When we’re young, it’s easier to make friends. You’re usually in school or college, taking part in extracurricular activities or sports, and those around you are of the same age and have similar interests and experiences. After college we mature and in a lot of ways, improve. We settle into our identity and grow more comfortable in our own skin. We also tend to focus on what matters to us.
You’d think that be a recipe for attracting and keeping friends, and even for deepening already existing friendships. But when you get older, relationships change. Maybe you move or your friends move away, or you and your clique drift apart. By beating the same path day in, day out and interacting with the same group of people, it becomes harder to find new people to hang out with.
There’s an epidemic of loneliness in modern society. It’s even being reported by young adults, ages 18-24. Moreover, a number of studies have shown that as we get older, we typically have fewer and fewer friends.
With building a career and for those who have children, parenting, the older we get the less energy we have for socialization. What’s more, our sense of pride may be getting in the way. In Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman talks about the need to be well-liked and how, in his view, being popular is even more important than being smart. “Be liked and you will never want,” he instructs his son, Biff.
Most people portray a glamorous lifestyle, even if they’re actually lonely. Credit: Getty Images.
We feel as though if we’re not surrounded by close, high caliber friends, we’re failures. In other words, it’s important to our self-esteem and we believe, our social standing to portray a vibrant social life, even if in truth we’ve never been lonelier. This may be even more pronounced in the age of social media. No one wants to admit they’re lonely or that their social life is falling apart. And yet, it can happen to anyone.
We’re social beings by nature. As such, loneliness is terrible for our psychological and even physical health. Fomr those who come to terms with their situation, there are some very good strategies to make new friends, according to psychology. It’s actually much easier than you think.
Of course, you have to start looking outside your immediate social circle. Common interests are a great place to start. Look at what Meetup groups are in your area. Or take part in a new activity like a sport, a cooking class, book club, an artistic pursuit, or what-have-you. If you can’t find the club you’re looking for, start it.
Another option is to network. Use your social media connections or go to parties and try and meet friends of friends, those whom seem interesting to you but you’ve never talked to much. There are also all kinds of apps you can use to meet new people. There’s Friender, FriendMaker, MeetMe, Patook, Nextdoor—for meeting someone in the neighborhood, Stitch, for the 50+ crowd, and MeetMyDog, for dog lovers.
Marriage and family therapist Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. says it’s important to try new things in the pursuit of meeting new people. Try an activity you’ve always wanted to do but either didn’t have the time or the courage for.
Sometimes you can make friends with your friends friends. Credit: Getty Images.
Once you find your thing, keep showing up, even if it feels awkward the first few times. The exposure effect says the more someone is exposed to you, the more they like you. But just showing up isn’t enough. If you’re a natural introvert or even if you aren’t, it can be hard to break through and actually make friends with someone you see as a casual acquaintance—say at a book club.
Jack Schafer, Ph.D. is a professor at Western Illinois University. He’s also a former FBI Special Agent in the National Security Behavioral Analysis Program. Dr. Schafer suggests that when you interact with someone, remember The Golden Rule of Friendship. Make someone else feel good about him or herself and they’re likely be interested in you, too.
That just means a well-placed, heartfelt compliment here and there can help facilitate the process. Also, consider the power of listening. Most people are too preoccupied with themselves. Show interest in someone you have a good rapport with and if they’re worth their salt, they’ll likely reciprocate. It reminds me of what Maya Angelou said, “People will never forget how you made them feel.” If you make people feel good just by being you, you’ll never be wanting for friends.
To learn more about the science of friendship, click here: