“I don’t know how to keep friends. Even when I meet someone I really click with, they seem to lose interest in me. I think I might need to build my friendship skills, but I don’t know where to start or what I could be doing wrong.”
Sometimes friendships end because our life situation changes: People move, get busy with work and family, or grow apart. Other times, it’s something we do that makes friends tire. Perhaps we are too negative, talk too much about ourselves, don’t listen, or aren’t accommodating of their needs.
In this article, we’ll both talk about how we can keep friendships alive even as our lives change, and what we can do to make sure that friends don’t tire.
Research shows that four things keep friendships going:
- Positivity: Being a pleasant, fun person to be around.
- Supportiveness: Helping your friend through bad times and being happy for them when things are going well in their life.
- Openness: Sharing your thoughts and feelings, being honest, and letting your friend get to know you.
- Interaction: Talking to and/or spending time with your friend, preferably in person and on a regular basis.
When a friendship comes apart, it’s usually because one or more of these four elements are missing.
Spending time together (interaction) is important, but if you have bad habits that drive people away, they won’t stick around. In this guide, you’ll learn how to keep friendships healthy.
Positive, optimistic people have more friends and stronger relationships with friends. If you’re a fun person to spend time with, your friends are more likely to stick around.
Be positive by:
- Using welcoming body language. Smile, make eye contact, and keep your facial muscles relaxed. See our article on how to get a confident body language.
- Talking about the good things that are going on in your life.
- Celebrating your friend’s achievements.
- Keeping complaints and criticisms about your life and other people to a minimum.
- Being proactive by suggesting things that you and your friend can do together.
- Thanking your friend when they support you, help you out, or just make your day brighter.
However, it’s not a good idea to fake being happy or to keep a smile on your face at all times. Then you just risk coming across as inauthentic and insincere.
If you need advice or support from your friend, ask for it. A good friend will be willing to listen to your problems. As a general rule, aim to be positive in general, but speak up when you really need help or have something important to say.
Instead of trying to impress people, let them get to know you. Some are uncomfortable being honest and personal, but your friendship won’t develop if you are just playing a role.
In my experience, people who try to make others like them usually end up less likable. It’s better to make sure people like being around you.
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- Exaggerate or tell lies
- Boast about your achievements, salary, or possessions
- Make promises you can’t keep
- Pretend to share someone else’s interests to try and make them like you
- Pretend that you agree with your friends when you hold a different view
“As an introvert, I need plenty of personal time and space. My extroverted friends don’t seem to understand this. I get stressed out when they message me several times every week. What should I do?”
Strong boundaries make friendships easier because you both know what you can expect from each other. This reduces arguments and misunderstandings.
For example, if you make it clear that you never answer your phone after 10 p.m., your friends won’t be offended if you don’t reply to a text message they send late at night. Or if you only like to go out with friends once every week, that’s fine, but it’s best to say so. Spell out what you need; no one can read your mind.
When it comes to other peoples’ boundaries, it’s best to ask if you’re unsure. For example, when you haven’t been friends very long, say, “Are you a hugging type of person?” before hugging them for the first time.
Draw clear lines when it comes to giving and getting help. It’s great to listen to a friend when they’re in need, but acting as an unpaid therapist gets tiring very quickly. Likewise, don’t treat your friends like counselors. When you and your friends hang out, most of that time should be spent enjoying yourselves.
It’s also OK to set clear boundaries around how much time you want to spend with someone. Here’s what to do if you’re spending too much time with a friend.
Sharing your thoughts and feelings builds closeness, but you need to get the balance right. If you talk about yourself all the time, your friends will think you are self-centered. However, if you only focus on them and ask lots of questions in a row, you’ll come across as pushy or intrusive.
Check out this guide, which contains tips on how to have a balanced conversation: “I’m Talking Too Much About Myself.”
You might also find this list of deep questions to ask your friends helpful for keeping a conversation going.
Your friends won’t want to spend time with you if they feel you aren’t very interested in what they are saying.
Here’s a rule of thumb to know if you’re a good listener: If you tend to think about what to say next when your friend is talking, that’s a sign you need to listen more carefully.
It’s usually not enough to be a good listener. You also want to show that you listen:
- Keep eye contact when your friend is speaking.
- Nod when they make a point.
- Say “Uh-huh” or “Hmm” to encourage them to continue speaking.
- Always let them finish their sentences before replying.
- Put your phone away and give your friend your full attention when they are talking.
- Say, “Sorry, I didn’t catch that, could you say it again?” when you miss something.
- Rather than waiting for your turn to speak, ask follow-up questions, and show genuine interest.
Don’t criticize or belittle your friends for their tastes or opinions. They are more likely to remain your friend if you make them feel accepted rather than judged, so try being curious instead.
For example, you could ask:
- “That’s an interesting point of view. How did you come to that conclusion?”
- “What do you like most about [their hobby]?”
- “It sounds like your opinions on [topic] have changed a lot. How did that happen?”
Listen without judgment, just as you would expect your friend to do in return.
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If you and your friend have grown so far apart that you don’t like being around them anymore, it’s better to invest time growing other friendships instead of hoping that you can persuade them to drop an opinion or interest.
In general, people get resentful when others try to change them.
“Why can’t I keep friends? I’m puzzled because I always try to be a nice person and give helpful advice. Where am I going wrong?”
Giving help and support is part of friendship, but research shows that giving someone unsolicited advice can annoy them and make them more distressed. Try to listen and show empathy instead of telling your friend what they “should” do or how you’d behave in their situation. (Unless they ask for your advice)
Your friend [talking about their relationship problems]: “Sometimes I don’t think he wants to take our relationship further, but I do, and it’s upsetting me. I wish he’d ask to make our relationship exclusive or at least just end it.”
You [bad response]: “You need to break up with him”. (Your friend likely won’t follow this advice anyway, and they’ll feel like you understand them.)
You [showing empathy]: “That sounds really hard. It must be annoying when he doesn’t say what he wants”
Your friend: “Yeah. I’m just tired of it. It feels like we’re going nowhere! It’s so frustrating!”
You: “It’s exhausting when you don’t know exactly how someone else feels.”
Your friend [asking for advice]: “Yeah…I mean, what do you think?”
(At this point, you can share your advice)
To keep friendships healthy, you need to make them feel that they can trust you. When a friend shares some sensitive information, respect their privacy by keeping it. If you pass on a secret, your friend might find out.
You should also avoid gossiping about other people because if you do, your friend might start to think, “If they talk about everyone else’s lives like this, why should I trust them?”
They might still want to hang out with you but may be reluctant to share their innermost thoughts and feelings.
Clinginess is a vicious cycle. It often goes like this:
- You feel insecure because you want to spend more time with your friend than they do with you, or because you think they prefer other people over you.
- Your friend finds your clinginess off-putting, so they start to withdraw and no longer want to hang out or answer your messages.
- You get anxious about your friendship because you notice that your friend is starting to back away. You start making even more of an effort to reach out to your friend or see them more often because you feel insecure.
- Your friend decides you are getting even clingier, so they carry on avoiding you.
When a friend doesn’t respond to you after two messages, give them some space. If you tend to be possessive, clingy, or jealous, work on expanding your social circle. See our guide on how to make friends.
When you have a wider social circle, you won’t feel so dependent on one or two people. Clinginess can also be a sign of low self-esteem, so working on your confidence may help.
See MayoClinics guide on how to improve your self-esteem.
When your friend knows that you are happy to spend time with their other friends or with their partner, it’s easier for them to plan large social events. This means you might get more invitations and have more opportunities to see your friend. Plus, you might end up meeting someone you click with.
Make sure to invite friends from different friend groups to events so they can get to know each other. Ask your friends to let you know the next time they meet up with friends you don’t usually meet.
“I’m not sure how often I should reach out to my friends. How often do best friends hang out? What about acquaintances?”
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For two people to keep friends, both need to make an effort to reach out to each other.
As a rough guide:
- Reach out to close friends once per week
- Reach out to casual friends once per month
- Reach out to acquaintances once or twice per year
(See our guide to the difference between acquaintances, casual friends, and close friends.)
If you’re bad at keeping in touch, schedule reminders. This may feel inauthentic, but friendships take work, and there’s nothing wrong with using a system. Research shows that people who make an effort to maintain their friendships are happier.
Social media is a useful tool for staying in touch, but only if you make an effort to write personal messages.
Instead of posting statuses aimed at everyone, take time to leave specific comments on your friends’ feeds, and send them private messages if you want to have a longer conversation.
Friendships are voluntary. By definition, friends choose to spend time with one another. You don’t need any special reason to get in touch with someone. It’s OK (and normal) to call, catch up with each other’s lives, and invite them to hang out with you.
Start by asking an open-ended question that’s specific to their situation rather than a boring, generic “Hi, how are you?” Thoughtful questions can prompt deeper discussions.
Example: “Hey Joe, It’s been a while. I thought I’d see how you’re doing. How’s everything going in your grad program?”
Example: “Hi Marcy, I just wanted to see how you are doing and how your new puppy is settling in?”
Pay attention to if they seem to appreciate the call or if they are busy. See our guide on how to know if someone wants to continue talking.
If you do want a particular reason to reach out, here are some ideas:
- When you see or do something that reminds you of your friend
- On holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays
- If you’ve heard that something major has happened in their lives
- When you’re going to be in their local area and want to meet up with them
For more on this topic, see our article on how to keep in touch with friends.
You might have to be the one who reaches out more often to make plans.
Some people don’t know how to stay in touch with friends or don’t realize how important it is until they get older.
If you’re in this position, it doesn’t mean that your friend doesn’t like or appreciate you. It could be that they are naturally disorganized, self-conscious about getting in touch, or that you’ve both fallen into a pattern where youäre the one who initiates.
As a general rule, reach out twice to a friend, then leave them to make the next move if they say “No” both times. Say, “OK, let me know if you want to get together!” and then direct your energy towards people who are available.
This strategy will help you avoid one-sided friendships. You might find it helpful to check out this guide if it feels like you are the only one making an effort in your friendships: One-sided friendships — why they happen and how to deal with them.
It’s normal for people to socialize less often when there’s a big change happening in their life. For example, starting a new job, having a baby, getting married, or moving home, takes up a lot of time and attention. Meeting up with friends may not be their top priority for weeks or months for adults who are adjusting to new circumstances.
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If one of your friends is going through a big transition, they might not be available for a while. Try not to take it personally. Tell them that you’ll be happy to talk to them when they have some free time, and focus on your other friendships.
Talking about shared memories can help you and your friends feel closer because nostalgia has a bonding effect.
When you are apart, you can try occasionally sending friends old songs or photos that remind you of happy times. If you see or hear something that makes you think of them, tell them about it.
Friends who meet at the same place and at the same time on a regular basis tend to remain close. This could be at school, college, work, or a place of worship.
If you and your friend don’t already hang out as part of your regular routine, try to get into the habit of seeing each other at least once per month.
For example, you could start a pottery class together that meets every Friday, or agree to go swimming every Sunday evening. You won’t have to worry about reaching out to make plans because your friend has already agreed to see you.
Make it a personal rule to say “Yes” to social invitations unless you have a good reason not to attend. If you always turn them down, your friends will stop asking you to hang out.
When you want to meet up but can’t make it, say that you’d love to see them and suggest alternative plans. For example, if your friend asks to meet you for dinner on Thursday but you are already busy, tell them you’d be happy to hang out on Sunday.
Conflict is a normal part of friendship and can usually be resolved with good communication. Be honest about your feelings instead of letting the problem fester.
When your friend does something that bothers you, use “I” statements to explain how you feel. They are less inflammatory than accusations or statements that start with “You” but still let you get your point across.
Here’s a formula you can use:
- Say how you feel.
- Briefly explain why you feel this way.
- Ask your friend what you’d like them to do next time.
“I feel upset when you tell me how to handle my problems at work because I’ve said before that I don’t like people giving me advice unless I ask for it. Please can you ask me first before telling me what you think I should do?”
When a friend says you’ve hurt their feelings, try not to get defensive. Stay calm and listen carefully. Acknowledge the problem, validate their feelings, and apologize if you could and should have done something differently. Finally, explain how you’ll fix the problem in the future if possible.
“You’re right, I’ve been late several times now when we’ve met up [Acknowledging the problem]. It makes total sense that you feel annoyed and like I don’t respect your time [Validating their feelings]. I’m really sorry, and I promise to be more organized from now on [Explaining how you’ll fix the issue].”
Likewise, when a friend apologizes to you, accept their apology and move on. Do not drag up their past mistakes when you have an argument; this is toxic behavior that will damage your friendship.
If your friend has done something unforgivable, it’s better to end the friendship rather than hang around with someone you can’t trust or respect.
Self-development and personal growth makes you more interesting and improves your confidence, which means you’ll be more desirable as a friend. Because you’ll have more life experience, it will be easier to find commonalities with other people and bond over shared interests.
- Try out a few new hobbies, ideally by joining a group or class where you can meet new people and practice your social skills
- Travel, either locally or abroad
- Set yourself some exciting new goals at work or in your personal life
- Read some books on personal growth
- Contribute to your community, perhaps by volunteering
- Seek individual or group therapy if you have any long-standing emotional or mental health problems
When making plans with your friends, don’t just focus on your preferences. Think about their circumstances. If you make it easy for your friends to hang out with you, they are more likely to say “Yes” to your invitations.
- Do they have enough money or the right kind of transport for the activity you want to suggest?
- Do they have any disabilities or conditions that make some activities difficult for them?
- Are they naturally introverted or shy?
- Do they have childcare commitments that mean they can’t go out on weekday evenings?
If you have a relative or close friend you can trust to give you honest feedback on your social skills, ask them for help.
For example, you could say:
“I’d like to get your advice about something. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friendships tend to fizzle out. I’m willing to accept that I might have a couple of bad habits that drive people away. If you know what they are, could you please let me know?”
Thank them for their input. It might be painful to get this kind of feedback, but at least you will know what improvements you need to make.
Research shows that the way you react to your friend when they pass on positive news can have a big impact on your relationship.
Specifically, you want to give what psychologists call an active and constructive (AC) response. This goes beyond a simple “Congratulations!” or “That’s cool.”
Example [To a friend who has told you they are pregnant]: “I’m so pleased for you! So, when is the baby due? Let’s go out to lunch to celebrate!”
AC responses are enthusiastic, warm, and include some kind of active suggestion, such as going out together to mark the event, asking to see photos, or asking your friend to go into more details about their plans.
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