“I feel like I’m more of an acquaintance than a friend to everyone I know. I’d like to have close friends and even a best friend, but I don’t know how I can get closer to people.”
Do you find that you’re able to get friendly with people around you, but these friendships remain at a surface level? Do your friendships fade away after a while when you no longer have school or work to connect you? If you want to deepen your friendships and make them last, you need to put forth the right kind of effort.
The more shared interests you have with someone, the more things you’ll have to talk about, and the closer you will feel.
Let’s say you want to get closer to someone you met at work. You start out by talking about work-related things. If you discover that you both like science fiction books, that gives you something else to talk about. You can recommend new books to each other and talk about what draws you to this genre.
Once you discover that both of your parents divorced when you were young, you have another shared experience to talk to each other about.
Note that your interests don’t have to line up perfectly for them to bring you closer together. Finding out you both enjoy art can give you enough to talk about, even if you use different methods.
We have an article on what you can do if you feel like you don’t have things in common with anyone.
What makes us like someone? Often, it can be as simple as knowing that they like us. It sounds too simple to be true, but in psychology, it’s called the reciprocity of liking effect.
Showing people around you that you appreciate them and their company can, in turn, make them feel more positively towards you. You can show people you like them with words, body language, and behavior.
One way to show that you like someone with your body language is to “light up” when you see them: smile, sit up straighter and speak in a higher tone of voice when you acknowledge them.
Use words and actions to be consistent. Give your friends compliments and positive reinforcements.
Let’s say you had a good conversation with someone. You can then send a text, for example: “I really enjoyed our conversation earlier. Thanks for listening. I got a lot out of what you said.”
This type of acknowledgment lets your friend know you value their time, efforts, and opinions. Because acknowledgment feels good, we want to repeat behaviors that we were “rewarded” for.
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Let people know you’re interested in them by asking questions and listening without interruptions or judgment.
When they talk about something, ask questions to understand further what they’re going through. Try to keep your questions on a similar topic as what they’re talking about.
Say they just told a story involving a sibling. That’s a good time to ask if they have other siblings, but not a great time to ask about their dreams for the future (unless that was the topic of the story).
Questions to ask include:
- Are you close to your family?
- Would you like to live here for the rest of your life? Where do you think you would like to live?
- If you could try out any career for a week, what would you pick?
Find more getting-to-know-you question ideas here: 107 questions to ask your friends and connect deeply. But the best tip is to ask questions you honestly want to know the answer to! If you want to be close friends with someone, you should be at least partly curious about their life.
If you’re trying to get closer to a friend group, it will be easier once you spend some time with members individually.
One-on-one time makes it easier to get to know someone on a personal level. Plus, seeing someone outside of the group context will help them change their mental context of you, from “one of the gang” to “close friend potential.”
Don’t be afraid to extend personal invitations. Make sure not to do it publicly, though. If you’re in a group, don’t ask one person to do something together later while not inviting the others.
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The exception is if it’s clear that it’s not relevant to the other people in the group. Say you’re in college and know a bunch of people in the same class, but you share another class with one other person in the group. You can ask if they want to study together for your shared class.
Otherwise, try to extend personal invitations through social media, messaging, or when you have a moment alone together, so the other people in the group won’t feel excluded.
Asking your friends questions is great, but if you don’t share about yourself, they may not want to share, either.
Being vulnerable isn’t just about sharing personal information. It’s about showing your true self to someone.
Make sure to share both good times and bad.
On the one hand, it’s hard to spend time around someone who spends a lot of the time complaining and talking about negative things. That type of energy tends to bring down the surrounding people.
However, only sharing positive things can make people feel that you’re not being authentic.
The best bonding with friends happens when you’re engaged in an experience together. Sharing new experiences together gives you more to talk about, and even better, it creates memories. While talking over deep things is one good way to become closer to something, don’t underestimate the power of doing something together, even if you can’t talk while doing so.
Traveling somewhere together, hiking, or taking camping trips are great ways to bond. Try a new exercise class together. Play games and check out new restaurants. You can even run errands together, like going to get your hair cut or buying groceries.
Hardships tend to bring people together. One study induced stress in men through a public-speaking task. The researchers found that the men who went through the stressful task showed more social behavior (like sharing and trust) than those who did not go through the stressful condition.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for a tragedy or introduce more stress into your life to get close to friends. Real life has enough obstacles.
Showing up consistently when your friends need you for small things will let them know they can trust you when things get more serious, too. Helping a friend move or babysit their nephew can help them out and let them know that you’re reliable.
We want to be close to people who we can depend on.
When someone tells you personal information, make sure not to repeat it to others. Refrain from gossiping in general. Make sure you return texts and phone calls and show up on time.
When a friend is trying to tell you that you did something to hurt them, listen without being defensive. Consider what they have to say and apologize if necessary.
Read more in this article: how to build trust in friendships.
Turning someone into your best friend takes time and patience. We may want to learn how to become best friends with someone right, but these types of close connections usually don’t happen right away—trying to rush a deep connection can backfire because people may feel uncomfortable sharing too much too soon.
Some people take longer to open up than others. Don’t assume someone doesn’t like you just because they don’t share personal things right away. However, if you’ve known someone for a long time, and they’re still not opening up, there may be a deeper reason.
You can learn to be better at picking up signs that someone doesn’t like you instead of having general trust issues or being shy. Then, you’ll know if you’re trying with the right person or whether you should move on and try to become close friends with someone else.
You may struggle to make close friends if you aren’t opening up and sharing about yourself. Keeping things on a surface level prevents a friendship from deepening. Another possible reason is that you are trying to make friends with people who aren’t compatible with you.
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- Learn to get past shallow small talk.
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