How to make friends in a small town

A few years ago I moved to a new town (Gothenburg, Sweden) and I didn’t know anyone. On my journey to build a social circle, I made six powerful realizations that have helped me tremendously. I think these realizations will help anyone who wants to build a social circle from scratch or make friends in a new town, especially introverts.

I’ve also written a guide called “I have no friends” – The 6 proven steps to get the friends you want. That one’s especially valuable if you’re feeling anxious or shy around strangers.

Realization 1: For adults, mutual interests is the foundation on which almost every friendship is based

Throughout life, the easiest way for you to find friends is through shared interests. This is especially true after school age where you could just hang out because “why not”.

How I used this realization to bond with people

I’ve always enjoyed deeper conversation, so I started a philosophy club when I was still new in town. To start it off, I invited some people I thought would be interested and asked them to bring a like-minded friend. It worked out pretty well and in the end, I think I’ve met more than half of my close friends thanks to this.

It was quite easy to make friends join. It’s always less pressure to invite an acquaintance to a group event rather than on a one on one. First, I asked people I’d just met at other meetups if they wanted to join. I then asked them if they had friends who also wanted to join.

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Here’s a picture from one of our philosophy evenings. Usually, each member would bring something to eat or drink, too. This night it was some locally brewed beer, cheese, and biscuits.

The reason it worked so well was because I already shared something in common with most of the club members, which made it easier for us to bond. The same principle can apply to you. Whether you enjoy sports, movies, comics, or fashion, there are people that share the same interests as you.

To find others who are more like you, here are some tips to help you:

  • If you are in school, look for extracurricular activities to join. High schools and colleges have many after school clubs where you can find people that share your interests.
  • Similarly, if you are not in school, there are still ample ways to join clubs. Web sites such as Meetup are a great way to discover social groups in your area.

Joining clubs is just part of the equation. When you attend these, be sure to introduce yourself to others. Now this prospect may seem frightening, particularly if you haven’t had much success in talking to others. However, keep this in mind, you share some of the same interests as the others there.

For example, I had trouble making conversation with others. When I joined some of these groups, I found it easier to find things to talk about because I knew we shared the same interests.

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Try making a habit of going to club meetings regularly. Even if the first one doesn’t go well, don’t let that deter you. At first, meeting others will seem awkward. However, if you only attend one meeting, you won’t see any progress. Force yourself to become a regular at these meetings, you will see how you slowly become more comfortable as your experience grows.

Realization 2: When you’re building a social circle, you need to socialize just like you need to work: You put the work in even if you don’t always feel like it

Socializing can drain much of your energy, especially as an introvert, but it’s an important part of discovering others and connecting with them. To make something happen, put yourself out there. Nothing will come to you by magic, no matter how amazing you are as a person. If nobody knows how amazing you are, how could they become interested in you?

The goal here is to invest more of your time into meeting new people and spending more time with potential friends. Obviously, this can be a balancing act, as you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. At the same time, spending more time with your new friends will help you bond with each other.

Here are some factors to keep in mind to help you in this process:

  • Think of a friendship as an investment in time, the more time you spend with a person with similar interests the closer the two of you can become.
  • Usually, the first time you do something new is the hardest. But if you make a habit of it, it will get easier and less draining over time.
  • I often don’t feel like doing social activities just before I’m about to leave home, but once I’m there I tend to enjoy it despite my initial reluctance. Most people feel like this from time to time.

Realization 3: Small talk has a very clear purpose

While the content of small talk is usually pretty meaningless, it still fills an important purpose. For example, when you are meeting someone new it fills the purpose of showing your (positive) intentions. I’d recommend reading up on its purpose in different situations on Wikipedia if interested.

Thanks to small talk, I can quickly find out if someone is open to making conversation and then if they also share my interests. Small talk can be like the bridge that takes you from the shallow topics to what really interests you.

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This did not come easy for me at first. Often, I found it difficult to come up with something to say. When I did find someone that shared my interests, it made it easier to talk with them.

Here are some guidelines for making small talk with others:

  • Even if you hate small talk like I did, see it for the purpose it serves. It’s like a mating dance you have to go through to figure out the intentions of each other.
  • Be sure you ask open-ended questions. Simple questions such as “What are your interests?” mean you are likely to receive an answer that isn’t yes or no. With that new information, ask follow-up questions. A good illustration of this is saying a person is really into literature, you can ask them some recommendations on good books they read. And then you follow-up by asking them what made them like a certain book. By asking these type of questions, you express interest in that person. It’s also a good way to find out if you both have similar interests.
  • If the conversation goes well, be sure to ask for contact information. If they are willing to give you their phone number, follow-up with them and ask them to spend more time together. Taking initiative is key to making new friends.

Realization 4: Self-confidence isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you can – and should – develop

Simply, having a healthy balance of self-confidence attracts others to you. With this said, self-confidence can be tough to develop, especially if you have struggled with this in the past.

There are hundreds of methods to develop your confidence and self-esteem but to be frank, I’ve tested most of them and at best they only give a temporary boost. In the end, you always go back to “normal”.

However, there is one method that I’ve seen work consistently – real-life experience. More specifically, if you want to become more confident in a certain area – you need to get more experience doing exactly that. The more specific your experience is, the better. For example, a great singer can be incredibly confident in front of an audience, but still trembling from adrenaline when meeting new people.

So why is that?

It’s because confidence is situation-specific. So if you want to be more confident in meeting new people, you need to get more experience meeting new people. If you want confidence over the phone, make more phone calls.

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It’s simple, but hard work. And it works for anyone, introvert or not.

For many of us, it can feel TOO DIFFICULT. What I recommend in that case is to take smaller steps – do the least scary thing first until you feel more confident doing it. Over time, your experience and confidence will grow.

Of course, you can fake confidence by appearing confident. And I’d say that can be a pretty effective method in some situations, but the most effective method will always be getting more experience and mastering the skills associated with the situation you want more confidence in.

Realization 5: Self-esteem exercises don’t work. Your self-esteem grows as you accomplish things in life

So this one is kind of related to self-confidence, but it’s more general. And you’ve probably heard about even more ways to increase your self-esteem, but again, most methods don’t work.

This is such a big topic, but I’m going to keep it short.

My favorite way of increasing self-esteem is to become better at something. Set up small, reachable goals and complete them[1][2]. This goes hand in hand with increasing your self-confidence, too.

For example, start jogging, when you get better at it, you will feel good about yourself and like you have achieved something. Maybe you then go do an amateur race and feel even better about yourself. Just pick something you want to be better at and start doing it.

I think this was one of the keys for me during my journey, by getting better socially, not only did I get more friends, but I also increased my self-esteem. It becomes a positive spiral when you make an effort to improve in anything.

Realization 6: Don’t try to make people like you. Make them like being around you

The last pillar in my success was this: I always aim to make people feel better by being with me. It’s not about being a people pleaser because most people will see straight through an act like that. It’s not either about being positive all the time because that gets old fast. It’s about being a decent human being:

  • Listen to what they’re saying
  • Care about how they’re feeling
  • Don’t talk down or judge others
  • Don’t criticize
  • Show appreciation towards others
  • Treat them with respect

The best thing about this, apart from making others feel good when they are with you, is that YOU will feel good about yourself. You can be proud that you act like a good person and uphold your own integrity.

I hope these six tips will help you find and develop great friendships with others. You might also be interested in our other guide on how to make friends in a new city.

Let me know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comments below!

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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