It will come as no surprise that the past two years brought extended periods of isolation, which caused feelings of loneliness and sadness experienced by many. Our social bubbles became smaller as we decided who we trust, not simply our physical space but also who we trust in our emotional space. While this felt like a necessary protective reaction to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during the global health pandemic that shook up our lives without notice, it has left us without the much-needed social connections that sustain us.
Innately, we know that friendships are important. However, during this current time of getting back to the new normal, for many of us, we notice a gaping hole in our lives caused by the void that our loss of social connections has left. Plain and simple, we need the connections that friendships bring.
We’ve learned that establishing friendships is important and valued throughout our life. As children, the importance of friendships and how to make friends is drilled into us. As parents, we find playgroups for our children even before they can grasp the concept of friendship. And we continue to invest the time and energy it takes to arrange and host playdates for our children as they move into toddlerhood. We teach our children how to share their toys and the other non-tangible social skills it takes to become desired friends. Parents do not just emphasize the importance of friendships. Away from home, in grade school, children are formally taught to work together through intentionally designed group projects and team games. Childhood friendships are so important that one study determined that as adults, a higher quality of life can be attributed to successful childhood friendships.
It is no surprise that childhood friendships can be related to adult happiness because we see their importance built at every stage of life. As we move into our teen years, friendships remain important in our development, and we sometimes feel that they can make or break us. In middle school, friendships play a big role in developing our self-worth and peer identity.
In our college and young adult years, our friends are those that join us after work to lament about our day, provide us with our first professional connections, and move forward with us as we enter the real world of careers, marriages, and parenthood.
While we become busy with our lives as young adults balancing family and career, we often begin to neglect our friendships. It is common to find that friendships have taken a back seat as we move into our middle-age years, which can be problematic as we move into older adulthood. Older adulthood is arguably almost as important a time in life like childhood, for friendship plays a big part in how we experience life as we age. Friendships play a pivotal role in our happiness as we get older, sometimes an even more important role than family. Loneliness, in general, is a problem for older adults. It has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even death. A study published in “Perspectives on Psychological Science” in 2015 concluded that a lack of social connections damages a person’s health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness has also been linked to a higher risk of dementia and depression. Depression can then trigger loss of appetite, disruptions in sleep, and an overall decline in health.
While finding and maintaining friendships is an important part of life, finding friends as adults can be hard. It can be as hard, if not harder at times, than finding a romantic partner. Recognizing the difficulty of finding friends as adults, a popular app for women was created, Hey Vina, which is a tool for women to connect with other women in platonic friendships, designed like many of the popular dating apps. Swipe left or right! While the idea of being able to find a friend right at our fingertips is an exciting prospect, not all of us are comfortable with using technology to find friends, and not all of us meet the demographic that Hey Vina serves. So, what do we do when we want to find friends the old-fashioned way? How do we experience face-to-face organic meetings that develop into friendships? There is no quick and easy shortcut. It simply takes the investment of time, which fortunately doesn’t cost money and is well worth the time investment when our health and happiness are on the line.
Naturally, the next question we then must ask is, if it is so simple, why is it difficult to make new friends as adults? In 2021, “Psychology Today” reported a research project conducted by “Personality and Individual Differences,” which involved 30-minute semi-structured interviews with 20 participants in a university laboratory seeking to discover what makes adult friendships difficult to create. Once the interviews were coded, the researchers validated and explored their initial findings by interviewing 108 new participants. They found six broad categories that made finding new friends difficult in adulthood: introversion, fear of rejection, pragmatic reasons, low trust, lack of time, and too picky.
Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of communication studies at The University of Kansas, found that it takes 40-60 hours to form a casual friendship, 60-70 hours to establish a friendship, 80-100 hours to form a real friendship, and more than 200 to form a best friend. In other words, don’t expect things to happen overnight. But don’t be discouraged because every hour you put in benefits your well-being. It has been shown that even casual relationships are important. They can cultivate a sense of belonging, provide bursts of positive energy, motivate us to engage in activities, and expose us to new information and opportunities – all without the emotional challenges that often close relationships with family and friends carry. So, if trying to find your new BFF seems overwhelming, you can make it easier by starting with baby steps. Practice forming casual friendships because every BFF starts with a casual friendship.
The good and exciting news is that many of the casual friendships that you form will turn into lasting, meaningful friendships.
Three Simple Ways To Strike Up a Friendship With Anyone You Meet
1. Practice making small talk everywhere you go.
Make this a habit. It takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. Challenge yourself to make this a practice for 66 days in a row. This will involve leaving the house at least once daily for 66 days straight. It could be a quick stop at the grocery store, gas station, post office, or the gym. Spread out your errands over the 66 days. It won’t be the most convenient, but you’re in a life-changing challenge you want to win. If you stick to the challenge, you will find that you are striking up conversations with new people within the first two weeks as you go about your day without much thought or angst. Conversations can be short. A genuine compliment is always a nice way to brighten someone’s day, and when you approach someone looking for something that you can compliment them on or thank them for, it takes the pressure and focus away from you, and nine times out of 10, you’ll receive the gift of a priceless smile in return. The goal of this challenge is to simply get you in the practice and habit of striking up conversations with new people you meet and recognizing how easy it is, how naturally good you are at it, and how receptive people are to meeting you.
2. Find a class that interests you.
Join a new class and challenge yourself to greet, give a compliment, and ask a question of one of your class members in every class. If it is the gym or exercise class, make it a point to attend the same class or visit the gym on the same day and time each week. Your goal here is to form relationships. Remember, the hours needed to form a relationship are reached over time. In this challenge, you see the same people repeatedly, making the most of valuable face-to-face time. The saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Have patience and have fun with the challenge.
3. Use social media to make real-life connections.
Challenge yourself to meet with at least one social media friend a month. It could be someone you have never met in person or an acquaintance or friend that you haven’t seen in a while. Don’t know where to start? How about going through your contact list alphabetically? It doesn’t matter how you do it—just that you commit to setting those friendship dates and follow through. And, when you get together—greet the person as if they are your next best friend. This is a great mindset strategy that will boost the energy in the room and deepen your connection. A few years ago, I was at a party, and a woman I met for the first time greeted me so warmly, her energy was contagious, and I felt instantly like we were already good friends. Her greeting has taught me to greet people at parties or gatherings with the same energy and mindset as if I were meeting my next new best friend. This mindset and energy have set the foundation for fabulous new friendships for me, and I know it will work for you, too.
Lastly, when I walk into a place with people I don’t know – I choose not to see the room filled with strangers. Instead, I only see friends that I haven’t met yet! Try these three simple ways to challenge yourself, and you will soon find that you can also effortlessly strike up a friendship with anyone you meet.
Cover photo by Roman Odintsov.