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“Why can’t I make friends? I feel like no one likes me, and I’ve realized that as an adult, it’s way harder than it was back in school.” – Kim
If you’ve just recently come to the realization that “I have no friends”, or if it’s something you’ve felt your whole life, this guide is for you.
Not having friends can make anyone feel “cursed” – like people have made up their mind about you before you even meet. It can drain your self-esteem and confidence, which makes it even harder to feel motivated to socialize.
My hope is that after reading this guide, you’ll have a clearer understanding of why you don’t have friends, and a game-plan for how to, over time, develop your friend-making skills (even if it has felt like a hopeless endeavor up to this point.)
Here’s a quick summary of some of the steps that we’ll go through.
What to do if you have no friends:
- Remind yourself that lots of people have no friends
- Figure out in what way you are lonely
- Address underlying causes such as depression or anxiety
- Polish up on your social skills
- Find like-minded people through mutual interests
- Overcome the fear of rejection
- Challenge your negative thought patterns
- Figure out in what way you are lonely
- Underlying reasons for having no friends
- Life situations that make it hard to make friends
- Thought patterns that can keep you from making friends
- Common mistakes that make it hard to make friends
- Having friends that don’t feel like real friends
- Making new friends
To learn what you can do if you don’t have any friends, we’ll start by identifying common reasons why some people have no friends:
Some simply aren’t into socializing: they don’t enjoy small talk or parties. Others don’t even like people.
Some suffer from social anxiety, shyness, Aspergers (autism spectrum syndrome), physical disabilities, or disorders such as bipolar disorder or depression. Others have experienced mental trauma or been let down or betrayed in the past.
We also cover life circumstances, such as living in a rural area, moving a lot, or having your friends moving or having families.
We’ll then identify your specific situation: Do you have friends but have recently realized that you can’t count on them? Do you meet people on a regular basis but can’t seem to form a connection with them? Do you technically have friends but feel like they don’t know you or understand you? Or are you currently not having any type of social interaction?
All these factors play a role in how to deal with having no friends.
Know that it’s completely normal to not have friends. It’s not weird, and it’s even common: 1 in 5 have no close friends. Imagine that every fifth person you meet on your next walk has no close friends.
Visualizing this can help us feel less weird and alien: You’re never alone feeling lonely. Know that there are many people who feel just like you. Others yet have been lonely but been able to make close friends. It’s likely that you can, too.
Why do I have no friends?
These are common reasons for having no friends:
- Being an introvert
- Suffering from social anxiety or shyness
- Experiencing depression
- Having Aspergers
- Being socially inexperienced
- Not having social interests
- Recently having moved, split up with a partner, or changed job
- Not having time to socialize
Take this quiz to see why you don’t have friends.
Not having friends can mean many different things. Sometimes, we try to protect ourselves from a harsh reality by thinking that it’s not as bad as it seems. Other times, it feels like the situation is way worse than it really is. By getting a realistic view of your situation, you’re more likely to succeed at improving it.
Here are some common statements that may or may not be true for you:
Sometimes, we act in ways that make people actively dislike us. Perhaps we’re too self-focused, too negative, or we break rapport or are too clingy. We’ll examine some of these reasons under the section Common mistakes that make it hard to make friends.
However, sometimes it can feel like people don’t like us even when they do. If someone is busy and can’t meet up, we may think it’s because they don’t like us, even when they do. If someone doesn’t use smileys in their message we might think they are annoyed with us, even when they aren’t.
One of our readers writes:
“I worry about what people think of me. I’m afraid I come off as awkward or weird and if someone doesn’t talk to me as much I assume they don’t like me.”
Sometimes, we can even ignore evidence of people appreciating us: We get an invitation to a party, but we think it’s out of pity. Perhaps people say nice things to us but we feel that they are just being polite, etc.
To figure out if people really don’t like you, look at the evidence for and against. Can you find examples throughout your life where people seemed to like you? Good – perhaps you are more likable than you think. In this case, the true cause of not feeling liked may be low self-esteem.
On the other hand, if you can find several clear examples of the opposite – such as several people pointing out something they don’t like about you, that’s good too! Now you’ve closed in on what the problem might be and you know what to work on.
Our article on different signs people don’t like you might make it easier for you to tell.
If you feel like you can’t make friends, see if you can find evidence of the opposite. Have there been situations where you have made friends? If you can find examples of this, you can feel confident that the statement isn’t true.
Perhaps there are other reasons for you not having friends. For example, it may feel like you can’t make friends, when in reality, you just don’t meet enough people on a daily basis.
If you, on the other hand, come to the conclusion that you’ve seldom or never made friends, you want to focus your energy on your friend-making skills. Later in this guide, we’ll cover several common mistakes that can make it harder to make friends and what to do about them.
“I have friends, but I have no close friends”
Perhaps you hang out with a group of people regularly in a group, but never with anyone one on one. Or, you have friends that you can go out with and have fun with, but you never talk about anything personal or important.
Here are two common reasons for having friends but not having close friends:
- Not opening up and sharing about oneself. – For two people to see each other as close friends, they need to know things about each other. If you don’t open up about you, your friend won’t feel comfortable opening up about them. You don’t need to talk about something overly sensitive or something that may embarrass you. Just sharing your thoughts and feelings about things that happen is a good start. For example, if your phone rang and you say “I always get a bit nervous before I have to answer an unknown number. Do you?”, you’ve opened up for a more personal conversation where you get to know each other.
- Not allowing the conversation to be intimate or personal. – Sometimes, we can feel uncomfortable if a conversation gets too personal and we change the subject or make jokes. It can help to stay in that personal conversation. Usually, this is where we get to know each other.
In summary, we tend to make close friends when we over time get more and more personal in what we talk about with someone.
Think about if you really have no friends, or if the reality is more complex. Could your situation be any of the following?
- You have always been alone and never had any friends – If this is you, you want to focus on the sections Underlying reasons for having no friends and Common mistakes that make it hard to make friends.
- You have had friends previously in life but don’t currently have friends – If this is you, it could be that your life situation has changed. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new city or your friends have moved or had families. In this case, you want to focus on the section Life situations that make it hard to make friends and Tips on how to make new friends.
- You do make new friends with relative ease, but they seem to tire after a while or that you can’t count on them – If this is you, focus on the section Having friends that don’t feel like real friends
- You have friends you can count on, but you still feel alone or like they don’t understand you – If this is you, you might not yet have found like-minded friends. Feeling this way can also be a symptom of depression or some other mental health disorder. We talk about underlying reasons in the coming chapter.
If you don’t have any form of support system in your life, read our guide on what to do if you have no family and no friends.
Often, there are underlying reasons for not having friends. Sometimes, these issues are so important that they need most of your focus. At other times, you can work on these issues together with the more practical friend-making steps further down in this guide.
Main article: How to make friends as an introvert.
30-50% of people in the world are introverts. Some almost always prefer solitude over socializing. However, those who prefer solitude can still feel lonely.
If you’re an introvert, you probably don’t enjoy seemingly meaningless social interaction. While extroverts can get energized by socializing, introverts usually have to spend energy to socialize. While extroverts can enjoy high-energy, intense social environments, introverts tend to enjoy one-on-one conversations more.
It can help to seek out places where you are likely to meet other introverts, for example:
- Reading or writing-meetups
- Crafts and maker-parks
- Certain types of volunteering
- Many workshops and classes
These places tend to be less loud or energetic and you’ll have different social expectations on you.
Sometimes, we mistake anxiety or shyness for introversion: We may say that we don’t want to socialize because we are introverts, when in reality it’s because we suffer from social anxiety.
“I’m quiet and shy, but I also just feel so much anxiety when I’m in a group of people. I feel like I know I’m not going to make any friends or good conversations so I just shut down. I can’t control any of that.”
Shyness, being awkward, or having Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can make it hard to socialize.
Yet, the only way to find friends is to meet people, and to be able to do that, you need to find ways to manage your shyness or social anxiety. The good news is that there are effective methods that you can use.
Here’s what to do if you have no friends and social anxiety.
In some cases, the feeling of loneliness is a symptom of depression. In this case, it’s important that you talk to a professional such as a therapist.
If you’d like someone to talk to right now, give the crisis helpline a call. If you’re in the US, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357). You’ll find out more about them here: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline
If you’re not in the US, you’ll find the number to your country’s helpline here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_suicide_crisis_lines
If you’re not into talking on the phone, you can text with a crisis counselor. They are international. You’ll find more info here: https://www.crisistextline.org/
All these services are 100% free and confidential.
Here’s a guide on how to cope with depression.
One of our readers writes:
“I’m afraid to say things to people the first time I meet them. My autism is my biggest challenge. I don’t want to do things wrong.”
Having Aspergers can make it harder to read social cues or understand others’ intent. The good news is that many with Aspergers are able to learn these cues and become just as good at socializing as anyone else. Here are some times if you have Aspergers and no friends. Further down in this guide, we’ll cover additional practical tips on how to make friends.
Extreme mood swings or periods of mania followed by periods of depression can be a sign of Bipolar disorder. It’s common to withdraw during the depressive periods, which can hurt your friendships. But the manic periods can also hurt your friendships: perhaps you do or say things you otherwise wouldn’t have.
One of our readers writes:
“I am a medicated bipolar. I tend to talk to anyone, whether I have a “relationship” with them, or not.
I’d like to come up with a method of ‘SELF CENSORING’ so that I do not crull boundaries of people who would rather me not interact with them, and me ignoring any signals that they may send out!”
For some with bipolar disorder, it can be impossible to stop talking. For others, it can be manageable with techniques. It can help to tell people around you something like “I know that I’m talking a lot and working on it. Please give me a heads up when I do, because I don’t always notice”. Also practicing relaxing and listening when you are making conversation can help.
Bipolar disorder can be improved with therapy and medication. It’s important to go to a psychiatrist who can give you the proper treatment. Learn more about bipolar disorder here.
There are many other mental disorders or physical disabilities that can make it harder to make or keep friends. This includes panic attacks, social phobia, agoraphobia, schizophrenia, using a wheelchair, being blind, deaf, etc.
Socializing with any type of disorder can be disheartening: People may have incorrect assumptions or make judgments.
Here are some things you can do:
- If you can, seek counseling or therapy from qualified medical professionals.
- If your condition is stigmatized in the general population, it can feel easier to socialize with others who have a similar condition to yours.
- If you have a physical disability, check out your local municipal groups or charities that can make mobility easier.
- Find interest groups for people in your situation on either Facebook (search for groups), meetup.com, or seek out one of the thousands of subreddits on Reddit.
- Focus on groups that meet up recurringly. It’s easier to form bonds with people you see on a regular basis.
The more time you spend socializing, the better you’ll get at it. Perhaps you simply haven’t had enough social training because you’ve preferred to be by yourself or for reason haven’t socialized much.
While social skills can feel like something you have to be born with, it’s not more complex than, say, learning to play the guitar. The more hours you put in, the better you’ll get at it.
If you can relate to not having enough social experience, put yourself in situations where you get to meet people, such as:
- Going to meetups related to your interests
- Volunteering or take a class
- Saying yes to invitations and opportunities that come up
It’s usually never very fun to do something we don’t feel good at. However, it becomes more enjoyable when you notice that your skills improve. This means that you at first will have to push yourself to meet people even when you don’t feel like it. You might have thoughts like “What’s the point, I still won’t be able to make any friends if I go”. But remind yourself that every hour you spend socializing is an hour closer to becoming a socially skilled person. Socially skilled persons tend to have an easier time making friends.
When playing the guitar, you’ll learn faster if you study the theory alongside your live practice. The same goes for socializing. Make sure to study social skills.
Main article: how to stop being quiet.
Sometimes it’s just easier to defer and listen than to jump in and make a statement that you may not be 100% confident in. Groups can be intimidating. If this is you, remember it’s better to say something than nothing at all.
People need to get to know you and see that you’re friendly and interesting. Say something, even if you don’t know if it will be interesting enough. It probably isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s not really important what you say, but that you show you want to participate in the conversation and that you’re interested in what others say.
Anger can be used as a defense mechanism when you feel uncomfortable or insecure in social situations. Anger can even have a self-soothing effect on us.
Unfortunately, reacting this way can be off-putting because people may think that you’re angry with them or that you’re an unhappy person.
Being angry intimidates people, and it will prevent them from trying to get to know you or being open to your overtures of friendship.
Try letting yourself feel the emotions of fear and uncertainty in social situations, and don’t try to push it away with angry or defensive thoughts. Rather than lashing out, make it a habit to take a few breaths when your anger hits. Always wait before you act in anger. This can help you respond more rationally and avoid damaging your social life.
Consider seeing a therapist. They can help you give personalized tools to control your anger.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.
Social interests are interests, hobbies, and passions that you can use to meet people.
Meeting people through your interests is an effective way to make friends: you’ll automatically meet like-minded people while doing what you like.
If you currently don’t have any social interests, you’re missing out on one of the easiest ways to meet new people that can turn into friends.
Not everyone has a passion or hobby that they live for. The good news is that you can use any type of activity that you enjoy doing to meet new people.
Try going to Meetup.com and look for events that seem fun to you. Look especially for events that meet up on a regular basis (once a week or every other week). On these events, you’re more likely to meet people enough times to be able to make friends with them.
Other good places to look are Facebook groups and subreddits.
There can be many reasons for losing your existing social circle. We’ll go into some common reasons throughout this chapter, including moving, changing or losing your job, or losing your partner’s social circle if you break up.
The most effective way to build up a social circle from scratch is to actively take the initiative to socialize. This can feel new if you’ve previously tapped into a social circle with less effort – such as through work, college, or a partner.
Here are some examples of taking initiative:
- Join a co-living
- Say yes to invitations
- Take the initiative to keep in touch with people you like
- Join groups and meetups
- Join and reach out to people on a friend-making app such as Bumble BFF. (Not the same as the original Bumble, which is for dating. Here’s our review on apps and websites for making friends.)
- If you’re about to meet with a few friends, invite others who you think would be a good fit.
- If you study, join extracurricular activities.
- If you work, join relevant social groups and go to the after-works.
Remind yourself of times you’ve made friends in the past. This can help you see that your current situation is likely to improve, even if you feel lonely right now.
Know that it takes time to build a social circle from scratch. Continue taking initiative even if you don’t see immediate results. In addition to taking initiative, you’ll find advice on how to polish up on your social skills at the end of this guide.
Main article: How to make friends in a new city.
Moving to a new city both robs you of your old social circle and puts you in an unknown environment. Therefore, it’s common for people to feel lonely after moving. Know that you’re not alone feeling lonely. You can use this to your advantage – there are usually many others who are also looking for friends. However, you need to be proactive to find these people. In the step above, I give several examples of how to take initiative.
Work is the most common place to make friends
For many, work is the main venue for socializing and we often meet our colleagues more than our spouse or outside-of-work friends. Because of this, it’s completely normal to feel lonely if you lose your old colleagues.
Don’t forget that you can still keep in touch with your old colleagues even if you don’t work together anymore. There’s nothing stopping you from continuing to join their after-works. Let them know that you still want to keep in touch, and ask them to let you know when they are up for something. Take the initiative by inviting them over for dinner or drinks.
Know that it’s normal that it takes time to make friends at a new job. Most people have their existing friend groups that they feel comfortable in, and you are new and unknown. When your colleagues prefer to hang out with each other rather than you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t like you, just that being with their existing friends is less uncomfortable. If you are warm, friendly, and take them up on their invitations, you will be accepted with time.
At work, friendship is something that slowly happens when we spend enough time together. So if you lose your job and don’t automatically meet people on a regular basis, you’ll have to be more proactive. My advice for proactive ways to make friends under Recently having lost your social circle.
You can choose to see losing your job as a blessing in disguise for your social life: Rather than making friends with whoever happened to work at your job, you can now have more influence over who your friends will be. You now have the opportunity and time to seek out and interact with people who you vibe even better with or who share your specific type of interests.
Losing one’s job can be a shock. If you recently lost your job, know that your situation will feel better a few weeks or months from now. You might feel lonelier right now than you actually are.
Main article: Having no friends at work
There might be several reasons for not having friends at work. We’ll cover many of them in the article above. However, in certain situations, you might work remotely, have very few colleagues, or just not have anything in common with them. In this situation, it’s extra important to look at friends outside of work. We’ll talk more about how to do that later in this guide.
Having no friends in college
Know that it’s common to not have any friends during your first 6 months in college. Many have to start building their social circle from scratch. It usually takes around 50 hours of interaction to make a casual friend and more than twice as long to make a good friend. In other words, if you interact with someone 30 minutes per day, it might take at least 200 days for you to consider each other to be friends. Here’s what you can do to speed up this process:
- Become an active member of a student organization or club
- Participate actively in your online class discussion forums
- Take the initiative — invite people to lunch, study, or play a sport
- Talk in class and make plans to do things afterward
Main article: How to make friends in college.
Having no friends after college
In college, we meet like-minded people on a daily basis. After college, socializing suddenly takes a very different shape. Unless you want to limit your social life to your job or partner, you have to actively seek out like-minded people. The simplest way to do this is to figure out in what way you can make your existing interests more social.
Here’s our main article on what to do if you have no friends after college.
The upside of living in a rural area is that it’s often more intimate; usually, everyone knows everyone while a city can be more anonymous. However, if you don’t get along with people around you, it can suddenly be much harder to find like-minded people than in a big city.
If you want to be more involved and meet more people, it’s usually a good idea to join local groups, boards, or to help neighbors out whenever needed. There are usually many opportunities for this if you ask around: Even tiny hamlets have numerous boards for road maintenance, forestry, farming, or hunting that you can join. Doing this gives you an automatic social circle.
If you don’t click with those who live in your area, and this makes you feel lonely and isolated, you can consider moving to a bigger city.
While this can sound intimidating, it has the upside that you can more easily seek out people who are more like you, using for example Meetup.com. See my advice under Recently having lost your social circle.
Not having any money can make it harder to socialize. It can also feel embarrassing and make the idea of socializing sound less appealing. In addition to that, it can cause stress that makes it hard to focus on having a social life. Here’s some advice.
- Focus on free events. Events on Meetup.com are usually free.
- Choose a picnic in a park over drinks in a bar, or cooking at home over going to a restaurant.
- Hiking, working out, running, some sports and playing video games or watching movies at home can be a relatively cheap way to socialize.
- If you go to a bar, go for a coke instead of drinks. This is usually significantly cheaper.
- If someone wants to go to a more expensive place, explain to them that you don’t have the money for it, and offer a cheaper alternative.
If you are busy with work or studies, you might simply not have the time to socialize. Here’s some advice:
- See if you can study or work together with other coworkers or students.
- Remind yourself that a few hours of socializing a week can give you important breaks that in the end will help you be more productive.
- Sometimes, our brain can make up an excuse that we don’t have time to meet people when in reality we do. The real reason we don’t socialize could be that we feel uncomfortable doing it or feel like it won’t be fruitful. If you can relate to this, make a conscious decision to prioritize socializing occasionally even if you don’t feel like it.
- If you don’t find socializing fruitful, polish up on your social skills. That can help you build relationships more effectively. You’ll find advice on how to do this by the end of this guide.
A partner can fulfill our social needs, at least to the point that we aren’t motivated enough to go out and socialize with strangers.
However, putting all your friend eggs in one basket has drawbacks.
- If your friendship only consists of one person, you might be overly dependent on that person, and conflicts or problems in the relationships can be worse to go through if you have no one else to interact with.
- You risk suffocating your partner. They may need you to be able to ‘talk out your troubles’ with others, so they aren’t your only outlet. When you become their one and only true friend, life can get overwhelming fast for both of you.
- If you break up with your significant other, you might have to start your friend circle from scratch.
To prevent this, seek out a wider circle of friends. What are some meetups you could go to related to your interests, for example?
It can be hard to suddenly have to make new friends again if you previously had a friend circle through your partner. Research shows that men especially have fickle social circles that are based more on activities, than emotional bonding. However, it’s also common for women to lose their social circle if they lose their partner. On top of this, reaching out to others tends to be especially hard if you are heartbroken or sad.
It can be a good idea to push yourself to socialize and meet new people even if you don’t feel like it. Doing so can also help take your mind off your ex. You’ll find specific advice for how to socialize under Recently having lost your social circle.
A cornerstone of making friends is to dare to take initiatives. It could be the initiative to exchange numbers and keep in touch, to invite someone to join you somewhere, to arrange a social gathering, or simply walk up to a new colleague with a friendly smile and introduce yourself. However, fear of rejection can keep us from taking initiative. That’s why it’s such a common reason for not making friends.
It’s especially common to fear rejection if we’ve been rejected in the past. If you’ve texted people and asked if they wanted to meet up, and you didn’t get a response, it’s completely normal to not want to risk experiencing the same thing again.
Throughout your journey, you will polish up on your social skills, and perhaps you are already better today than you were back when you got rejected last time. The more you work on your social skills, the more likely you are to connect with others. This makes you less likely to experience rejection again.
You can also change the way you look at rejection. Rejection might feel like a failure to you, but in reality, it’s a sign of success. It’s proof that you’ve been brave enough to take the initiative.
The only way to never be rejected is to never take any chances in life. Everyone experiences rejection. Socially successful people have learned to not be afraid of it.
With this new mindset, work on your social skills and at the same time practice taking more initiative to meeting people and keeping in touch with them.
“ I can’t talk to people without feeling like I’m the most annoying person on the planet.
Everything that comes out of my mouth is wrong, and on top of that I’m not very interesting or beautiful enough for anyone to want to be friends with me.
I don’t even know how to try and make friends since I can’t even order myself food at restaurants or answer the phone let alone approach people and try and make their acquaintance.
I honestly wish I was anyone but me.”
It’s surprisingly common for people to think things like “no one will like me”. Here are some reasons we might feel this way:
- Having a traumatic experience in the past that made us feel unwanted.
- Having low self-esteem, causing us to use negative self-talk, such as “You’re worthless”, “Why would anyone want to be your friend”, etc.
- Misinterpreting others. Here’s an example: You walk up to someone and introduce yourself, but they give only short responses and don’t make eye contact. Perhaps you think that this person doesn’t like you, when in reality, he or she is just shy and doesn’t know what to say.
If you assume that new people you meet won’t like you, that can make you come off as stand-offish, and then others will be stand-offish back. This can then reinforce your world-view that people won’t like you.
To break out of this pattern, try to be warm and friendly toward people, despite fearing that they might not like you.
Here are some ways you can be warm and friendly:
- Smile and make eye contact
- Ask a question or two to get to know them
- If someone does something that you like, compliment them for it.
We humans tend to like those who like us. Psychologists call this reciprocal liking. This means that people are more likely to like you if you show that you like them.
Remind yourself that every person you meet is a new start. They haven’t made up their mind about you yet because they don’t know you. If you dare to be friendly, more often than not, people will be friendly back.
Always challenge your internal voice. It might just be your low self-esteem painting worst-case scenarios. Assume that people will like you until proven otherwise.
Main article: “I hate people” – What to do when you don’t like people
With all the bad things that go on around in the world; shallowness, betrayal, greed, selfishness, and stupidity, it’s in a way reasonable to not like or even hate people.
It can also be annoying to hear people talk about meaningless things, and it can make us wonder if we even want to interact with anyone.
The problem is that while many people might indeed be annoying or stupid, there are always thoughtful, warm, and friendly people out there. If we’ve decided already that we don’t like anyone, we’ll never be able to find these good people or give them a chance.
Another issue is that we might be too quick to judge others if we decide that we don’t like anyone. The more you get to know someone, the more you’ll understand the logic of their actions.
If you catch yourself thinking that you don’t want to socialize because you don’t like people anyway, remind yourself that there will always be some good people out there. If you find these people and befriend them, you will get a more rich and fulfilling life. Using the tools in this guide, you’ll find them more easily.
It helps to go to the right venues. If you are analytical and introverted, you’ll have more success finding your people at a chess club or philosophy meetup. If you care strongly about the climate, you’re more likely to find like-minded people at a climate action group.
However, it isn’t enough to be at the right places. You often need to talk with someone for at least 15-20 minutes before you figure out if you have something in common. Everyone comes off as boring and uninteresting before you’ve gotten to know them – probably you, too.
That’s why it’s important to give everyone 15-20 minutes of small talk before you decide if you like them or not.
While small talk can seem meaningless, it has an important function: It allows us to quickly get a picture of someone. By asking the right questions, you can figure out what they work with, what they studied, and what’s important to them.
No matter if we like small talk or not, every single friendship starts with small talk, so you might as well make the best out of it. And small talk doesn’t have to be stupid – it can be your tool to figure out if someone’s worth turning into a friend. Read more about how to make small talk here.
It’s common to have thoughts like “I won’t be able to make friends in any case” or “It’s not worth spending hours talking to someone and then they never want to hang out anyway”.
While it can feel like a hopeless situation, here’s some advice.
- Remind yourself that there’s nothing holding you back from making friends except of yourself. This means that you are in control of this part of your life.
- There’s no magic to making friends and it’s not just that some are “born with it”. It’s a skill that anyone can learn. If you feel like people don’t respond well to you, the solution is to work on your social skills.
- When we feel lonely it’s easy to be overwhelmed with negative emotions: Resentment, anger, sadness, hopelessness. We might blame others, our life situation, or almost feel cursed. No matter how strong these emotions are, remind yourself that working on your social skills will improve your social life.
It can be helpful to break down your goals into small steps. Don’t try to change your whole life – that can make anyone feel overwhelmed. Focus on one step at the time.
There are many reasons for not thinking it’s fun to socialize. Perhaps you’re an introvert, you suffer from social anxiety, or you don’t feel like you connect with people.
If you feel this way, here’s some advice:
- If you’re an introvert, seek out venues where you are more likely to find other introverts. If you, for example, go to Meetup.com and look for groups close to your interests, you are more likely to meet people close to your personality.
- Know that while small talk might feel meaningless, it’s a good way to figure out what you may have in common with someone. You can read more about this under Not liking people or feeling resentment toward others.
- Some don’t like socializing because they feel anxious or don’t know what’s expected of them, how to act, or what to say. This drains their energy. If you can relate to this, know that socializing will become more fun the more experience you gain. Continue pushing yourself to go to social events, and work on your social skills at the same time.
- The most effective way to overcome social anxiety is to expose yourself to social situations. Start gradually with what’s just medium-scary, and work your way up.
Main article: How to enjoy socializing
If someone’s betrayed you in the past, it can be hard to trust again. The problem is that trust issues keep us from letting ourselves get close to new people. To make friends, you have to let people in and get to know you.
Good news is that you don’t need to reveal your innermost secrets or make yourself vulnerable.
Practice sharing small things about how you feel and see the world, even if it makes you uncomfortable. It can be small things like “I tend to get anxious before these types of events”, or “I never really liked the Lord of the Rings movies, I’m more into sci-fi.” or “This is my favorite song. It always makes me happy”. Avoid controversial topics, but give people a glimpse of who you are. For two people to get to know each other, they need to know things about each other.
The only thing that’s more damaging than being betrayed is to decide to not trust people. It will keep you from forming close relationships.
Sometimes trust issues are deep, for example if we haven’t been able to trust our parents. In these types of cases, it can be helpful to see a therapist.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist's office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.
Here’s some valuable advice on how to deal with trust issues.
If you feel like you don’t fit in, remind yourself that there are people out there just like you. You just need to find them.
Seek out interest groups related to what you’re into. If you live in a small town and your social life is suffering because of that, consider moving somewhere else.
Practice your social skills. It takes good social skills to be able to get to know people and figure out that you actually do have things in common.
Sometimes, however, feeling like people don’t get you can be a sign of depression.
Here’s more on how to find like-minded people.
Up to this point, we’ve talked about underlying reasons and life situations that make it hard to make friends. However, we might also have a bad habit that comes between us and future friendships. While it can be painful to think about ways we can improve, it can make a massive difference to your social life.
Empathy is the ability to understand how others feel. Understanding other’s thoughts, needs, worries, and dreams is extremely important to make friends. In fact, studies show that people who score high on empathy tests have more friends.
You can train your empathy by…
- Being curious about strangers – Ask them questions to learn more about them and listen attentively.
- Keep an open mind – If you notice that you judge someone, see if you can try to understand them instead.
- Think about how others feel – If someone gets interrupted, ridiculed, disagreed with or teased, focus on what emotions you think that person might feel. Or, you can look at people you come across in day to day life and try to guess what feelings they might feel.
- Trying to see things from the other person’s perspective – What are some explanations for other people’s actions (beyond them being “stupid”, “ignorant”, etc.)
- Turning the tables – If what happened to another person would have happened to you, how would that make you feel?
People with social anxiety usually have high levels of empathy. In fact, one of the reasons for having social anxiety is being too concerned with what people think. Someone with social anxiety might not have friends because they hold themselves back from meeting people, rather than lacking empathy.
Sometimes, it can feel impossible to know what you’re supposed to talk about. However, we have to make small talk for people to get to know us and feel comfortable around us.
All friendships start with small talk. Practice starting conversations with people, even if you don’t feel like it.
You want to use small talk as a tool to paint a picture of someone and share a little about yourself. Then, you want to be able to move on to more interesting topics so that you can start bonding.
I provide several tips for how to do this in the article how to make conversation.
We tend to bond faster when we have back-and-forth conversations: we share a little about ourselves, then listen attentively to the other person, then share a little more, and so on.
Going back and forth like this makes everyone feel engaged.
Only asking questions can make the other person feel interrogated, and at the same time, they don’t get to know you. On the flip side, only talking about you quickly makes people tire.
If you’ve spent several minutes talking about what you are interested in, or spent several minutes talking about the other person, switch it up.
Aim for this balance between sharing about you, then asking questions, and listening attentively.
If you tend to talk a lot about yourself, it can be helpful to sometimes ask yourself “Is what I’m talking about interesting to the other person?” One way to make the other person feel more engaged is to ask what their take is on the subject, listen attentively to their answer, and ask follow-up questions about that answer.
If you’ve come across a person you get along with, how do you keep in touch and turn that person into a close friend?
Make it a habit to ask for the number whenever you come across someone you enjoyed talking to. You can say something like “I enjoyed our conversation. What about trading numbers so that we can keep in touch?”.
It can feel awkward and too intimate to ask someone you just met to meet up with you one on one. Rather, make sure to invite the person whenever you’re going to some social event that might be relevant to them.
If you for example know two people who are both as interested in history as you are, you can ask both of them if they want to meet up together over a coffee and talk about history.
Some are so concerned with making others happy, that they hide their real selves. Being a people-pleaser can signal a desperate need for acceptance, and that makes someone less likable.
Friendship is a two-way street. Don’t do what only pleases others. Don’t do what only pleases you. Do what you think is right for both of you.
Here’s a good way to think about it: Don’t pick the movie you think the other person will like the most. Don’t pick the movie you think you’ll like the most. Pick the movie you think that both will like.
No matter what your intent is, people won’t dare to interact with you if you look tense, annoyed, or angry. This is a common problem since we tend to tense up especially if we feel uncomfortable around others.
If you can relate to this, practice easing up your face and having a friendly facial expression. Avoid crossing your arms – this can also make you look reserved.
See our article on how to be more approachable to learn more about effective body language.
It’s human to sometimes feel negative about things or about life in general. However, being too negative causes most people to tire.
- Telling stories about something bad that happened
- Bad-mouthing people
While everyone has the right to bring up something negative occasionally, it will likely hurt your relationships if you are usually negative. Sometimes, we may not even be aware of how negative we are.
You can check if this is you by thinking about your ratio of positive and negative comments. You want the positives to far outweigh the negatives. This doesn’t mean that you need to fake positivity – just that you want to save people around you from too much negativity.
This is not the same thing as forcing yourself to be positive or not allowing yourself to have negative thoughts. The point is to talk less about the negatives in life when communicating with people.
Perhaps your family and friends have dropped hints about issues in your behavior that you can’t see or don’t agree with. It could be that they’re wrong, or it could be that they see something you don’t.
Self-awareness helps us see ourselves from a more objective perspective. Here’s an exercise you can do: Think back to when someone raised an issue about your behavior.
It could be things like “You don’t listen”, “You talk a lot about yourself” or “You are rude”.
It’s natural to come up with examples that disprove their point. Can you also come up with examples that do prove their point? If not, great. Perhaps it was just something they said with no grounds. However, if you can agree with them, that’s even better – now you have a concrete thing that you can work on.
This type of for and against thinking will help you paint a more realistic picture of your behavior. Thinking about our “faults” is painful, but rewarding.
What if you technically have friends, but don’t feel like you can trust them when you need them? This chapter is for you who can make friends with relative ease – but then they either aren’t there for you, give up on you, betray you, or hurt you.
See our main guide on having friends but not having close friends.
While there may be many reasons for friends not being there for you, we are going to focus on the things that you can do something about.
- Perhaps you have ended up in a group of toxic friends. It can help to polish up on your social skills and practice meeting people. This way, you have more alternatives for who to be with.
- If it’s a pattern in your life that you feel like you can’t count on your friends, perhaps you ask too much of them. You can expect your friends to help you out every once in a while, but you can’t expect them to always be your mental support.
- Evaluate if you’re having a bad habit that might make people tire. While this is a painful exercise, it can be helpful to improve your social life.
If one or two friends give up on you or hurt you, the issue is likely theirs. Perhaps something happened in their lives, or maybe they are selfish or even sociopaths. But if it’s a pattern in your life that people ghost you after a while or hurt you, it might be something that you do.
This is not as bad as it may sound. I’m not saying that people don’t like you – I’m saying that you might do something that people may not like. This is a big difference because it means that you can work on changing that particular habit, and you will see an incredible upswing in your social life.
For tips on things that tire people out, read the previous chapter Common mistakes that make it hard to make friends. These same mistakes also tend to tire people out later in the friendship.
We’ll cover some additional common mistakes below that tend to be a problem especially later into a friendship.
When life gets tough, it’s completely normal to want to talk to friends about it. Talking about a challenge occasionally is fine and can even help them get to know you better. However, using your friends as therapists will wear on them. They might have the best of intentions, but if they’ve been your mental support for a long time, they might prefer someone who is less emotionally taxing to be with. This is a harsh reality, but it’s still the reality.
If you are able to go to a real therapist, you could do that instead. If not, see if you can limit how often you talk to your friends about things that are emotionally taxing. You can also try online therapy.
Some of us are too stand-offish, others are too attached.
Clingy friends tend to need a lot of validation and can have unsaid expectations or rules that are easy to break, which then causes tension in the friendship.
If you find that you do this, remember that friendship requires both people to be equally invested in the time you spend together.
If you find yourself pushing for more than your friend can give, then try contacting your friend a bit less. Focus more on getting to know other people to cover your social needs. Don’t stop keeping in touch with your friend completely. You want to find a balance where you both feel comfortable.
Perhaps last-minute changes rattle you. Let’s say that the plan was to go to the movies or on a road trip, but now that’s off. The new plan may not be better or worse, just different. If you don’t like that because you were ready for “A,” not “B.”, it can be relevant to practice becoming more easy-going in these types of situations.
You can try changing your default switch to ‘Why not?’. Give yourself a chance to adapt. It could be good. It could even be better. Let yourself think about the possibilities and the big picture if you say “OK.”
“99% of my friends have been rude to me or bitched behind my back.”
There will always be individuals who are toxic, egoistic, and rude. However, if you feel like you constantly meet this type of person, you want to evaluate if you might misinterpret others’ actions.
Here are some examples:
- If someone cancels your meeting at the last minute and blames work, they might be rude or selfish. But another explanation could be that they are truly overworked or have personal reasons for canceling.
- If someone stops keeping in touch with you, they might be egoistic or self-serving. But it could also be that they are busy, or that there’s something in your behavior that simply makes it more rewarding to them to be with other friends.
- If someone complains about something that you do, they might be abusive or ignorant. But it could also be that they have a point and say something that can help you be a better friend.
In all these examples, it’s hard to know what the truth is, but it’s worth evaluating all possibilities.
Main article: How to make friends.
Up to this point, we’ve been talking about life situations, underlying factors, and common mistakes that make it hard to make friends. But how do you actually make new friends, step by step? People often meet new friends through the existing ones. So you have to use different strategies to make friends when you have none.
Below is a list of some quick pointers. The main article goes into detail about each of these steps and more.
- Go to places where you meet people regularly – It could be a social job, classes, volunteering, a co-working place, or meetups.
- Say yes to invitations – Take every initiative to socialize, even if you don’t feel like it.
- Remind yourself of the value of small talk – While small talk can feel meaningless, remind yourself that every friendship started with small talk.
- Be friendly – For people to like you, you have to show that you like them. Use open body language, ask friendly questions, be curious.
- Be curious about people – This helps you figure out if you may have something in common. When you find commonalities, it’s more natural to keep in touch.
- Dare to open up – It’s not true that people only want to talk about themselves. They also want to get to know who you are. How else will they know if it’s someone they want to befriend?
- Don’t write people off too soon – Few people come off as interesting the first few minutes you talk. Try to get to know people before you decide if they’re interesting or not.
- Take initiatives – Text people and ask if they want to meet, walk up to groups, and make small talk. Taking initiative is usually scary as you might get rejected. But if you don’t take initiatives, you won’t be able to make friends.
To make friends with someone, we need to spend a lot of time with that person.
According to one study, people spend hundreds of hours with someone before they see that person as a “good friend”, and many hours more to be considered a “best friend”.
Here’s how many hours you need to spend together to become friends:
- Casual friend: 50 hours of time spent together
- Friend: 90 hours of time spent together
- Good friend: 200 hours of time spent together
This explains why it’s so hard to make friends with someone we just meet at a meetup once. It’s easier if you have a reason for keeping in touch and meeting regularly. This is why classes and regular meetups are good venues.
It’s also good to take any opportunity to spend time together with people: Make sure to accept invitations and do things together with other people as often as possible.
Is it OK to have no friends?
No matter what people tell you, it’s completely OK to have no friends. It’s your life and you decide how you want to live it. Many people don’t have any friends.
Don’t try to make friends in an attempt to fit into others’ expectations of you. Only try to make friends if you believe that it will make you happier. While it’s completely your choice how you want to live your life, know that most of us tend to feel lonely if we don’t have any friends. So while it’s OK to not have friends, most people would say that you need friends to live a fulfilling life.
Recent studies have found that friends aren’t just nice to have, but that loneliness can even shorten our life expectancy. One study found that feeling lonely is as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Scientists believe that friends have been important for survival throughout human history:
Individuals with tight friend groups had better support and protection than those who were lonely. Much like feeling hungry is meant to motivate us to eat (so that we stay healthy) feeling lonely is likely meant to motivate us to seek out friends (so that they can keep us safe).
The take-away is that it’s natural to experience loneliness. Loneliness can be incredibly painful. But there’s a silver lining: It can give us the motivation we need to eventually succeed in getting great, like-minded friends we can truly rely on. More in our article “I’m so lonely” – how to deal with loneliness.