6 Ways to Make Friends
by Sarah Garone
February 7, 2024
The internet is great for many things: showing up for meetings in your pajama bottoms, finding hilarious memes or even getting a college education. But for making friends in the real world? Not so much.
Online connections can be meaningful, of course, but there’s a science-backed reason to pursue realworld friendships, too. According to a 2013 study, the number of IRL friends a person had positively correlated to their sense of well-being, while the size of their online friend group largely did not.
And it appears to be something that affects Gen Z-ers in particular. Recent research reveals that Gen Z-ers are far more likely than other generations to say they were lonely growing up (possibly due to the prevalence of social media), with 36 percent reporting that they struggle to make friends, especially in the workplace. Two-plus years of social distancing during the pandemic probably didn’t help the situation. Plus, it’s tougher to make friends as you get older; when you’re younger, settings like school, sports, or camps provide natural opportunities for connection.
Wondering how to create a face-to-face friend base? Here are six expert-approved tips.
Making connections in the real world requires — get this — spending time in the real world. Start by giving some thought to the places you like to hang out and whether those environments are prime for friend-making.
“Making friends in the real world can happen in so many different ways — frequenting a coffee shop, going to the gym, and volunteering, among others,” says Los Angeles-based therapist Brooke Schwartz. “While there's no way to guarantee you'll find like-minded people you want to be friends with in these settings, going places that align with your values can help increase the odds.”
Not sure where to start? Try scanning Meetup.com for get-togethers in your area, look at VolunteerMatch.org’s listings of volunteer opportunities or check out your local government’s parks and recreation website to find pick-up sports games near you.
Even when you put yourself in the perfect situation to meet new people, friendships won’t spontaneously generate. You’ll probably have to take some initiative. It can be tough to muster up the confidence to suggest hanging out, but take comfort: Lots of people will be thrilled to receive an invitation.
“When you reach out to someone, know that you aren’t asking a favor so much as offering something of value to both of you,” says Heather Dugan, author of The Friendship Upgrade: Trade Clickable Connections for Friendships That Matter. “Connection to others is a basic biological need we all share. Our ancestors relied on one another for simple survival needs, and that instinct remains strong within us.”
Even if you receive a weird look, a “maybe later” or an outright “no,” try not to let it set you back. “That says nothing about you personally,” says Dugan. “They may have other things on their mind or feel overloaded. View any “no, thanks” as simply an answer. Don’t let it be an end to building friendship opportunities.”
Make a plan
So you met somebody new, struck up a conversation and want to take the next step, but how? To take some of the pressure off, it’s best to have a plan for something to do. “If you have a basic plan, you can eliminate the awkwardness of standing around, saying, ‘I don’t know; what do you want to do?’” says Dugan. Keep things simple. Check out an art exhibit, go for ice cream or coffee or soak up the free A/C in the movie theater.
No matter the activity, make sure to include opportunities to get to know one another. “Try to incorporate some conversation time with a meal or drink before or after,” Dugan says.
Broaden your scope
We all gravitate toward people similar to ourselves. But as you survey the field of potential friends, don’t discount those who aren’t your ideological twins. “Being open-minded increases your odds of making friends, can lead to maturity and self-growth and helps disprove the ineffective belief that someone has to fit a certain set of standards (e.g., share your college major, play the same sport, etc.) to be a friend,” says Schwartz.
Up your conversation game
After over two years of communicating virtually (or at least from 6 feet away), it’s understandable if your conversation skills are a little rusty. Start by asking questions about your new friend. “Curiosity takes the focus off how you look or sound and lets you swing to bigger thoughts and ideas,” says Schwartz. “Listen to what the other person is saying and think of a follow-up question.”
Most importantly, “Do not glance down or scroll through your phone while someone is speaking. Think how that feels — don’t make them compete with the whole world for your attention!”
Do some self-reflection
Though it may sound counterintuitive, making real-world friends might mean first focusing on yourself. Are you the kind of person you would want to befriend? Do you flake out on plans, show up late to hangouts or tend to hog the conversation? If so, consider what emotional work you could do to become a better companion or confidante. “Self-reflection is a great tool you can use to help you attract friends,” says Schwartz. “The more insight you have into yourself, the more you'll show up as your best self and be open to and nonjudgmental of others.”