Do you look back on high school as the best time of your life? Probably not, but for many people it was the easiest time in their lives to make friends. Think about it: exposure to hundreds or thousands of students every day and organized social activities meant that it wasn’t hard to make friends if you put forth even the slightest bit of effort.
(I know, I know – not everyone was class president or a cheerleader, but most of us had plenty of friends to share in our teenage angst.)
Fast-forward 20 or 30 years and the scene may look a lot different. You go to work, take care of your home, and spend most of your free time either inside your house or in family activities. You may keep up with your best friend by phone, but you hardly ever see her because you are both so busy. You miss spending time with a group of friends, but you just chalk it up to the responsibilities of adulthood and think that no serious person has that much time to socialize anyway.
Does that describe your life? It did mine only 10 years ago. And even though I love my husband dearly, one person cannot be all things to his or her mate. It takes a village, so to speak.
Redbook Magazine has an article this month about the difficulties of making friends at 40. The writer talks about her own experience of not quite fitting in with any group and how she learned the hard way to make friends in adulthood. I contributed a small piece to the story about my successes in making friends through a couple of moves and life changes where I literally had to start over in a new place.
Before I show you how I’ve learned to make friends easily, I should describe my life to you first. I do not have a “best friend” – I have a group of them. Each week I could probably have plans every night, but the typical is 3-4. If a problem or piece of good news comes up, I have several people to share it with outside of my family (and let’s face it, sometimes the worst struggles come from within a family).
You may or may not want this much activity in your life, but the tips below will help you develop the circle of friends you want and maintain it with ease. Your life will be richer, and so will theirs. Your successes and failures will have a supportive audience, and you get to cheer on and console your friends through life’s ups and downs. (For more information on why a large social network is good for your health, check out my earlier post on the social findings from the Framingham Heart Study.)
How to make friends easily
- Become good at starting conversations wherever you go. You can’t expect other people to start conversations, so be prepared to do it yourself. Ask how they know the host at a party, why they came to a certain event, or what they think of the food at the buffet. Ask your server for their favorite dishes or any store owner how business is going. Other people will be grateful that you started the conversation because 95% of people are terrible at this.
My experience: Shortly after moving to Seattle we went to a sports bar and saw another patron in a Boston Red Sox cap. Having recently moved to Boston, we approached him, told him this, and asked if we could buy him a beer and join him to watch the game. We soon became friends with him and later his wife, and after that became even better friends with another couple they introduced us to. All from one interaction after work at a sports bar.
- When you meet someone you like, set up a date. I’m always surprised that people don’t do this. You sit next to someone you like at an event or work function and leave without making a followup plan. Or you meet friends of friends at a party and neglect to even get their contact information. When someone says “we should get together sometime” you should suggest something specific. You have to become the event planner with new people because 95% of people are terrible at this.
My experience: I moderate a Personal Growth and Productivity Group on Biznik, a social networking site. A new member joined, saw my posts about travel, and sent me an email detailing some of her adventures around the world. She sounded interesting and I suggested that we have lunch, and we really hit it off. I learned a lot about her trip and was able to provide her some targeted business advice in return. And she then followed up with an invitation for me to join a women’s travel group. So by following my instinct and meeting her, I am now going to meet another group of women who share my same passion for travel.
- Do the unexpected. Your grandmother was right: Thank You notes are always appropriate. Did you have a good time at a party? Send a card/email/text to let the hostess know. Enjoy meeting someone new? Do the same. People love to know that you enjoyed their company, and they are more inclined to seek more of yours when they know it. Plus you’ll stand out in their minds because 95% of people are terrible at this.
My experience: After attending a fun summer party hosted by a coworker, I called the next day to thank him and tell him what a good time we had. He was so surprised by the call that he thanked me for thanking him! Even though neither of us work for that company anymore and we live 3000 miles apart, we are still friends and stay in touch via email and phone calls. There have been many other times in my life when a thank-you card or phone call prompted a follow-up event with someone.
- Become the party planner. If you play your cards right, you will be meeting new people all the time. Suggest pairings of people you think will get along and plan a date. Do you have new friends who enjoy live music? Seek out an event and invite them all to join you. Not only will they like the activity, they will appreciate you introducing them to others who share their interests. Connecting people is a great way to broaden your social circle, and most people will be amazed at your ability to do this because 95% of them are terrible at this.
My Experience: When I decided to get a tubal ligation last summer, I hosted a “Farewell to Fertility” party with my girlfriends. Some of them knew each other, some did not, but we could all bond over the idea of female fertility, no matter what age. It was a fun evening with a theme everyone could discuss in one way or another, and other than scaring the bartender it was a fun evening. I followed up by sending a card showing all of us around the table, and I’ve actually seen this on the refrigerator of more than one friend to this day.
What it all really boils down to is paying attention to the people in your life. If you want to spend more time with someone, you have to be willing to reach out and make the first move, plan a few events, and follow up to nurture the new relationship. Most people are not very good at this in adulthood because they think they are too busy, so if you take a few minutes each day to think about your budding friendships you will be surrounded with good friends and an active social life in no time.
The best time to build friendships is when you don’t need them. And when the time comes that you do, you will wonder how you ever got along without them. That is certainly the way I feel.