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Making grown-up pals is tough—but not impossible.
“Friends. How many of us have them?” It’s a complex question explored not only by revolutionary hip-hop group Whodini, but many other scholars, philosophers, and researchers who help us make sense of the world. Add social media to the mix, and navigating relationships gets even more complicated. Then try getting older; if you thought finding where you fit was hard as a kid—figuring out how to make friends as an adult isn’t any easier.
Even for the mega-introvert, friendship is important to human survival. In fact, valuable friendships affect health and wellness among adults more than any other type of relationship, according to a recent study by the University of Michigan. But in order to get to a place where having friendships enhances your wellbeing, you need to get out there.
The Daily Dot spoke to Norma Perez, a Texas-based psychologist who specializes in psychotherapy for people who need help navigating everyday social situations. If you’re struggling to get your social circle right, here are the best tips for making friends as an adult.
How to make friends as an adult
Define what a “friendship” means to you
Before attempting to make friends, it can be helpful to define what a new friendship would look like to you. If you want to get really technical, there are stark definitions like: “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.” But that doesn’t really capture the subtleties of actual grown-up relationships.
Even if you have enough longtime friends who can tease you about fifth-grade gym class, interests and needs shift. Perhaps what you’re looking for now is to make is friends in the same career field. Or if you’re new to a city, you might be seeking another newcomer to explore with.
While technology’s impact on the way we socialize can be damaging, there are some benefits. For example, social media makes more geographically and culturally diverse friendship networks possible. And because more people are liking and sharing their interests, friendships are more likely to be based on compatibility as opposed to convenience, according to the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Whether you take an IRL or online approach, figuring out who you’re compatible with is a simple matter of finding what you’re looking for and going for it.
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Pick an activity
Are you looking for a hiking buddy? Folks to analyze obscure films with? Or just a few people with whom you can bash Trump? “If I were to try and make a new friend today, then I would think, ‘What are the things I like to do,’” Perez said.
Perez explained that she often approaches this challenge by sitting with her clients and talking through how they’ve successfully made friends in the past. This could mean naming the kinds of things clients like to do, then pinpointing meetups or volunteer opportunities to get connected.
Still, sometimes it’s not as simple as joining a soccer team or volunteering at a soup kitchen. Sometimes the closest friends are made in the most unexpected ways.
Since that’s the case, Perez tells her clients: “At least once a month, do something you’ve never done before. Try a new art, try a new sport, try a new restaurant—do something outside of your comfort zone.”
What’s comfortable for one person may not be for the next, especially when considering personality type. If you’re a more extroverted person, going out to social spaces might come more naturally to you. If you’re more introverted, that isn’t necessarily the case. And that’s OK.
For introverts, Perez said it’s a matter of identifying where an existing social gathering is set up for your interests, then encouraging yourself to go there. For extroverts, Perez suggests changing your routine and hitting up a new spot. Put yourself in a position to meet new people at places you’ve never been.
Self-awareness is key and you know yourself best, so try to be mindful of how your personality type affects how you want to interact with other people.
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Get out there
Now that you know what you’re looking for in a friendship, it’s time to heed that ol’ saying and put yourself out there. Now would be a good time to sign up for that burlesque class you saw a flier for or set some time aside to volunteer with Food Not Bombs. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas of what to do, here are some apps that can help:
It might be easier to start right at home. Nextdoor is an app for meeting your neighbors and finding out what’s happening in your hood. If you’re a homebody, this app might be for you.
The name is pretty self-explanatory, but if not, Meetup allows users to make events and activities for people with similar interests to “meetup” with each other. If you have specific interests like doing yoga at the park, hacking with a group of techies, or hobnobbing with fellow foodies the latest eatery, this app might be for you.
DoStuff is an event discovery app curated by locals in cities all over North America like Chicago, San Francisco, and Austin. Events vary from learning workshops and art exhibitions to happy hours and concerts. If you go out often but are looking to switch up your routine, this app might be for you.
If you want to make friends in a more intimate setting, MealTribes is an app that helps people “authentically connect with peers” by matching groups of six to seven people together for a potluck dinner. It’s only available in the Washington, D.C., area for now, but you can always host your own in the city you live in.
As a newer app, ICBRKR is a social platform that helps people find friends with similar interests and features a curated list of events based on date and location. Plus, it doesn’t have ads and prioritizes privacy if you’re concerned about security in light of the data privacy breaches on Facebook.
Remember: Because making friends is challenging, it can be really easy to overthink it. Take comfort in the fact that most people feel the same way as you do. Don’t be afraid to just get out there.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.