Remember back to when you were at school, and how much easier it was to make friends then? You always seemed to be around other children your age and “hanging out” was just a matter of course. If you were at a loose end after school, for instance, all you had to do was pop around to a friend’s house after school and ask, “Can Emma come out to play?”
You assume as you grow up that making friends will get easier and the number of friends will just keep on increasing. Sadly, it doesn’t. Interests change, families take priority and people move.
But it’s an area of our lives we shouldn’t let slide. That’s because we really do need friends. Friendships are healthy for us because they help relive stress, which is extremely beneficial for health.
Many of us find it hard to create a deep and meaningful relationship as adults, but it is not so difficult to do if you take the time and effort.
So, what are the keys? Here are some of the measures you can implement to increase your chances of making friends. Some are from my personal experience as a baby boomer and others are from researching what experts have to say on the topic.
Get out there
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how many of us hide ourselves away and don’t do what we know we need to do. That is go places where we will meet more new people.
Join groups that meet on a regular basis, such as clubs, workshops and adult classes. This has never been easier. “Meet up” groups are popping up all over, and they cater for an amazing array of interests. Just Google “meet up groups” and your suburb and you should find heaps, especially if you live in a city.
I’ve just moved to the south side of Brisbane, and have already found several relevant interest groups for women over 50, including a weekly coffee group and a kayaking group.
It can be hard walking in to a room full of strange people, but part of the beauty of many meet-up groups is that you “meet” first online, so the ice has already been broken.
Show your softer side
Showing vulnerability is the key to emotional bonding, so show that side of yourself without being negative.
Robert Epstein, an American psychologist, says vulnerability is the key to emotional bonding, without which relationships tend to feel superficial and meaningless.
“Put yourself in situations in which you and potential friends will feel vulnerable, because such situations make people feel needy and provide occasions for other people to provide comfort or support,” he says.
This doesn’t mean having to do something drastic. It can just mean bonding over a shared learning experience, as you struggle together to get the steps right in a salsa class or keep up with your aqua-aerobics instructor’s commands, for example.
Building on the connection
Okay, you’ve met someone who you think would be nice to cultivate as a new possible best friend, either at work or at one of the new meet-up groups you’re now attending. How do you build on that connection to extend it beyond work or the activity?
Extending your connection beyond work or a class doesn’t just happen automatically. It is something you have to work at and be pro-active about.
You do that by taking baby steps. Invite a work colleague over to watch a match at your place. Invite someone to do something outside the class, like have a cup of coffee afterwards, and then build on that. It can take up to six or eight small experiences like this before something approaching a real friendship results.
It can be hard breaking the ice the first time, but once you have done it once, it does get easier. And after all, the worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
Don’t overdo it
Finally, avoid the pitfall of overdoing it or sounding almost desperate. We’ve all see people do that. You don’t have to smile bigger, laugh harder and be over-enthusiastic. Just be a “nice” version of yourself.
You can do that by smiling and showing real interest in what the other person says. Be positive and look on the bright side of life. Everyone loves a good listener and everyone likes people who make them feel better about themselves.
Any other tips you can add to the above? How did you meet the friends you currently have? Was it through work, a class or a hobby?