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By Nathan Bailey, MA, LPC

Maybe this seems like a silly topic but, yes it’s possible as an adult to find yourself searching out new friends. 

How did I get here?

There may be several reasons why this is where you find yourself. It’s possible as you choose recovery, you need to end the old friendships that don’t support positive change. Maybe due to a move or a life event (like a divorce), you’ve found yourself losing friends that were once dear to you. Other times, life circumstances (being the caregiver to a chronically ill family member, battling depression etc.) have forced you to withdraw for a significant time and you’re now reemerging to find you don’t want to be alone anymore. In some cases social anxiety might be keeping you from developing strong friendships.

This seems…odd.

It’s important to note that making friends as an adult might seem a little odd. After all, many people develop lifelong friendships via their school experiences, a shared work history and/or having lived in the same neighborhood for a considerable period of time. Marriage and kids can change our circle of friends as we find ourselves at the same school events, sporting events etc. These types of friendships can sometimes develop without much effort. If, for whatever reason, we haven’t had those experiences (or had them but they’ve since been lost) you might be at a loss on how to make friends. What seems like it should be so easy, actually becomes challenging and even discouraging. 

Getting started.

OK, so where to start? Not to be captain obvious here, but to meet new people, you’re going to need to meet new people. Deep huh? Well, what I mean is that spending time on your own wishing you had more (or deeper) friendships doesn’t get you more or deeper friendships. Part of this means you’ll need to find new groups of people. If the idea of starting to talk to others fills you with significant anxiety, getting anxiety counseling can help you take these first steps. 

Find new groups of people.

How do you find new people to meet? Well, try pursuing things you’re already interested in that include groups of people. Shared interests are a great way to make friends. Book clubs, adult education classes, volunteer activities, gyms, sports leagues etc. are all great places to meet new people. Or, try something new. Some types of activities have some interesting cultures that you might not have experienced before (hiking/outdoor/camping, cycling, gardening, gaming, baking, antiquing etc.).  

Set reasonable expectations.

It’s important that as you consider making new friends, you recognize you can’t force it. Don’t push yourself on people, that’s likely to repel them. I’ve even heard of grown adults walking up to random strangers in a store asking to spend time with them. Your intentions might be good, but that’s probably not an effective strategy. Most friendships start slow and grow over time. Don’t lose hope, it might not happen overnight, but the journey can be fun along the way. 

Don’t share too much, too fast.

Easy does it. Getting to know people takes time. With out going into a complex math formula, there’s a clear relationship between the time we spend with people and intimacy (knowing and being known). What that means is, it’s unwise to share your life story with someone you just met getting coffee at your local coffee shop. You may be comfortable with that, but it’s likely they could be scared off. Start with someone at a surface level. As you get to know each other and trust is established, there will be the right opportunities to share the deep stuff. 

It’s OK to take some initiative.

You may need to be the first one to reach out. Sometimes we may feel comfortable putting ourselves around others, but not reaching out to start a conversation. We inwardly hope someone introduces themselves to us and asks things of us questions. Have you considered taking this same idea but flipping it 180 degrees? Consider that they may find it hard to introduce themselves to you! Break the ice by asking someone their thoughts, opinions and basic “get to know you” facts. The classic book “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie is a must (and a really easy/quick read) and can help with this if you find yourself unsure what to do and say. 

How about inviting a few people to do something or hang out? It doesn’t have to become a wild, crazy party, start with just two or three people. Have something specific to do (game night, movie night etc.) so you’re not feeling the weight of needing to carry the conversation. 

Feeling lost in a crowd.

Finding yourself at a big event and you’re a more reserved, shy kind of person? Even if you’re not the “life of the party” type of person, just enjoy connecting with one or two people. You don’t have to meet everyone. Quality not quantity. Keep in mind the chances are pretty good there’s others at the party who feel just like you.  

Need some help getting started?

If you’ve read this through and you’re still feeling stuck, you may need some help getting started (and that’s OK). Many people struggle to connect to others. You don’t have to live a life of isolated loneliness. Invest in the quality of your life and get professional help. Anxiety counseling, trauma therapy or depression counseling can break down the barriers getting in the way. Don’t settle. At Lime Tree Counseling, you can work with one of our highly trained therapists in a comfortable environment (or stay in yours and try online counseling in Pennsylvania or online counseling in Colorado). Schedule an appointment with us today.