch with your new friends and acquaintances. Various traits can get you at this stage:
You’re just too busy or mildly lazy and don’t make the time to really establish the friendship as it’s getting off the ground.
You can feel insecure. You’ll convince yourself your new friends don’t really like you and drop contact with them in response to this imagined slight.
Your lower need to be social may cause you to not want to hang around with them as often as is needed to keep the friendship going.
Shyness may rear up again and make you too wimpy to call them up and make plans.
If you do go a while without talking to someone, it’s not really a big deal. You can still get back in touch and catch up. It’s not even that awkward. Things tend to pick up where they left off. Don’t think you automatically have to throw the friendship away.
Once you know some people, build on this foundation
Once you’ve made a regular friend or two you’ve also got a good base to work from. If you’re not super social in nature, one or two good buddies may be all you need to be happy. At the very least, if you were feeling lonely and desperate before, having a relationship or two should be enough to take those feelings away.
Sooner or later you’ll end up meeting your friend’s friends. If you hit it off with them then you can start hanging out with them as well. You could also become a member of the whole group with time. You can also continue to meet entirely new people. Having friends will make this easier as they’ll do things like invite you to parties or keep you company in places where there are new people to potentially meet.