How To Make Friends As An Adult, Because Anything Can Be A Conversation Starter
I first realized that making friends as an adult is really, really hard when I moved to New York City after college — so basically when I became a “real adult” — and was terribly lonely. Sure, I had my boyfriend and I had some friends from school who had also moved to the city, but I missed the close-knit feel of my upstate liberal arts school. I’d left an environment where everyone in my graduating class knew who I was to one where no cared at all. Like, had literally zero interest in the fact of my existence. It was humbling, to say the least.
Until my boyfriend left me, that is. Things hadn’t been good between us for a while, but it took him getting a job in Spain for us to finally call it quits. We lived together out in Queens in a house with too many roommates at the time and I’ll never forget the afternoon that I strapped my backpack on, climbed onto my bike, and literally rode off into the sunset to my new place. I was heartbroken and living with a friend of a friend in a new neighborhood; more alone than I’d ever been in my life.
About a week after moving, I was walking home down the broad boulevard that was my new home and a woman walking toward me caught my eye. As she got closer, I realized that her t-shirt used different magazine titles to write out “People From Burlington Are Mad Hustlers.” I’m from Burlington, Vermont, and was pretty sure the Burlington it mentioned was my hometown, so before she passed me, I stopped her.
“Hey, are you from Vermont?” I asked.
She looked at me in that blank WTF way New Yorkers do when you pop their personal bubbles and my heart stopped in oh crap I just went out on a social limb fear. But that look lasted only a second before she broke into a huge smile. Turns out, she wasn’t only from my hometown but was actually on her way to buy a bridesmaid dress for the wedding of a high school friend of mine. She gave me her number and we made plans to meet up at the local bar later and I, like the dork I am, showed up like a full hour early and stressed the whole time until she showed up with her crew.
Long story short, we figured out that we knew each other in a bunch of other ways — she’d seen every play I did in high school, was best friends growing up with my brother’s girlfriend, and had actually been to my parents' house — and she became my best friend. I never hesitate to say that she saved me from what is still the worst heartbreak I ever suffered, but it was my willingness to go out on a limb and talk to a stranger in the street that got the ball rolling.
And yes, I know that this story is full of all kinds of coincidences and it’s a little rom-commy — that’s why I love it. But for the past three and a half years, I’ve been moving to a new country every three to nine months, so I’ve gotten really good at making friends. I basically have to start over three times a year and I’m a super social person, so not having friends just isn’t an option for me. You could say I've become an expert in making friends, so here are my six top tips for making friends when you’re an adult.
1. Remember That Everyone Is Scared And A Little Lonely
Most of us are nervous and scared and worried about making fools of ourselves and getting hurt. We're afraid of making a social misstep or being laughed at or turned down. And especially in big cities, where so many people are away from their families and the friends they grew up with, people are lonely. Just remind yourself of those two things — that other people are a little scared and a little lonely — when you’re working up the guts to approach someone you think could be a friend.
2. Join A Group — Or Start Your Own
A bunch of my friends in Brooklyn loved sewing but no one had a big enough apartment to host a group so our solution was to connect with a local community center and start a group there. We called ourselves the Brooklyn Sewing Collective and put up signs all over the neighborhood and on Facebook inviting people to come hang out and craft with us on Tuesday nights. I met a bunch of really awesome people that way and improved my sewing.
But if you’re not really the organizing type, go find a group that someone has already created and join up! Which leads me to…
3. Utilize Facebook
Seriously, Facebook is a lifesaver when it comes to making friends as an adult. You can use it to find groups to join but you can also straight up use it to connect with random people. For example, when I moved to Vietnam I put “people from Vermont who live in Ho Chi Minh City” into Facebook’s Graph Search and found one woman who fit the bill. She had the Planned Parenthood support filter on her profile pic and a picture of Vermont fall foliage as her cover photo, which was totally enough for me. I messaged her and was like, “Hey, this is super random and please feel free to tell me to go away or not respond but I’m from Vermont too and I just moved here and I’m looking for friends. Wanna meet up sometime?”
I guess my message was good enough to pique her interest, because we got burgers and she’s ended up being one of my closest friends here.
A little extreme again, I know. But at the very least you can find groups for people who are into the same things you’re into or who live in your area and are interested in meeting up. There are a lot of things to complain about with regards to Facebook but there’s no denying that it’s an amazing tool for social organizing.
4. Go To Networking Events
Networking doesn’t have to just be professional. If you go into a networking event with the intent of making friends, it’s so much less awkward than going in for business purposes and you end up meeting a lot of cool people. Personally I’ve found that this works better (for me at least) at women-only events but that won’t be the case for everyone, obviously.
Also, weirdly, if you go to networking events with the goal of meeting cool people, something funny happens: You become a better business networker. That’s because the best networkers are genuinely curious about the people they’re meeting and that’s exactly how you approach people when you’re looking for new friends.
5. Anything Can Be A Conversation Starter
The color of someone’s shirt. The cocktail they’re drinking. The fact that starting conversations is awkward. Anything can be a conversation starter. I met my best friends in Argentina because I heard three women speaking in American English in a hostel and I approached them by saying “Hey ladies, you’re the first other Americans I’ve seen since being here. What’s up?” Through them, I ended up meeting the people who I would live with for the next nine months and who majorly shaped the person I was becoming. The hardest part about starting a conversation isn’t what to say; it’s working up the guts to say it. So take a deep breath, pick a topic, and introduce yourself.
6. Take Chances And Talk To Strangers
One great piece of advice that my boyfriend gives me all the time is the suggestion that I game out the worst case scenario. So in the case of putting yourself out there in order to make friends — whether it’s online or in a bar or to the stranger walking toward you on the street — and you’re scared, take a minute to think about it. What’s really the worst thing that could happen? They laugh at you? NBD; you don’t know them anyway. They don’t want to talk to you? Cool; there are other people around.
The only sure outcome you know is that if you don’t put yourself out there, you definitely won’t make friends. So, go on. Take the chance. You won’t regret it.
Images: Giphy (6); Courtesy of Jake Kelsey; Author's own