“I want to make new friends, but I find the process so awkward. I hardly ever meet people I click with. Even when I do meet someone I like, I don’t know what to say.”
Do you run into problems when trying to make friends? Maybe you can strike up a conversation, but never seem to get beyond small talk. Or perhaps your friendships always seem to fizzle out in the early stages instead of deepening with time.
In this guide, we’ll look at how to meet people who could be a good match for you, how to have great conversations, and how to turn new acquaintances into friends.
- How to make friends
- How to meet people you can make friends with
- How to keep in touch with new friends and become close friends
- Common challenges when making friends
- Common questions
Small talk can feel false and meaningless. But it does have a purpose.
By making small talk, you signal that you’re friendly and open to socializing.
If someone doesn’t make any small talk, we might assume that they don’t want to make friends with us, that they don’t like us, or that they’re in a bad mood.
Also, you can’t go straight to the deep questions in life before warming up.
Here’s practical advice on how to start a conversation.
But while small talk does have a purpose, we don’t want to get stuck in it. Most people get bored after a few minutes of small talk.
Here’s how to transition to an interesting conversation:
When you talk to someone new and realize that you have things in common, the conversation usually goes from stiff to fun and interesting.
Therefore, make it a habit to find out if you have any mutual interests or something in common.
Take chances to mention things that interest you and see how they react.
- If someone mentions driving to work, you could ask, “When do you think self-driving cars will take off?”
- If someone has a plant on their work desk, you could ask, “Are you into plants?”
- If someone talks about TV shows, you could ask if they watch Handmaid’s Tale.
- If someone mentions a book they read or something they read about anything you’re interested in, ask more about that.
- If someone turns out to be from the same place you’re from, or has worked in a similar field, or been on vacation in a similar place, or any other commonality, ask about that.
Use opportunities to mention things that interest you and see how they react.
If they don’t have any particular reaction, you continue making small talk as usual. If they DO light up (Looking engaged, smiling, start talking about it) – great!
You’ve found something in common. Maybe it’s even something you can use as a reason for keeping in touch.
Interests don’t have to be strong passions. Just find something you enjoy talking about. What do you talk about with close friends? Those are the things you want to talk about with new friends, too.
Or, you can find other points of commonality to talk about. What was it like studying at the same school, growing up in the same place, or being from the same country? Do you listen to the same music, go to the same festivals, or read the same books?
Don’t judge people too quickly. Try not to assume that they are shallow, boring, or that you have nothing to talk about.
If everyone seems dull, it might be because you keep getting stuck in small talk. (If you only make small talk, everyone sounds shallow.)
In the previous step, we talked about how to get past small talk and find things you have in common. It’s easy to write someone off, but try to give everyone a sincere chance.
Whenever you meet someone new, make it a little mission to see if you can find some kind of mutual interest.
How? By cultivating an interest in people.
If you ask sincere questions to get to know others, you might find that a lot of people you would previously have written off become more interesting.
That, in turn, might make you more interested in getting to know other people.
Many try to be cool and stand-offish when they meet new people. Others get timid because they are nervous.
But the problem is that people will take it personally. If you are aloof, people will think that you don’t like them.
It sounds obvious, but you need to show that you are friendly in order to turn people into friends.
In behavioral science, there’s a concept called “Reciprocity of Liking.” If we think that someone likes us, we tend to like them more. If we think that someone dislikes us, we tend to like them less.
So how do you show that you like people without looking needy or being someone you’re not?
You can still be cool if you want to, and you don’t have to talk all the time. But you DO want to signal in some way that you like or approve of those you meet.
- You can do that by making small talk and asking sincere questions.
- You can smile and show that you’re happy when you see them, especially people you’ve met before.
- If you appreciate something someone did, you can give them a simple compliment.
- If you agree with something someone said, simply stating that you agree is a signal that you approve of them.
All these things show that you like someone. Doing this will make people, in turn, like you more. It won’t make you come off as try-hard or over the top as long as you do it sincerely.
Make sure to consciously create small interactions whenever you have the chance.
- You could say “Hi” to that person you see at work or college every day instead of ignoring them.
- Exchange a few words of conversation with people you usually just nod at.
- Take out the earphones and make eye contact, nod, smile, or say “Hi” if you usually don’t.
- Practice small interactions, like asking the cashier how she’s doing or remarking to your neighbor, “It’s hot outside today.”
Talking to the cashier or someone else in passing probably won’t result in a friendship. But every interaction helps you practice social skills.
If you don’t both, you’ll feel rusty when you DO meet someone you could actually make friends with.
Being used to talking to people is important in those moments when you really do need to use your social skills.
When you stop trying to make people like you, it will (ironically) become easier for you to make friends.
When you try to make people like you, you might do things like bragging (or humblebragging) or making jokes in an attempt to make everyone laugh. In other words, you are always looking for approval. But this makes you look needy and appear less likable.
Instead, try to make people enjoy being around you.
- Be a good listener. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
- Show an interest in others rather than focusing only on yourself.
- When you’re with a group of friends, do your best to make others feel included.
- When you talk about yourself, stop trying to come off as cool and impressive and talk about things other people can relate to instead.
It’s better not to walk around actively trying to turn people into friends. If you take this approach, you’ll feel like a loser if you don’t “succeed” in making a new friend.
DO make sure that people like being around you (as discussed in the previous step). DO take the initiative. For example, exchange contact information and keep in touch.
But don’t try to fast-forward your friendship by being too intense or eager. That comes off as desperate.
Bad mindset when meeting new people:
- “I need to make a friend.”
- “I need to make people like me.”
Good mindset when meeting new people:
- “No matter what the outcome, just going there is a win as it gives me an opportunity to practice my social skills.”
- “I’m going to try to get to know a few people beyond small talk.”
- “I’m going to try and make this interaction enjoyable for everyone.
You often hear that you should ask more questions. That’s a GREAT piece of advice – most ask too few sincere questions, and as a result, they never really get to know people.
However, this doesn’t mean that it’s bad to share bits and pieces about you, your life, and your opinion on things. Remember that people don’t just want to talk about themselves. They also want to get to know you.
In fact, the most effective way to connect with someone is to alternate between disclosing things about yourself and asking questions.
It can look something like this:
You ask a sincere question, like “What do you do?” and then a follow-up question, like “Interesting, what does that mean specifically to be a botanist?”
And then, you share a little bit about yourself.
For example: “I’m bad with flowers, but I do have a palm tree that I’ve kept alive for a few years.”
When you share a little about yourself like this, you help others paint a picture of you. If you only ask about them, they’ll see you as a stranger (because they don’t know anything about you).
It’s true that most people don’t want to hear your life story or unrelated facts about your day.
But things they can relate to ARE interesting for people.
For example, if you used to live in Brooklyn, and then you meet someone who reveals that they also lived in Brooklyn a few years ago, that piece of information is relatable to you.
You don’t have to share your opinions on controversial topics (like religion and politics), but let people get a glimpse of your personality.
If this makes you uncomfortable, you can practice by sharing simple opinions like “I love this song.”
Up to this point in this guide, we’ve talked about how to turn people you meet into friends. But for that to work, you want to be in situations where you do meet new people on a regular basis.
Some argue that humans need three places in order to thrive: Work, home, and then a third place where we socialize.
Research8 shows that the best places to make friends are:
- In close proximity to where you are. (So it’s easy to get there.)
- Intimate, so you can be personal with people. (Big parties and clubs aren’t a good bet.)
- Recurring. (Preferably every week or more often. That gives enough time to develop friendships.)
It’s usually easier to socialize in groups that are centered around a specific shared interest. Then you know that you can talk about that interest with people there.
What’s a social group that meets up on a regular basis you could join?
If seeking out new groups is anxiety-inducing for you, read our advice here.
Also, see our guide on how to find like-minded people.
Below is some practical advice on how to find these places.
This is the easiest way to find like-minded people:
Join groups and clubs where you work or study.
Even if these clubs just seem remotely related to your interests, that’s OK. They don’t have to be centered around your life’s passion. The important thing to consider is whether or not there will be interesting people there.
- Look for groups that meet up on a weekly basis. That way, you’ll have enough time to develop friendships with people there.
- You can ask a colleague or classmate if they want to join. Going alone can be intimidating. It’s less scary to go with someone else.
Classes and courses are great because 1) you meet like-minded people and 2) they take place over several weeks so you have the time to get to know people.
Some cities offer free classes or courses.
Google “[Your City] classes” or “[Your City] courses.”
The problem is that you go there, mingle for 15 minutes with strangers (and fight agonizing social anxiety in the process), and then walk home to never meet those people again.
If you do check out those sites, ONLY look for the recurring events! Pick events that meet, at minimum, once per week.
These kinds of events are great. Maximum 20 participants, recurring, and a specific interest.
- Do NOT enter a search term. You’ll probably miss out on things you might be interested in. Instead, click on the Calendar view. (Otherwise, you just see groups that might not meet up for a long time.)
Leave the search bar empty, and choose calendar view rather than group view.
- Click on All Upcoming Events.
Select all upcoming events so you get more ideas.
- Open up all the events that interest you.
- Check if they are recurring. (You can check the history of the group arranging the meetup and see if they have had the same meetup on a regular basis.)
Go to Facebook and search for different groups. Join groups that interest you (and that seem to be active).
You might not find events on Facebook for your interests. However, you find several groups. Join those groups so you get their updates. Be active in them or at least read them.
Through there, it’s likely that you sooner or later find opportunities to find like-minded people.
You can also be proactive and ask in those groups if there will be any meetups.
Google “[Your city] community service” or “[Your city] volunteer.” As always, look for places where you meet people on a regular basis.
A lot of people have made their best friends through sports teams.
It can feel uncomfortable to join a team if you’re just getting started. Search for “[your city] [sport] beginners” if you don’t have much experience.
Here’s a good list of team sports.
Avoid social media like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook unless you use them to find real-life groups.
Usually, social media is a bit like eating candy instead of food. You get temporary satisfaction that lowers your motivation to seek out the kind of long-term satisfaction that real-life socializing gives.
Studies also show that social media lowers our self-esteem because we see everyone’s apparently “perfect” lives. Comparing ourselves to others, in turn, makes us more uncomfortable when we socialize face to face.
You can uninstall social media apps from your phones and block those pages, then replace them with chat-only apps like WhatsApp and let your friends know that they’ll find you there instead.
Use the “Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator” so you don’t have to see the Facebook main feed. You can search out the information you want to access.
It’s scary to tell someone that you want to keep in touch. What if they don’t text back, and you feel like a loser?
You want to follow up with people you like DESPITE that fear. Sometimes, people don’t text you back, and that’s OK.
But what’s worse, someone not texting back or never taking the chance to make a good friend?
Push yourself. When you’re in doubt if you should keep in touch with someone and that doubt stems from your insecurity, try to take action even if it’s scary.
If you’ve had an interesting conversation about a mutual interest, always take that person’s number.
It might feel awkward the first few times. After a while, it just feels like a natural way to end interesting conversations.
For example, you could say:
“This was really fun to talk about. Let’s exchange numbers so we can keep in touch.”
When you ask a person this after an interesting conversation where both of you have been eager to talk, they will most likely be happy that you want to keep in touch with them.
After you get someone’s number, it’s on you to follow through and keep in touch.
Do actually text them. Don’t wait for them to text you.
Text them right after you’ve parted.
“Hi, Viktor here. It was nice meeting you. Here’s my number :)”
Then, use your mutual interests as a “reason” for meeting up.
For example, let’s say you have a passion for orchids and meet a fellow enthusiast. You swap numbers. A few days later, you find an interesting article on orchids.
You could send a text like this:
“Hi, interesting article about Orchids here! [link]”
Do you see how a mutual interest works as a “reason” for keeping in touch without it feeling awkward?
If you’re about to do something social related to your mutual interest, text your new friend and ask if they want to join.
For example, if you and your new friend both have an interest in philosophy, you could text:
“Going to a philosophy lecture on Friday, would you like to join me?”
Or you could try bringing together several people who share the same interest.
“I’m meeting up with two other friends who are also into philosophy, do you want to come with us?”
If you meet up with your new friend at a group activity, you will probably feel less awkward and there won’t be as much pressure on you to make good conversation.
However, if you’ve made a GREAT connection and you don’t have a group event coming up, you can meet one-on-one. This usually works best if you’ve already met your new friend several times elsewhere, for example at an ongoing class.
The more comfortable you are with each other, the more casual the activity can be.
- Activity with someone you’ve only met once or twice before: Going to a meetup together or meeting up with several friends specifically regarding a mutual interest.
- Activity with someone you’ve met a few times before one on one: Grabbing a coffee together.
- Activity with someone you’ve met several times before one-on-one: Just asking, “Want to meet up?” is enough.
According to University of Winnipeg sociologist Beverley Fehr, “the transition from acquaintanceship to friendship is typically characterized by an increase in both the breadth and depth of self-disclosure.”
In her landmark study and book Friendship Processes, Fehr found that friendships were formed when individuals revealed deep and meaningful aspects of themselves to each other.
If you’re finding it difficult to form solid relationships with the people you meet, then think about how much you’re actually revealing about yourself.
Do you find yourself putting up a “wall” when meeting new people, constantly deflecting personal questions or answering them with simple, superficial answers?
Or do you hold back on telling people about your own experiences when the topic moves to an area that you know only too well?
You may think that revealing potentially embarrassing aspects of your life and history may actually hurt your chances of making friends. But according to Fehr, the truth is actually the opposite.
Self-disclose, and you’re actually much more likely to make new friends.
But how does self-disclosure help form new friendships?
Collins and Miller found that people who self-disclose are liked more by others. They also found that other people tend to self-disclose to people that they like and that people prefer those to whom they have made personal disclosures.
It’s only when we put ourselves out there and tell people about ourselves that we can actually connect with people.
Of course, in order for a friendship to form, both you and the other person need to self-disclose.
It doesn’t work if only one person is revealing aspects of themselves.
But as the research mentioned above suggests, someone is more likely to share their personal history with you if you do so first.
However, be careful. Too much self-disclosure can actually be off-putting and drive people away. You need to find the right balance between revealing too much and revealing too little.
So what kind of things can we reveal about ourselves in order to make stronger connections with other people?
Let’s look at another important scientific finding to help us make friends faster.
In April 1997, a study was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by Arthur Aron and his team.
The researchers found that it was possible to increase the intimacy between two complete strangers by asking 36 specific questions.
The questions were all designed to encourage the participants to open up to each other.
And as we have already seen above, self-disclosing is a vital part of forming new friendships.
Here are 6 of the questions from the experiment:
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- Ask your partner to tell you what they like about you. Ask them to be very honest, saying things they might not say to someone they’ve only just met.
- Ask your partner to share with you an embarrassing moment in their life.
All these questions will go a long way towards forming strong relationships with others.
Read more about the fast friend protocol and making close friends here.
From what we’ve discussed so far, you may be thinking that you need to go deep with the people you meet in order to start new friendships with them.
It’s true that you will need to reveal personal and meaningful things about yourself at some stage if you want to make a new friend.
But you can also talk about more trivial things at the beginning of a friendship in order to get it moving along in the right direction.
In fact, a recent study found that talking about music was one of the most popular topics of conversation when same-sex and opposite-sex pairings were told to get to know each other over the course of 6 weeks.
In the study, 58% of the pairs talked about music in the first week. Less popular topics of conversation, such as favorite books, movies, TV, football, and clothes, were only discussed by about 37% of the pairs.
But why is it that music is such a popular topic of conversation for newly introduced pairings?
The authors of the study said that the kind of music someone likes says a lot about their personality. People talk about music to work out whether they are similar or different from each other.
According to the research, an individual’s musical preferences were an accurate indication of their personality.
Specifically, the study found that those that liked vocally dominant music were generally extroverted in nature, that those who liked country were, for the most part, emotionally stable, and that those that listened to jazz were quite intellectual.
The key takeaway from this study is that we can know more about a person by finding out what kind of music they like.
So the next time you meet someone new, don’t be afraid to pull out the “What’s your favorite type of music?” card.
Another interesting finding that can help you make friends faster comes from social researchers Carolyn Weisz and Lisa F. Wood and their study on the effects of social identity support between individuals.
A social identity can be many things, such as being a member of a particular religion, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, socio-economic class, etc.
According to the results of the study, when you support someone’s sense of self or identity, the intimacy between you grows.
In simple terms, the results of the findings suggest that being able to relate to an individual’s position in society can help them feel understood. This can, in turn, increase feelings of intimacy between you.
They also found that social identity support between individuals often led to them remaining friends over the long term.
So how can this finding help us make new friends faster?
Whenever you meet someone new, try to put yourself in their shoes, and try to feel and understand what it must be like to move through their world with their social identity.
In order to strengthen the bond between you and the people you meet, you need to empathize with them and where they are coming from.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
It’s hard to relate to someone’s particular social identity when we have no experience or knowledge of it.
But remember that earlier study by Aron and his colleagues and his list of 36 questions to help increase the intimacy between two complete strangers? You can use questions like that to better understand people you meet and help you connect.
It’s tempting and easy to cancel plans when you aren’t in the mood to socialize. But in the long term, it’s probably not the kind of life you want to live.
If you start being a little social, it’s much easier to be more social. Use any little opportunity you get to socialize to keep the wheels running.
It’s never fun to do things we don’t feel good at. When we learn to master something, it starts getting more fun. If socializing is boring, pick a single goal for the interaction and focus on that.
It’s hard to work up the motivation to socialize when you don’t really like people.
If you feel this way, it might be because you haven’t yet mastered the skill of getting past small talk and having deeper, more interesting conversations. When you learn to find mutual interests, you might find socializing much more fun.
Read more in our article on what to do if you don’t like people.
If you aren’t outgoing or extroverted, that’s OK. Around 2 out of 5 people identify as introverts.
However, we ALL need human contact. Feeling lonely is terrible and as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.
Almost all introverts want to meet people. It’s just that they don’t want to do it in extroverted, loud settings.
If you find people in groups related to your interests, you’ll be able to socialize without compromising who you are. You can be a social person without having to be overly social.
The most obvious step is to choose free events over costly ones. Luckily, there are loads of free events everywhere.
You should also look specifically into volunteering and community service.
Small costs like gas are a question of priorities. If you want to make friends, a small budget for social interaction is a good investment.
If you can allow for 50 dollars a month, you can have a great social life.
Usually, even small cities have classes and courses you can attend. Make it a habit to look at message boards and see what shows up.
The smaller the city, the broader your search will need to be. For example, in New York, you might find an event for people interested in post-modern art from Belarus. In a small city, you might instead be able to find a general “Culture Club.”
Even if you’re in a small town, you might still be able to find Facebook groups that match your interests.
Socializing is never fun when you don’t feel good at it.
If you feel bad socially, that’s a sign you need to socialize more, not less.
Social anxiety can be like a barrier between you and everything you want in life. There are several ways to tackle it:
- Do what you can to make socializing less scary. For example, if you’re going to a meetup, ask a friend to come with you.
- Work specifically on your social anxiety. Here are our book tips for social anxiety.
- Read our guide How to make friends if you have social anxiety.
As we approach our 30s, people tend to get busier.
In fact, we lose half of our friends every 7th year.
But this doesn’t mean that we can’t make new friends. At social groups and events, you find all those who are NOT busy with work and family. (If they were, they wouldn’t go to those events.)
Just because people get busy in life and we lose old friends, it’s extra important to regularly look for new ones.
See our guide on how to make friends in your 30s.
If you feel self-conscious about your looks, you might think, “It’s easy for someone who’s good-looking, but people don’t like me because I look weird/ugly/overweight/etc.”
It’s true that if you’re a fashion model, that will help you in the very first interaction with someone.
Before people know anything about you, the only assumptions they can make are based on our looks.
But as soon as we start interacting, our personality becomes more and more important and looks less and less important.
Even if we don’t have good looks, we can still make friends. You probably know someone who looks worse than you do but has more friends.
Remind yourself of that person when you need proof that you can make friends even if you’re not conventionally attractive.
You might be reluctant to use the tips in this guide in case it starts to feel like you’re forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. If so, it can help to change your mindset.
Try to see social events as a place you go because you’re interested in the topic as we discussed here.
While you’re there, you want to talk to people. As a bonus, you might connect with someone.
Remember: Making friends is a side effect of having a good time together with people.
If you see it that way, the interaction feels less forced.
Here’s how it can work:
You go to an event based around something you’re interested in. There, you can talk to others who are interested in the same thing.
If you hit it off, you can meet up again and build your friendship around that interest. You don’t need to be overly nice or positive. You just need to be authentic. You don’t have to change your personality to make friends.
Try to practice the following skills, even if they are beyond your comfort zone:
Small talk: You may learn to appreciate this once you are able to use it as a bridge to finding mutual interests.
Opening up: Sharing a thing or two about you every once in a while so that people can get to know you as you get to know them.
Meeting more new people: This can be exhausting, but something that’s necessary to make new friends. Rather than seeing it as having to meet new people, see it as following your interests and meeting people in the process.
In a new city, we often have a much smaller social circle (or no social circle) than where we originally came from. Therefore, it’s important to actively go out to places and socialize with people. Go to meetups where you’re most likely to find others who share your interests.
Here’s our full guide on how to make friends in a new city.
There are many reasons why you might have no friends. For example, are you too afraid of rejection? Do you have trouble opening up? Do you have social anxiety? Whatever the reason, you can make friends. But each problem needs its own solution.
Read this article for advice: why you might not have any friends.
If you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or older, socialize in places where you can meet the same people repeatedly. When we get older, it usually takes longer to form friendships. Try meeting people at work, classes, recurring meetups, or volunteering.
Go to our full guide on how to make friends as an adult.
Join on- and off-campus events, get an on-campus job, or join a sport. Say yes to invitations; they tend to stop coming in if you decline them. Know that most people feel uncomfortable around strangers. If others seem cold, don’t take it personally; they might just be nervous.
Here’s our complete guide on how to make friends in college.
Look for small communities related to your interests. Let people know what you’re interested in and what you like talking about. If you’re interested in gaming, joining a guild or group is a good option. You could look on Reddit, Discord, or apps like Bumble BFF.
Read our full guide here on how to make friends online.
Avoid loud parties and other venues where it’s hard to have in-depth conversations. Instead, seek out places where like-minded people gather. For example, find a meetup group where people share your interests.
Here are some more tips on how to make friends as an introvert.