Back in the days of my youth, it was pretty easy to make new friends. Contained environments like school, camp, and sports teams were designed to facilitate friendships, and we didn't have complicating factors like long subway rides and cash flow and having dozens of other friends from various places to keep us from getting a drink with someone on the playground. Now, though, it's a little harder to meet people, a fact reinforced by one recent study that determined exactly how long it takes to make a friend. The answer is — a long time.
The study was conducted by Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communications studies at the University of Kansas, and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships last month. In the first half of the study, Hall asked 355 adults who'd recently moved to a new place to pick one new person they'd met and keep track of how much time they spent with that person, and where they'd categorize them in terms of acquaintance or friend. In the second part of the study, Hall asked 112 freshmen at the University of Kansas to pick two new acquaintances and keep track of their relationships over the course of the first nine weeks of the semester.
"I was looking for cut off points, where there was a 50 percent greater likelihood you switch from acquaintance to casual and from casual to friend, then again from friend to a close friend," Hall told Psychology Today. Hall did find the markers, finding it takes a full 50 hours to make the move from acquaintance to casual friend, which is a lot of hours to spend with someone when you're working full time and spending at least an hour a day trapped on the subway.
Then, Hall found it took 90 more hours to transition from casual friend to "friend," and 200 more hours than that to go from being a friend to a close friend. Hall noted that those hours couldn't just be spent working together, hence why you're not guaranteed to befriend your colleagues unless you make a real effort. "We have to put that time in,” Hall told the University of Kansas. "You can’t snap your fingers and make a friend. Maintaining close relationships is the most important work we do in our lives — most people on their deathbeds agree."
Hence why it's easier to make friends in school and at university. You're sort of bubbled in with the people you meet in those environs, so there's more time to spend goofing around with one another, which helps facilitate those kinds of friendships, and it's harder to get distracted by other people outside of that sphere, especially if you go to a university away from home. When I was in college, all I had was time to spend cultivating friendships (and studying, sort of). As an adult, though, I have work; I have friends from college, high school, and other parts of my life to keep up with; I have my family, I have people I date, and various other obligations that make it difficult for me to put in 200 hours to create a new close friend. And, of course, the object of my potential friendship has their own barriers, too.
Still, there are plenty of ways to make friends as an adult. Last year, for instance, I started attending a regular media happy hour, and though I didn't know many people immediately, after going so frequently I started to make friends, some of whom I'm particularly close with now. Teams, classes, book groups, and other regular activities are also good ways to make friends. Be sure to try to spend time with the people you meet outside of the set activities, though — that's when the real friendships happen.