I used to be excruciatingly shy. Social functions were agonizing. Dating was practically impossible. Introductions to new people were literally dreadful.

Whenever I tell people this, they’re almost always surprised. “But you’re so friendly!” they exclaim. “I know,” I say to myself, inwardly and gleefully rubbing my hands together like a maniacal cartoon villain. It’s a revelation that always brings astonishment — and in which I always delight in.

Why? Because being friendly, and making friends, is a skill that I didn’t really learn until my mid-20s. It took many painful and anxious forays out of my comfort zone, but anxiety turned into tolerance which turned into mild enjoyment which, eventually, turned into genuine delight.

Look, I’m not trying to brag or anything, but this change in my social habits feels especially monumental considering my age. I’m almost 30! And while that is not old by any means, making friends as an adult seems practically impossible to many my age and beyond.

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As Miriam Kirmayer, clinical psychologist and relationship expert, told The Cut, difficulty making friends as an adult is very common.

“The more we can recognize that talking about this not only helps us to reduce the individual shame that we might be experiencing, but also actually provides the pathway to closer friendships, ultimately will really help us to build and sustain our connection.”

Making friends, especially in adulthood, is hard. Why pretend otherwise? If you’re an adult struggling to make friends, you’re not alone: in a 2021 study, 12% of adults said that they didn’t have any close friends. And only half of adults, 51%, said that they’re satisfied with the amount of friends they have.

Why is it hard to make friends as an adult?

There are a few factors that make it harder to make friends as adult: time, trust, age. According to “The Friendship Report,” a study by the app SnapChat in 2019, the average age when people meet their best friends is 21. Also, according to a 2019 study entitled “How many hours does it take to make a friend?”, it takes over 200 hours, more than three weeks, to form a friendship.

But, on average, Americans only spend 41 minutes during their day socializing.

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And, last but not least, people are less trusting. As the Deseret News reported, “In a 2011 study, researchers found that Americans trust no more than 20 people. And that number might be shrinking — another study found that our personal networks are getting smaller.”

While age shouldn’t, technically, be a contributing factor for forging friendships, time and trust are. If adults have less time on their hands — likely spending said time on work, family, etc. — and are less trusting, how can they create new and meaningful friendships?

As Katharine Smyth wrote for The Atlantic, “As we get older, the space we used to fill with laughter, gossip, and staying up until the sky grew light can get consumed by more ‘adult’ concerns, such as marriage, procreation, and fully developed careers — and we tend to end up with less of ourselves to give.”

How do adults realistically make friends?

I’d be lying if I said that making time to create friendships as an adult is easy. You have a lot on your plate! But any time used to form friendships is well-spent (literally — according to Science of People, friendships make you healthier and help you live longer).

So, in order to help you on your friendship journey, here are some realistic ways you can make friends.

1. Join a club, go to the gym or anything else that meets regularly

One of the best ways to make new friends is to surround yourself by the same people often. People usually do this at work, but if you’re not comfortable making friends at work or if you don’t work in an office, you have other options.

“I suggest joining something that meets regularly over time — so instead of going to a networking event, look for a professional development group, for example,” Marisa Franco, author of “Platonic,” told The New York Times. “Don’t go to a book lecture; look for a book club. That capitalizes on something called the ‘mere exposure effect,’ or our tendency to like people more when they are familiar to us.”

Here are some other alternatives:

  • Take a class.
  • Do volunteer work.
  • Join a Facebook group with shared interests.
  • Regularly walk through your neighborhood.
  • Make a local restaurant or cafe your regular spot.
  • Join a local sports team.
  • Participate in your religious community.
  • Join the PTA at your child’s school.

2. Reconnect with old friends

Often, new friendships can be found in old ones. Think back to your friends from college, high school, even elementary school — you were friends with them for a reason, right?

If any stick out to you, and if they live in your area, reach out. The benefit of reviving old friendships is that you get to avoid all that awkward, obligatory get-to-know-you talk. Sure, you’ll have to catch each other up on your lives, but you already know enough about them to avoid all the awkwardness.

3. Make new friends through the friends you already have

This is probably one of the biggest ways that I make new friends: meeting new friends through the ones I already have. We usually have casual get-togethers where friends bring new people, which is a great setting to get to know someone new. Big groups break up into smaller, more intimate ones, creating the perfect opportunity to make new connections.

Kirmayer recommended that folks should think of “who are the valuable people in my social network … that can perhaps connect me with other people I might not know?” per The Cut.

This can be either planned or organic. If your friend brings someone new to a get-together, great! Or you could go with something more planned, such as hosting a dinner where everyone you know is required to bring someone new.

4. Assume that people already like you

Meeting someone new can be nerve-wracking and is certainly filled with endless what-ifs. What if we have nothing in common? What if I say something embarrassing? What if they don’t like me?

But, according to Franco, “you should assume people like you” — because they probably do. “That is based on research into the ‘liking gap’ — the idea that when strangers interact, they’re more liked by the other person than they assume,” Franco told The New York Times.

“There is also something called the ‘acceptance prophecy.’ When people assume that others like them, they become warmer, friendlier and more open. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Franco continued.

5. Make a genuine effort to connect

While honesty is the best policy, genuineness is the second-best policy. If you’re making a genuine and intentional effort to get to know someone — by asking questions and setting aside time to spend with them — people will likely be endeared to your attempt at friendship.

“So one of the big tips I share is that if you try to connect with someone, you are much less likely to be rejected than you think,” Franco told The New York Times.

Take your pursuit of genuineness one step further: if you honestly like someone, tell them.

“... the quality people most appreciate in a friend is ego support, which is basically someone who makes them feel like they matter,” Franco said. “The more you can show people that you like and value them, the better. Research shows that just texting a friend can be more meaningful than people tend to think.”

6. Be curious

This is going to sound cheesy, and I am nothing if not a giant cornball, but here goes: people are stories. Yet to be read. By you.

A cringeworthy sentiment, sure, but ultimately true! People have interesting lives, thoughts, insights, hobbies, etc. that you have absolutely no idea about. So be curious about people! Have a genuine desire to get to know them — (practically) everyone has something worthwhile and interesting about them, so any effort made into getting to know someone is worthily spent.

And, at the very least, most people love talking about themselves. So asking about the details of their lives kills two birds with one stone: you’ll learn more about someone and you won’t run out of things to talk about it.

The benefits of friendship

As mentioned before, any time invested in friendships is time well spent. Because friendship isn’t just a conduit of happiness, belonging and emotional wellness. It has physical benefits, too.

According to BBC, “Socially integrated people tend to have longer and healthier lives — they’re at lower risk for hypertension. Friends can also help people to sleep better and even heal faster, as research involving skin puncturing suggests.”

On the other hand, social isolation causes a myriad of issues — including chronic illness and a great mortality risk.

“It’s generally accepted that social isolation will pretty much exacerbate any health issue,” Donna Turnbull, community development manager for Voluntary Action Camden, told BBC. For instance, “If you’re not being socially active, you’re quite often not being physically active as well.”

Per BBC, Saida Heshmati, a psychologist at Claremont Graduate University, has conducted research illustrating that “regardless of where these little actions of love come from, or what relationship they come from, the quality of those interactions is very important — meaning that you can basically receive care when you’re sick from a family member, but you can also receive it from a friend, and that still conveys love.” 

As science journalist Lydia Denworth told BBC, the importance of friendship is typically underplayed in society. ”Friends deserve more respect, and they shouldn’t always be the last on our list in terms of priorities.”