By Nicole Roder, LCSW-C, DBT-LBC, DBT Therapist

 

As mental health providers, we receive a lot of questions from our clients and patients about solving problems in day to day life. So we are launching a new series on our mental health blog called “Ask the Therapist.” This month’s topic is “How to Make Friends.”

It’s hard to make friends as an adult. When you were a kid, things might have seemed simpler. You walked up to another kid on the playground at recess and said “Wanna be friends?” Or maybe you just joined in on their game of kickball. As an adult, this can feel pretty awkward and intimidating, especially if you have high anxiety. Sadly, many adults today report feeling lonely and socially isolated. According to a 2023 poll, nearly 1 in 10 American adults report having no close friends, and another 13 percent have only one friend. 

This can lead to severe loneliness and poor health outcomes. Time and again, research has shown that loneliness and social isolation can lead to low well-being and high psychological distress, especially among people with disabilities and older adults.

Close friends are a balm for loneliness and a gateway to fulfilling relationships and a happier life. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the social landscape with confidence.

 

 

Finding Your People 

So where do you even start looking for people to be friends with? Do you really have to talk to strangers? If you want to make new friends, yes.

We’re not expecting you to walk up to someone in the supermarket and ask them out for coffee. Fortunately, our culture offers lots of opportunities for meeting people that might feel more natural. 

 

Here are 7 ideas for finding friends:

 

1.Remember that all human beings are lovable. When people feel lonely or depressed, they often begin to believe themselves to be unlovable. This is never true. Please don’t let this hold you back from attempting to find friends. What is true is that finding friends takes work, and it starts with acknowledging that you, yourself, are a lovable person.

 

2. Join a club or organization. Many cities and neighborhoods have book clubs, game nights, adult sports leagues, bar trivia teams, community theater troupes, and other engaging groups where adults can meet new people. Check out events at your local library, church, or community center and join up. 

 

3. Look to your neighbors and coworkers. Many of us have people in close proximity to us–either in our neighborhood or where we work–but we haven’t made the leap from acquaintances to friends. You can make an effort to spend time with these people and build a friendship.

 

4. Try social media groups and friendship apps. Facebook, Next Door, Meetup.com, and even LinkedIn have quite a few groups that are made up of people with similar interests living in close proximity to each other. There are also apps like Bumble for Friends, Yubo, and Friender that allow you to meet new friends in a similar way to dating apps.

 

5. Talk to people at the gym. If you’re working out regularly, you probably see the same people at your gym pretty frequently. These could be your new workout buddies!

 

6. Take a class. Do you have hobbies? Check out your local community college to see if they offer a class in that subject area. You can sign up for art, literature, writing, knitting, music, or anything else you’re interested in. These are perfect places to find friends!

 

7. Reconnect with old friends. If you’re like most people, there are probably some friends who you were close with in high school or college, but now you’ve lost touch. Give them a call, send an email, or find them on social media.

 

How to Make Friends

Now that you’ve connected with new people and old friends, it’s time to use your interpersonal skills to make these people into close friends. Here are 6 tips to do that from DBT therapy. Check out DBT Interpersonal Effectiveness Handout 11 for more information.

 

1.Start a conversation. Begin with “small talk” or “chit chat.” The conversation doesn’t have to be deep or meaningful at the start. Simply ask questions and respond to the other person’s questions. Be sure to respond with a few sentences and another question. Here are a few ideas for conversation starters: 

    • What do you do for a living? Do you like it?
    • How did you and your partner meet?
    • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
    • Do you like dogs or cats better?
    • I love your hair/outfit/shoes/name.
    • What kind of music do you like?

 

2. Join in on an ongoing conversation. If you’re at a party or some other social event, the easiest way to start talking to people might be to join in a group conversation that’s already going on. Look for an “open group” of people. You’ll be able to identify open groups because everyone is standing somewhat apart, people occasionally look around the room, there are gaps in the conversation, and they are talking about a topic that might interest anybody. When you see one of these groups, simply wait for a break in the conversation, then walk up to one of the people and say “Mind if I join you?” If you have social anxiety, this might sound scary. And, it does work!

 

3. Listen with interest. When people talk to you, it’s important to actively listen and act like you’re interested in what they have to say. This means making eye contact, nodding, and asking follow up questions.

 

4. Validate the other person’s point of view. When someone expresses their thoughts or feelings, reflect back to them what you’re hearing them say. “Wow, it sounds like that’s really important to you!” Or, “Hmmm, I can see that you didn’t like that.” Then validate anything that makes sense about it. “I can see why you like that. It sounds interesting.” Or, “I can understand why you would be upset. I would be too.” 

 

5. Praise selectively. Many people love hearing praise. When you genuinely like someone, let them know. Try to find things to compliment that aren’t obvious. Just don’t over-praise. That might sound like sucking up.

 

6. Ask your new friend to get together. Once you’ve had a conversation or two, you’re going to have to ask your new friend to do something if you want the friendship to grow. Suggest going out for lunch or coffee, getting together to exercise, going to a concert, or any activity that you think you might both enjoy. If they agree, you’ve got yourself a friend!

 

If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness and you’d like to talk to a professional, please contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our providers. Gladstone offers medication management, psychotherapy, and DBT therapy. 

 

You can email us at new.patient@gladstonepsych.com or call 443-708-5856.