Few things in life are more important than supportive, close friends. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.” Looking back at the friends that have come and gone in your life, you can probably appreciate how true that is.
While it can be challenging to meet new people you truly connect with as an adult, as COVID restrictions lift, we’re all craving social connection now more than ever, which creates an excellent opportunity to make new friends.
To learn some of the best ways to create lasting friendships, we spoke to some of the top therapists and mental health experts. Here are their top tips for making friends.
How to make friends
1. Take initiative
If you find people around you, you don’t need to wait for anyone to reach out to you and take the first step. Instead, become a kind initiator even if you’re an introvert, Amber O’Brien, therapist at Mango Clinic, explains. Start talking to a person and share something about yourself. Likewise, let them share about themselves. There’s no need to be so personal at the very first interaction, but exchange a few words or stories that can break the ice.
2. Join a new club or organization
Get involved in an activity that matters to you, where you’re likely to meet others with similar values and interests, says Susanna Guarino, MS, LMHC. You’ll have something to connect over and some of these relationships might become long-lasting friendships with time.
3. Show that you’re friendly
“A person that has friends must show themselves to be friendly,” notes Dr. Markesha Miller, licensed psychotherapist. “I often help my patients to understand that you must be that which you seek. What qualities are important to you in ‘a friend’? Make sure that you are exemplifying those.”
4. Don’t look for similarities
If you don’t share a similar vision and hobbies with someone, it doesn’t mean you can’t develop a friendship. “A true friend is like a deep ocean who observes all the flaws of another person,” says O’Brien. “Therefore, don’t judge someone if he/she belongs to a different mindset. Not doing so will allow you to make new friends.”
5. Be a good listener
If you notice your attention wandering when someone is talking, try to bring it back to what they’re saying, Guarino explains. If you’re listening well, others will feel respected, understood, and warmly towards you.
Related: 20 Ways to Be a Better Listener
6.Create friendships with friends of friends.”
“This is excellent if the goal is to expand your circle,” says Dr. Miller. “Many also consider it convenient and safe because they probably share a lot of the characteristics of your shared friend.”
7. Stay in touch
Once you have interacted with a person and exchanged contact numbers, don’t forget to call or message them, O’Brien states. Call them and ask for the next meet-up. Or you can also communicate over the phone call. Opening up to someone frequently is a great deal to develop a strong friendship—until it doesn’t bother the other person.
8. Say yes
This is a guideline actors use when doing improv and it applies to making new friends, too! Guarino explains that saying yes can look like openness to trying new things, but it can also look like just being open to wherever the conversation takes you.
9. Increase your self-confidence
When you are confident in yourself and like yourself it makes it easier for others to see those qualities in you as well, notes Dr. Miller. Liking yourself and being in a healthy mental and emotional place is an important step before acquiring new relationships. The goal should not be to only create friendships but to maintain it.
Smiling while keeping eye contact with someone will create a positive effect on the other person, O’Brien explains. Talking with a warm smile and consistent eye contact makes the other person feel comfortable and interested in the conversation.
11. Find a group that’s meeting online
If you don’t want to join in-person activities yet due to COVID, Guarino recommends finding a group that’s meeting online. For example, there are online book clubs, business networking clubs, and more.
12. Don’t set your expectations too high or expect too much from one person
“While creating friendships, I often advise having multiple friends for a variety of reasons,” says Dr. Miller. “One of the major reasons is to avoid co-dependent relationships and those that may develop from trauma bonding. Be realistic with your expectations.”
13. Do a favor for someone
Research has affirmed the positive outcome of doing a favor to someone, O’Brien explains. It helps in developing intimacy and good vibes between the two people. You don’t have to make a great favor to someone for making a new friend. Even a small act of gentleness can contribute a lot. It might include providing some sort of help or guidance to the person beside you, whether in work, school or any social place.
14. Ask potential new friends out for “friend dates”
“It may feel awkward or make you anxious, but asking a new acquaintance if they’d like to get coffee or go for a walk is a great way to get to know them,” Guarino explains. “You might click and have a great time—or you might find you don’t connect on much. The more friend dates you go on, the more likely you are to find people who are a good fit.”
15. Show up
Many times, opportunities for friendships are missed because people fail to be present, says Dr. Miller. For example, if you are invited out with co-workers, a parenting group, classmates, neighborhood gathering, just go. It is often stated that a large part of success is showing up, this can also hold true to friendships. In order to make friends, you have to put yourself in the position to create friendships.
16. Try “mirroring.”
There’s a psychological strategy called mirroring and it involves subtly mimicking the other person’s behavior, Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, explains. This can be copying their body language, facial expressions, gestures, etc. This mimicry facilitates individuals liking another person and therefore being more interested in becoming your friend.
17. Be consistent
Be on time when you make plans with someone, says Guarino. Do not text them twenty minutes before and say you’ll be twenty minutes late, or worse, cancel at the last minute. Small things like being on time build trust in any relationship.
18. Be aware of cultural differences
As individuals often move for career and family obligations, it is important to understand the culture of friendships within your community. If not properly understood, cultural differences can create a barrier to friendships, notes Dr. Miller.
19. Compliment others
“Spontaneous trait transference” happens when people tend to associate the adjectives you use to describe other people with your personality, says Dr. Schiff. So, if you describe someone else with positive adjectives, people will associate you with those qualities.
20. Be curious
Ask open-ended questions. When you’re interested in other people, they will often return the favor and friendship can be born, Guarino explains.
21. Try a social media or friendship apps
While some people suffer from social anxiety and may struggle with putting themselves in public meetings initially, social media is a great avenue, says Dr. Miller. There are great groups that align with interests. Also, there are a few free apps that, just like dating, connect friends—like Bumble BFF.
22. If you’re in a good mood, show it.
People are strongly influenced by the moods of other people and can even unconsciously feel the emotions of those around them, Dr. Schiff states. Do your best to communicate positive emotions so others feel happy when they’re around you.
23. Take feedback
Did your sister give you a hard time growing up for talking too much or for not listening well? Have loved ones told you that sometimes you’re a bit flaky? Pay attention to the signals people give you about how you’re being received, and be open to learning about yourself. Your self-knowledge will make you a much better friend, Guarino explains.
24. Be intentional
If you desire friendships, it’s perfectly fine to be intentional in your actions, says Dr. Miller. Set goals for yourself to make new friends.
25. Reveal your flaws occasionally
People tend to like you more after you make a mistake, but only if they believe you are a competent person, notes Dr. Schiff. Showing that you aren’t perfect makes you more relatable and shows a sense of vulnerability toward the people around you.
26. Be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself
This may seem obvious, but if you smell, are dirty, or are just presenting yourself in a sloppy way, you may turn some potential friends off, Guarino explains. We all have off days (it happens!) but presenting yourself with care shows that you value yourself.
27. Tell them a secret
Self-disclosure is a great relationship-building technique and helps both parties feel closer to each other and more likely to confide in one another in the future. This vulnerability creates intimacy in the friendship, Dr. Schiff states.
28. Take a deep breath before approaching someone or entering a new space where you’re hoping to meet new people.
29. Dr. Jaclyn Bauer, clinical psychologist & CEO of Virtue Supplements explains that it’s normal for your anxiety to increase in that environment and remembering to take deep restorative breaths can decrease your anxiety and hopefully make it more fun!
30. If making connections with others is really hard for you, consider group therapy
In group therapy, you will have a safe container to try out new interpersonal skills, and get honest feedback about how other people perceive you, Guarino states.
31. Emphasize your shared values or common interests
People are more attracted to those who are similar to them, whether in attitude, hobbies they enjoy, or stances on controversial topics, says Dr. Schiff. Find something you have in common.
32. Recognize that you do not immediately connect with all the people you meet, and not everyone will connect with you
That is okay and just means that it wasn’t meant to be, or a potential friendship that might grow over time, Dr. Bauer explains.
33. Get a life (and we mean that in the gentlest way possible)
If you want to meet people with whom you have something in common, do things on a regular basis that involve others. Activities can range from taking classes, joining hobby clubs, volunteering, playing a sport or game, hiking, or any pursuit that meets regularly, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty.
The people you meet will share your interest, and you’ll have something to talk about and enjoy together. Don’t rely on online sources like Twitter and Facebook. These can be helpful to keep in touch, but they don’t replace F2F friendship.
33. Ask questions
This is important because it shows a genuine effort in trying to get to know someone and actually makes you more likable, Dr. Schiff notes.
34. Be aware of your body language
It is easier to start a conversation with someone new if they seem more approachable, Dr. Bauer explains. Being aware how we are standing (arms crossed, looking down, body turned away from others) can make it appear you are not open to meeting new people.
35. Don’t overlook people you know
While you’re making new friends, don’t forget the people you already know. Is there a favorite family member you’d like to see more often? Call him or her and suggest going for a walk, or to lunch. Are there acquaintances at work, at church, in your neighborhood, involved in your child’s (or your own) school, or elsewhere with whom you could develop a friendship? Consider reaching out to them. Let these people know that you’d like to share events and activities, says Dr. Tessina.
36. Think outside the box
Be open to forming new relationships with neighbors, classmates, co-workers, no matter how different from you they appear to be, Dr. Schiff explains. Having variety in your choice of friends keeps it interesting.
37. Make the first move
It is okay to make the first move. You can start with a simple text like, “I am so glad that we got to meet today.” If they respond, then you have broken the ice. If they ignored your move, then it wasn’t meant to be, says Dr. Bauer.
38. Practice self-compassion
Being kind to yourself will help you be kinder to others and help you build friendships, Lily Clark, therapist and co-founder of Transcendent Friendship, states.
39. Eat meals outside when you can
Instead of taking your takeout home or eating in your car, try eating outside at the takeout place and smile at people, Dr. Tessina explains. Invite someone to share your table.
40. In a new friendship, try to identify early on whether or not it is reciprocal.
Reciprocal friendships offer the strongest protection against loneliness, says Helen Chao, therapist and co-founder of Transcendent Friendship.
41. Be yourself
“If you are acting like someone else, then who is the person really connecting with?” says Dr. Bauer. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
42. Talk with people in line at the grocery store.
Ask a question about something they’re buying, comment on what you like or don’t like about the store, talk about the beautiful flowers on display. In addition to helping you practice talking to people, these people are probably from your neighborhood, and you might make a new friend, says Dr. Tessina.
43. Make eye contact with people when you’re talking with them
People want to feel heard, and if you’re not looking at them, there is a higher likelihood that they will think you are not interested in their friendship, Dr. Bauer explains.
44. Focus on qualities that you like about yourself or admire in others
Your identity is deeply shaped by your friendships, says Clark. Think about what qualities you like about yourself or wish you had, and look for people with those qualities in your friendships.