How to turn an acquaintance into a friend

Jane Murphy / 17 June 2016

Find out how to improve your friendship with an acquaintance without coming across as trying too hard and scaring them away.



When did you last make a new friend? Let's face it: our schooldays and early working lives presented plenty of opportunities to form lasting friendships. We interacted with the same people in the same place every day and could allow these relationships to develop naturally, over time. But as we grow older, making friends becomes a little trickier. Life offers fewer clear-cut chances to meet new people. Instead, we have to work at it.

However, 'working at it' certainly doesn't mean you have to rush things or swamp your potential new friend with attention. 'While it can be tempting to do nice things as a way of showing you'd like to be friends, this can actually scare people off,' says psychotherapist Karen Meager, co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training. 'The best way to grow a friendship is to take things slowly.'

Find out how to make new friends

Make friends in stages

The trick, according to Meager, is to move the relationship on in two levels: 'Start with low-commitment activities,' she suggests. 'These include things like stopping for a chat when you meet in the street, asking after her family or inviting her for a drink or coffee, but not forcing the issue if she says she's too busy. If these tactics prove successful, you can move on to relationship-building activities, such as having a regular meet-up for lunch or coffee, giving and receiving small gifts or introducing them to other friends.'

Life coach Olga Levancuka advocates a similar two-tiered approach: 'Start by identifying common interests – things that matter to both of you and that you both do regularly, such as attending a book club or exercise class. This will help you to become closer without appearing too keen. In the beginning, only discuss these shared interests. Once you get used to doing things together, you can open up a little more about your own life and see if your friend-to-be responds with insights of her own.'

Of course, it may well have been your shared interests that alerted you to this person's friendship potential in the first place. Maybe you met at an exercise class, for example. If that's the case, there are plenty of ways to move the relationship forward without forcing the issue – some of which will soon present themselves naturally. Let's say you find yourselves giggling at the same hard-to-master yoga move: this means you're more likely to get chatting after the class, at which point you may well suggest going for a coffee.

Find out the ten rules of a successful friendship

Don't try too hard

It may all sound rather formulaic – but it's also important to relax and be yourself. Don't get too hung up on making a good impression and don't feel you need to seize every opportunity to demonstrate what a wonderful friend you'd make. This isn't a job interview or an audition. It's about connecting with people who will enrich your life.

Do bear in mind that someone who remains an acquaintance, rather than a firm friend, is still worth knowing. 'It's fun to have a lot of people who you can do certain activities with, but most people only have a few close friends they can really rely on,' says Meager. 'Be clear with yourself about who's in your “fun acquaintances” category, and who are real friends. This will help you avoid disappointment and stop you having too-high expectations of those acquaintances who may be less reliable. Always put your real friends first.'

Still have high hopes that your new acquaintance could become a good friend, but just haven't quite got there yet? Be patient. 

Forced friendships will soon fizzle out, but real friendships take much longer to forge and develop. Levancuka's advice? 'If you don't get to be friends in an instant – even though it's obvious you both feel like you've “clicked” – just remember that the friendships that take a while to build tend to last a whole lot longer.'

Read our tips for making friends and maintaining friendships

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