Looking to make new friends and expand your real life social network? Learn the secrets to making friendships with these expert tips.
By Jessica Padykula
Sure, most of us add Facebook friends here and there, but when was the last time you met a new friend as an adult — in real life?
Holding on to old friends and making new ones is an important part of personal growth, no matter your age. So if you feel like your social skills are a bit rusty, it’s time to get back on track, reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
We turned to Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem, a registered marriage and family therapist in Burlington, Ont., to find out why it’s so important to continue to make new friends, how to foster friendships as an adult and how to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.
1. Why is it a challenge to make new friends as an adult?
If you find yourself with a dwindling circle of friends, you’re not alone. Once you’re out of school or stay in the same job for a while, finding new people to connect with can be tough. There are three main reasons finding and making friends as an adult is so difficult, Belleghem explains:
• Adults usually have well-formed concepts of what they like and dislike, so finding people who are like-minded can be challenging.
• By the time we’re adults, many of us have developed a primary relationship with our spouse or partner, who becomes our closest confidant — the person you vent to, share problems with and use as a sounding board. “The need for a friend as confidant isn’t always as paramount as it once was,” says Belleghem.
• Adults have many responsibilities to deal with on a daily basis, so you might cut back on creating time to share with friends or to seek out new friends.
2. The importance of friendships
While other priorities may trump getting out there and seeking a new social circle, don’t slot friendships at the bottom of your to-do list.
“It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that our coworkers and neighbours are our friends,” says Belleghem. “But the truth is that, most often, when these people move or change jobs, they are no longer part of our lives. That’s why expanding your circle of meaningful connections as an adult becomes that much more important.”
When you let friendships fade away you can find yourself in situations where you could use a sympathetic ear, a spare set of hands, another perspective or emotional support and you might find that you have no one to turn to.
3. Finding new friends
Finding new friends is most easily done through common interests, explains Belleghem. If you love to dissect the latest bestsellers, join a book club. If you’re a fitness buff, join a running club or trade solo workouts for exercise classes a few days a week and get to know some of the other regular participants. Are you a nature-lover? Check out walking or hiking clubs nearby to meet like-minded individuals.
Or if you have children that attend school, offer to be involved in the parent-teacher association or school social committees to network with other parents. Similarly, if you belong to a church, join their social planning or fundraising committees to meet new people.
4. Building bonds
With the friends you’ve known for years, a bond already exists. With new friends you have to work harder to create connection, which involves finding common ground.
“Intimacy comes with trust and shared experiences,” Belleghem explains. Rather than just going out for a drink with new people you meet, plan to do an activity so that you can talk about your experiences together. “You’re more likely to remember an event than to recall sitting chatting over coffee,” Belleghem says.
Doing things with people, such as playing a sport or attending a class, also helps you to get to know them better because you’re seeing how they interact with others as well as with you.
Having different social circles for different activities seems to work best for adults, Belleghem explains. “You may have a friend that you love to shop with and a different friend with whom you share life goals, parenting tips, emotional support or exercise.”
Whether you sign up for a photography course, join a baseball team or take a cooking class, building time into your schedule to reach out to others can only enrich your life.