You may know all the health benefits of having a solid social network – lower blood pressure, longer life and reduced risk of dementia – but that doesn’t help much if you haven’t got any friends and aren’t sure how to make some. It’s not difficult to make new friends, but it does require some input on your part.
Do you have friends already?
You may already have friends but perhaps don’t realise it. Classifying what friendship is is hard, and so sometimes people feel as though they don’t have friends because they expect it to be something more than it is.
Of course, some friends can finish each other’s sentences, would do anything for each other, and others have to see each other every day – but most people’s friendships are based on far simpler foundations. Ask yourself the following:
• Do I feel good after being with this person? (Do you come away smiling, feeling energised? Or do you feel tired and a bit out of sorts?)
• Do I feel comfortable when I’m with them? (Can you talk naturally, without worrying about what you’re saying, for example, and do you feel safe.)
• Does the person seem to respect me? (Do they listen to what you say, ask your advice, or trust you with information/belongings, for example.)
If you can answer yes to all of these, then you already have a friend!
How to make new friends
Don’t ignore online friendships
A lot has been made about how technology is ruining social interaction and many feel that interacting online isn’t as ‘valid’ as face-to-face interaction. But while there has been research to show that most of us don’t consider a large number of online ‘friends’ to be close friends, as yet no one has been able to show that an online friend or support group can’t provide similar benefits to you as an in-person friend. In fact, many people rely heavily on online friendship.
However, psychologists argue, problems arise when you feel unable to have IRL (in real life) friends but have many online. This suggests that you may not be yourself when online or that you still have social anxieties that you need to overcome. But there is no reason not to take advantage of both.
The ideal way to take advantage of online social interactivity is to join a group with similar interests to you. Love making knots? There’s a forum for The International Guild of Knot Tyers. Enjoy a good political discussion? Sign up for PoliticalForum. Or if you’re keen to share your knitting patterns, try ravelry.com.
Where to find friends online
Get a group together
Sometimes a group friendship is easier to maintain than a one-on-one friendship. It helps balance out strong personalities and can make for a truly jovial and lively meet-up whenever you get together.
These tend to work best when there’s an activity involved – a walking group, for example, or a book club, or cheese and wine tasting. Having an activity to enjoy when you meet up helps provide you with something to talk about and also helps bond you as it’s something you have in common.
Over time, with more meetings, you’ll find other things you have in common and your friendships will deepen.
Have a party
If there are people in your neighbourhood who you’re acquainted with but you can’t get past that stage of discussing the weather, hold a celebration at your place and invite the neighbours. There are plenty of opportunities for this – from Friendship Day or Neighbour Day to all the other holidays we celebrate.
If you’re not a party type, organise a plant swap with your neighbours, hold a street garage sale together (for charity), or hand out leaflets outlining a new volunteer project you’d like to get started.
Fill up your calendar
There are free events on at many places such as libraries, bookshops, galleries, museums and town halls and churches. Find out what’s going on in your neighbourhood by checking online (search for community, neighbourhood and events, along with your area name) and looking at posters in your local supermarket or the library and so on.
And don’t be shy about going to an event that isn’t necessarily ‘your thing’ – if a local gallery is holding a free beginner watercolour class but you’re more into photography, go anyway. Even if you don’t meet a friend for life there, events like these are ideal opportunities for practising being sociable and you might even discover a new hobby.
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Give a little
If you find making new friends hard, you may just need to take a deep breath and give up a little of yourself – tell someone about yourself.
If, for example, you always say good morning to your neighbour or a dog-walker in the park but haven’t got further than that, it’s time to strike up a conversation. Think of something you’ve done or something that’s happened to you, and tell them your anecdote.
Stay away from weather talk as this doesn’t usually lead anywhere but think of something personal and ideally funny, that you can share with this person. This is a great way to open up a conversation and could be the beginning to a friendship.
NB: Make sure your first interaction is positive. While you may be bursting to tell the dog-walker you see in the park each day that their dog reminds you of your favourite pet who died last year, she or he is far more likely to warm to you if you can tell him/her a positive story.
Remember to listen
If your friend isn’t particularly talkative you might feel more comfortable filling those ‘awkward’ silences with chatter. But this can lead to a one-sided friendship. Give the other person a chance to talk and make sure you actually listen to what they’re saying so you can respond to it appropriately.
If, for example, you notice that they’ve bought a new coat, had their hair done or something like that, comment on it. Now wait and see what they have to say about it, rather than then turning the topic of conversation on to yourself.
Maintain your friendships
Flowers, chocolates and even your physical presence aren’t essential to continuing a friendship. In fact, research from Purdue University, USA, shows that phone calls, emails and letters are enough to help you feeling close to friends, even after they move away.
That said, it’s great to know you have a regular meet-up with an old – or new – chum, so try to arrange a get-together once a week, or once a month, whatever works for you both.