How do I make friends?

ama ask me anything effective communication healthy relationships life lessons self-improvement Jun 08, 2023

Hello Dr Julie! Post pandemic, post divorce, post helpful therapy process I have few friends. It is not familiar for me to be so solitary but I live in a state where folks are resistant to deeper emotional relating or making casual connections without years of well established experience.

I use female meet up groups, hobbies, educational pursuits and even explored high school friends, which are positive but not netting meeting at a flower conservatory, coffee or meeting for music. I am lonely and have been told I have great friendship skills from friends in the past, I would like to have more connections in my life. I need to be in this state for work, despite many people from elsewhere complaining that when they move here for business, they do not stay long for lack of friendly chances to connect with others.

I have lost many family members, and some long term friends to illness, I wonder if after Covid others are in this position? I continue to reach out but am not finding opportunities I did when I was younger. Thank you for your kindness in considering my request.

--Looking for Friends

Dear Looking for Friends: You feel alone in this predicament, but let me assure you (FWIW) that you are not alone. Making friends as an adult is hard. The struggle to make and keep friends is not fully appreciated. And when we lose friends it can be just as devastating as when we lose a close family member, although not fully recognized as a loss by our society they way losing a family member is recognized--doubling the grief.

I don't know how long you've been in this situation, post-divorce, post-therapy, living in a new state, but it takes a long time to make good friends. You're doing the right things, so don't stop.

For you and for others in a similar situation, let me give you some information on friendships you may or may not know. 

The number one factor that influences who you will be friends with is proximity. When you were a youngster in school, you were most likely to be friends with others in your class. In college, you would most likely be friends with either people in your dorm or others in your major. That's because these are the people you see frequently and you have something in common with them that you can use to start a conversation. 

As an adult, we are not typically exposed to people the same way as we were in school. The closest we come is work and while that can be a place to find and make friends, it isn't always. I'm assuming work is not a place to make friends for you. In this case, look to other places you frequent, such as the gym, a class or shop for a hobby, or at a regular volunteer activity. 

Another big factor is how much do people want to spend time with you. It's a form of attraction that is not about looks, but more about what you add to people's lives. This sounds like a hard one, but in your case, I don't believe it will be hard. That's because, what people most want is to feel heard and understood by others.

When people find others who listen to them and express interest and understanding of them and their experience, they are naturally drawn to them. You likely have some natural ability to do this, so put some effort into doing these things:

  • Smile at people when you are talking with them (when appropriate)
  • Say people's names, at least when you greet them and when you part ways
  • Ask people questions about themselves. Then, ask follow-up questions about what they said.
  • DO NOT follow-up with stories about yourself unless they ask.

The last point may make you feel like you are not truly sharing or connecting, but that will come later over coffee or at the flower conservatory.

Be the one to offer an invitation for coffee or a walk where you can talk more. Once you are in a one-on-one setting and they have shared another story or two, then it will be time for you to share.

Once you have shared a story of your own, see how they respond. A person who is friendship material will show interest in your story. If they don't show interest and turn the conversation back to themselves, they are not likely to be the kind of friend you are looking for.

Building a friendship is like building a structure. First, lay the foundation and then, brick by brick, story by story you build connection. Stories of increasing vulnerability are shared little by little. Each person takes a small risk and sees how the other responds. If the other person responds by expressing understanding and sharing a similarly vulnerable story, the building of the friendship continues.

I'm sure my tips are things you are already doing, which is why you feel so discouraged. Keep it up and something will eventually come together. In the meantime (because there is still going to be a lot of time spent alone), do what you can to connect with those who are your friends (e.g., through hand-written letters or phone calls), try new things (e.g., skydiving or raising chickens), consider getting a dog (the are great conversation starters), and do your best to focus on what you do have and what makes you smile. 

Loneliness is no small thing, but it won't go away by focusing on it. Instead, get out there and see how you can brighten someone else's day. You might not make the kind of friend you are seeking. But you will make a connection and that will help you feel less alone.

Do you have a question for Dr. Julie? Submit your question here. If your question is answered, it will appear in Dr. Julie's weekly newsletter and her blog.

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