When I was 29, I moved to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. I made several close friends using the strategies I share below.
We’ve written before about how to make friends. This guide focuses specifically on how to make friends in your 30’s, 40’s, and up.
What I’ll cover:
- Turning people you meet into friends
- Dealing with nervousness when meeting new people
- Places to meet new people as an adult
1. Join groups that interest you
2. Make small talk even if you don’t feel like it
Small talk is an important warm-up when two people meet. Even if you don’t feel like it, know that every friendship starts with small talk. You’re testing the waters to see how receptive they are to chatting. Most importantly, when you make small talk, you signal that you’re friendly and open for interaction.
3. Always exchange contact details
Asking for their contact info tells them you liked talking with them. Sure, it’s not guaranteed to turn into a long-lasting relationship, but it MIGHT. Taking the chance by asking for their number/email will ensure that friendship can happen.
4. Invite acquaintances to events they might like
Send out a casual invite to anyone you know who would like to see a movie, check out a new restaurant or go for a hike. Group meetups take the pressure off a one-on-one situation, so mention that you are inviting a few friends, and they can join too.
5. Say yes to 2 out of 3 opportunities
We’ve all felt it – that initial panic when someone invites you to an event where you won’t know many people. Your first instinct is to say, ‘I’d love to, but I can’t’. Here’s why you shouldn’t say ‘no’ too often:
- If you say no, you may not get a second invite from that person.
- It’s a chance to practice your social skills.
- These opportunities don’t come around every day. The more you say yes to, the more common they become.
If you’re still undecided, a good rule of thumb is to say yes to 2 out of 3 invitations. That way you are still making good use of your opportunities and have space to decline if you really can’t make it or don’t feel like it.
Try reading Shonda Rhimes’ book “Year of Yes”. It’s about how a titan of the entertainment world, and a proclaimed introvert, decided to say “yes” and the ways it changed her life.
6. Use open body language and smile
Relax your facial expression with a slight smile if you tend to frown. Move your chest slightly out and lift your torso as if a string is being pulled up through your head. Keep your arms at your side rather than crossed. Your open body language signals that you are friendly and would welcome conversation. When you look approachable, someone may even start a conversation with you on their own.
Note that while open body language should be your default, in some situations it’s not always the best. Mirroring another person’s body language has a stronger effect on likability. Even if the other person isn’t displaying an open body language themselves, you can mirror that to appear more likable to them.
7. Talk about F.O.R.D topics to get to know each other
Get to know someone by asking them questions about F.O.R.D. topics (Family, Occupation, Recreation & Dreams).
You can mine for more questions to keep the flow going as well as adding any relevant pieces of information about yourself.
8. Share things about yourself so that you don’t only ask questions
It’s a myth that people only want to talk about themselves. They also want to get to know the person they’re talking to. The secret is to balance the conversation. When someone’s talked about themselves for a while, share something related about yourself.
Sharing personal details about yourself is key to build close relationships.
9. Visualize how you want to act and what will happen
Visualization can sound kinda flaky but it’s actually a scientifically proven method for reducing anxiety. Imagine yourself being open and friendly to the people you meet. See yourself as calm and confident. You’re out there making good connections with a few nice people. Do this a couple of times before you go out – say 24 hours prior and see how your best case scenario can be made real when you’ve mentally practiced it.
10. Do research on the people you will be meeting (interviews, events, parties)
Everyone has at least one hit on Google these days and more if they’re active on social media. Learn a bit about who you will be meeting to prep conversation openers and give yourself some breathing room if you tend to blank out if you get nervous. See what they do or what their interests are per Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn or Instagram. Straight up bringing up what you found out online would be creepy. Instead, use it as an aid to know a few things about the people you’re going to meet.
11. Know that you have to meet lots of people, to make a close friend
You aren’t out there looking for just anyone. You want to be friends with someone you have things in common with and whose company you enjoy. It’s 50/50 effort and appreciation on both sides. So don’t worry if you don’t click with everyone you meet. You’re not meant to. Friendship is a choice, for both of you.
It’s normal to get nervous around new people, especially if you aren’t used to socializing. Here’s what I learned that helped me get over that nervousness.
1. Know that you don’t look as nervous as you feel
What’s going on inside our bodies and our head is never as evident to the world, as it is to us. It might feel like people know just how nervous you are, but studies show that they don’t. This is called the illusion of transparency. Simply knowing about it can help us relax.
2. Focus back on the conversation if you get self-conscious
Focus on your partners’ conversation. Particularly the answers they give to your questions. Concentrating on the conversation and away from self-conscious thoughts like “I wonder what they think of me”, takes the focus away from your nerves.
3. Take deeper, slower breaths
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, meditated or even run really fast and then stopped, you know that controlling your breathing is a great technique for calming your mind and your body. When we’re nervous we tend to breathe shallowly and hold most of our breath in. It feels great to stop everything for a second, and inhale and exhale slowly. It will help you relax.
4. Accept that you feel anxious, so you can move past it
Yup, you’re nervous. Don’t beat yourself up over it. In fact, accept it and say “I’m nervous but I’m going to go to that party or ask for that person’s contact info to keep in touch.” Remember that the definition of courage isn’t the absence of fear. It’s doing the brave thing anyway. It’s not even the result that matters in the end, as much as the fact that you got past your fear and defeated it. You will not be that nervous a second time.
1. Join a recreational sports team
Playing on a team together, no matter how good or in-development you may be (humor is vital), means that fun things can happen. Competing together with a group of people helps forge close friendships. Why? Because you are working towards the same goal, and your team’s success or failure is something you all share.
2. Go to the dog park on a regular schedule
Start a conversation with one of your neighbors. My standard line when I go is, “What kind of dog is that?” Or “Is that [insert breed guess here]? “What’s their name?” “How old are they?” Most of the time, the dogs themselves provide the punchlines.
3. Take a class at night school
Finish that diploma or feed your need to know more about photography or DIY furniture painting. You’re likely to find like-minded people, and you’ll see the same people every week, which gives you time to form connections. You’ll bond over the course expectations, assignments, and Professor.
4. Join a Facebook group or forum
Meet like-minded people who get together IRL or online. There are all sorts of groups: techies, book lovers, animal lovers, business owners, Gamers, etc. It may start online, but when you meet a few cool people, you can take it offline and build a deeper friendship.
Join a cause you care about and meet others who feel the same. If you believe in something enough to give your time and energy to it, and others join you, that’s a great reason to start talking and get to know one another.
6. Take a craft course or an art class
Look this up online or at your local community center or art supply store. Meet others who appreciate this kind of relaxation and expression too.
7. Join Bumble BFF. It can actually work!
My friend recommended I try Bumble BFF, and I joined almost as a joke. To my surprise, I met several interesting people there, two of which I hang out with regularly. Write your bio, including your interests and what you like, add a friendly photo of yourself and see who swipes right. You get to swipe too. See who shares similar interests and maybe even your sense of humor.
8. Join CrossFit at a gym
Even if you aren’t super-sporty, you can do this. CrossFit’s tough, rewarding, and fun. It’s become somewhat of a movement and has an active community, even outside of the gym. They’re known to be very welcoming and accept people at all stages of endurance and life.
9. Join a hiking or a rock climbing group
Hiking’s for the easy-going and rock climbing is for those who want more of a challenge. Both are social sports, ideal for getting to know people over the long term and with lots of natural (pun intended) conversation points.
10. Find a wine appreciation group
It’s not about the buzz really; it’s about the quality and variety of wines you experience. Wine lovers are passionate about wine (and everything it entails), and they like to socialize. Check online for groups (Meetup.com or Eventbrite.com) in your town or your liquor store for meetings or tasting courses.
11. Join a political party
You can get involved in your city’s politics by joining your local chapter. Politics is typically a passion project. You will get to meet people, who in a significant way, have the same outlook on life as you. Great for meaningful discussions about important issues.
12. Join a church if you are religious
Faith groups are all about the community and its members. They often have weekly faith meetings and life groups (Young Adults, Young Marrieds, New Parents, Retirees). If you like to volunteer, there are tens of programs that want your help.
Do you like music or singing? It’s not all organ music these days. Join the choir, the band or sing solos – they’ll love your talent and enthusiasm. If you share the same spiritual perspective, you’ll likely have other things in common too.
13. Start a game night
Invite a few friends to a Monopoly (or any other popular board game) throwdown. If you need 5-6 people, invite half the people needed and ask each of them to bring one friend/family member. You can make it bi-weekly at first, and switch locations to each guest’s place, so you don’t overstretch one person’s hospitality.
14. Join a Book Club
Book clubs are particularly useful for introverts. Why? Books speak to our interior life. Weekly conversations about our favorite characters help us get to know others in the group on a deeper level: life experiences, drama, humor, life lessons, quotes, and literary devices.
There are all sorts to choose from – online or in your neighborhood. Google “Book Club [your city]” and see what pops up, or start your own. Meet at a local book store or a coffee shop. You can move it to people’s homes when they’re up for it.