“I’m such a loner. My communication skills suck. I can never talk to someone first, and I don’t have any friends who can introduce me to new people. How do you make friends when you don’t have any to start with?”
Making friends when you have none can be a Catch-22 situation; most people make new friends by hanging out with their existing ones, but how can you make friends if you don’t already have that foundation?
When I moved from Sweden to the US a few years ago, I didn’t know anyone and had to make new friends from scratch. In this article, I share the methods that worked for me to get a social life.
Friends can encourage healthy behaviors, help you to build your confidence by offering you praise and reassurance, and reduce your stress levels by supporting you during difficult times.
Research has even shown that happiness spreads in friend groups and that investing time and effort into close friendships helps us to live happier, better adjusted, and healthier lives in adulthood.
Making new friends, especially if you don’t have any friends to start with, can seem like an impossible task. However, the good news is that even though striking up friendships can be tricky as an adult, loneliness doesn’t have to be a life sentence.
No matter what stage of life you’re at, this guide will help you to make new friends in a way that works for you.
Realizing that you have no one to turn to when you need social support can be lonely, isolating, and, at times, depressing.
Unfortunately, when it comes to making new friends, being introverted, or having issues like social anxiety and low self-esteem can make us feel exhausted or stressed by everyday social interaction.
The following techniques can help you to forge new friendships, even when you have none to begin with:
Perhaps you moved, got busy with work, or your friends got busy with family and career. If so, your main priority should be to find new, like-minded people. You can also see if you can find ways to keep in touch with your old friends.
If you’ve always found it hard to make friends, you probably want to prioritize other things. This could be practicing social skills, overcoming social anxiety, or coping with extreme introversion. Read more about the underlying reasons for having no friends.
Social skills are the key to turning people you meet into actual friends. There are two parts to making friends: 1.) Putting yourself in situations where you regularly meet like-minded people, and 2.) developing the social skills to form a connection with those you like.
If you often get stuck in superficial friendships, it could be that you don’t get past the small talk-stage of the friendship. Small talk is important for two strangers to warm up to each other. But making small talk for more than a few minutes can get tiresome.
One trick I use is to ask something personal about whatever we make small-talk about.
If I make small talk with someone about the weather, I might ask “What’s your favorite kind of weather?” I then share a little bit about what weather I like.
If I make small talk about wine at dinner, I might ask “Are you a wine person or beer-person?” – and then I could ask how come. As a rule of thumb – remind yourself to ask a personal question related to whatever you’re talking about. Doing so invites for more personal topics. This helps you get to know each other.
As your conversation continues, you can continue asking more personal questions and share things about yourself. Research shows that this is the fastest way to turn someone into a friend.
If you have low self-esteem, you might find that you turn to negative self-talk when confronted with a social situation. You may think things like “Everyone is going to laugh at me” or “I just know that I’ll end up saying something stupid”, which will prevent you from being able to relax around others. What’s more, these kinds of thoughts can turn you into a self-fulfilling prophecy – if you believe that others won’t want to be friends with you, then you’re likely going to act in a way that drives this into reality.
A way of challenging this pattern of self-talk is by learning to agree to disagree with it. Start by identifying your negative thoughts and challenge them. Can you think of times that provide evidence of the opposite?
For example, if your self-critical voice says “People ignore me”, can you remember moments where you felt that people did not ignore you? Reminding yourself of those instances can help you get a more realistic view of your situation. This can eventually help you to realize that your inner critic isn’t always right.
Rather than seeing it as a project to go out there and make friends (that can feel daunting), go out there and do things you enjoy. Let friendships be a result of that. This can be a more helpful mindset. You’re not desperately looking for friends — you’re doing what you enjoy and make friends in the process.
For example, you might reignite a love for martial arts, take a class in photography, or join a chess club.
It’s natural to want to avoid the things that frighten us, and if you have social anxiety, you likely want to avoid social interaction. However, the more that we expose ourselves to our fears, the less threatening they seem over time.
Work towards achieving your friendship goals by setting yourself small targets. These targets might be simple actions such as smiling at someone that you don’t know, paying a colleague a compliment, or asking someone a question about themselves. Taking these small social steps will eventually make being around others feel less intimidating and exhausting.
On the other hand, avoiding social interaction can make your social anxiety worse.
A good way to overcome awkwardness when meeting new people is to find a common interest with others.
Attend a social activity or event and use it as a conversation starter with another person. For example, if you choose to volunteer somewhere, you could ask the other volunteers about what got them interested in the organization in the first place. If you’re into writing and go to a writing club, you can ask someone what type of writing they like.
You can browse Meetup.com to see what interests you. Avoid one-off events, since you likely won’t have enough time to form bonds with people there. Look for recurring events, preferably the ones where you meet up every week.
Volunteering can help you find friends on a regular basis. Joining a cause that you care about can give you a sense of purpose in the world, and increase your self-esteem as a result. It’s also an opportunity to meet people from a variety of different backgrounds who also share the same values as you.
Friendship apps such as Bumble BFF, Meetup, or Nextdoor have become more popular, especially since the COVID-19-pandemic. They help you vet potential friends as they match you with others based on your shared interests. You can use them to ease yourself into a potential friendship by getting to know the person through messages before meeting in person.
As with dating apps, you can customize friendship-apps according to a preferred age-range and radius, as well as add information to your profile such as interests and hobbies to help you to find a suitable friend.
I’ve used Bumble BFF to make friends. Two friendships fizzled out, a third one I’m still good friends with, and through him, I made another great friend.
To succeed, make an informative, friendly profile where you share lots of information about your interests. Without this information, it’ll be hard for others to get a picture of you, and you won’t get many matches.
Here’s our list of friendship apps that work.
Join groups about specific interests, be it gaming, plants, cooking, or something else.
Online friendships can be as rewarding as real ones. But if you want to transition to real friendships, look for local groups. It’ll be less awkward to talk to someone at a live meetup if you’ve already gotten to know each other online.
“By my late twenties, I had barely any friends that I could say that I’d made as an adult, and it showed. As lovely as my childhood friends were, we had nothing in common anymore.”
As we grow older, we often find that we’ve outgrown the friends that we made as children, and the ones that we do remain close to, often end up dissipating due to circumstances. A 2016 Finnish study found that both men and women make increasing numbers of friends up until the age of 25, after which the numbers begin to drop off sharply, and continue decreasing over the course of your life. This drop-off of friendships could be due to situations such as recently graduating from college, moving to a new city, or going through a lot of life changes.
Our mid-twenties are a time for life-constructing choices, and this can often leave our friendships at the wayside.
If you’re in your twenties and wondering how to make friends when you have none, then the following steps may help.
What you can do:
It can be tough to find the time to focus on old friendships when you’re dealing with big life transitions, but if you’re lucky enough to have had previous connections, then it might be good to set aside time for those who have already shown that they know and love you.
This might mean identifying a couple of friendships that meant the most to you and focusing your energy on their maintenance. Perhaps send them a message on social media saying that it has been a while and ask what they’ve been up to these days. Give them a quick update on how you’re doing and tell them that it would be great to hear from them. Doing so could be the key to maintaining positivity and allowing you to be the best version of yourself.
People love to hear compliments, even if it’s from someone that they don’t know. Compliments are a great way to break the ice and can make someone warm to you; it lets them know that they have something to admire. Compliments also can lead to follow up conversations where you can discover that you have things in common.
Aim to make the compliment genuine – people have a sense for when others are being false. It might be a jumper that the person in front of you in the lecture hall is wearing, or you could tell someone at work that they made an interesting point during a meeting.
The ability to be consistent is considered by many to be the hard part about making and maintaining new friendships. Even though it’s important to enjoy each other’s company, and also to open up to one another about thoughts and feelings, consistency is probably the most necessary component in new friendships.
Being consistent demonstrates that you’re reliable. This doesn’t mean that you have to be at a new friend’s beck and call twenty-four hours a day, but it does mean returning calls and messages as well as going on regular meet-ups. Keeping to a regular routine is probably the easiest way to be consistent in a friendship; maybe Wednesdays become the day that you meet for lunch, or the first Friday in every month is your trip to the cinema.
If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, but you’re feeling lonely for friendship, consider asking your partner if there’s a couple that he/she recommends that you both double date with.
Double-dating is a great opportunity to socialize and meet new people, but the toughest part about it can be managing your expectations – you don’t have to be best friends with the other couple immediately; give a potential friendship time to flourish before you put too much pressure on it.
When you’re in your thirties, there’s an unspoken expectation that you’ll manage; everyone presumes that you already have it together and therefore you’ll know how to make friends by yourself. But, unfortunately, many people in their thirties find that they no longer know how to make new friends, or they may feel abandoned by their old ones.
Here are some tips on what you can do to make friends in your thirties.
What you can do:
Keep an open mind – it might seem a little bit obvious at first, but the office can actually be a great resource for potential friendships. Although you might need to reconsider your outlook on the office environment and search for connections beyond your current team.
Be proactive about introducing yourself to people outside of your current group or department and you might end up making new connections who could potentially turn into friends.
Facebook is a treasure trove of specific interest groups, so there’s bound to be at least one that takes your fancy. I follow three different poetry groups in the area that I live in. Through these groups, I’ve received invites to join similar groups and I’ve also connected with other members through their posts.
Once you choose a group, it’s important not to just be an observer – be active. Post messages and ask if there are any meet-ups planned. People appreciate when someone takes that leap and they’ll likely be responsive to you.
In your thirties, having friends might be more about taking a walk together rather than going on big nights out on the town. More casual activities like running errands can suddenly become a welcome part of your week when there’s a friend involved. After all, companionship is sometimes all we need in order to reap the mental health benefits of friendship.
Start saying “yes” more. This doesn’t mean that you should agree to attend something that is strongly unappealing to you, as it may be too difficult to feign enthusiasm, but you should reconsider attending events that you would previously have said no to, such as after-work-drinks, or a neighbors Christmas party.
You might not end up being best friends with the person throwing the party, but you never know who you could meet and end up connecting with. It’s a possibility worth putting yourself out there for.
Making friends in your forties can be a daunting process. Not only are you probably experiencing the typical hang-ups that everyone experiences at any stage of life, such as self-esteem issues, and a fear of rejection, but you also probably have a lifetime of experience seeing people come and go from your life.
However, making new friends can make your life richer and more interesting, especially if you see it as a welcome challenge that you can overcome.
By taking the following steps, it might be easier than you think to make friends when you have none in your forties.
What you can do:
If you haven’t moved in a long time, then there’s a chance that there might still be people living in your vicinity that you used to be friends with before your jam-packed schedule forced you to gradually stop seeing each other.
If you find that you still think back fondly on that person, then maybe it might be worth contacting them to see if they would be interested in reconnecting over something simple like a cup of coffee. Oftentimes old friends are the best – after all, there was a reason why you connected with each other in the first place.
When you were in your teens and twenties, your friends were probably quite similar to you in regard to their interests and backgrounds. But now that you’re older it might be time to diversify your friend group.
If you open yourself up to this possibility, you could meet a variety of interesting people from different walks of life. Strike up a conversation with the yoga instructor that you see twice a week, or perhaps chat to the friendly volunteer in your local charity shop.
Make sure that you’re visible to the people who live in your area – take walks and wave to neighbors and be friendly to those that you see in their gardens. Chances are that you’ll encounter the same people on a regular basis.
Take note of the small things about your neighbors – you could potentially instigate a conversation by commenting on a particular flower that you noticed in their garden or compliment a coat that they wear. This will help you to break down the barriers to communication.
You could even consider joining or setting up a local group. My neighborhood has a community group that regularly messages each other about social events and many friendships have blossomed as a result.
Traveling is an excellent way to meet new people. For example, cruises create a shared experience and a sense of closeness by seeing the same faces every day. However, there are many different travel options available to suit all types of personality and budget.
A cost-effective and adventurous travel choice would be to tour countries using hostels instead of hotels, thus providing you with a wide-scope to meet lots of interesting new people. Be an active participant on your trip and you could make connections that last a lifetime.