How many of us have felt the struggle of making new friends? As the responsibilities of adulthood pile up, we often have little time for socializing and bonding over shared interests.
The past year and a half has only complicated things. With some data showing more than half of workers were given the option to work from home during at least some of the pandemic, personal and professional worlds have blurred. Many of us felt depleted, time-starved, and isolated.
Strong social ties can make all the difference. Long-term studies suggest a clear connection between close relationships and sustained happiness. So, if one of your goals for 2022 is to make more friends, read on. A few simple tips can help you expand you social circle:
Make time to connect
If you’ve found your schedule increasingly cramped during the pandemic, you’re not alone. But making new friends (and maintaining existing friendships) does require prioritizing social interactions in the same way you prioritize other activities. When plans are broken last minute, or we lean on excuses to get out of coffee dates, our social connections can gradually unravel or fade away. Before long, you may be asking yourself what happened to that friendship with a college classmate or coworker whom you always admired.
Don’t shy away from making a plan. Friendships are built on making a consistent effort, remaining positive, and staying vulnerable. As Corey Weiner, CEO of Jun Group, writes for Fast Company, vulnerability is often misinterpreted as spilling your guts. What it really means is feeling comfortable to be yourself around others. “It doesn’t mean taking some huge risk and bearing your soul,” Weiner writes. “[More so,] do you feel recognized when you do good work? Do you feel like you can be yourself around a person?”
Making an effort goes beyond throwing a “like” on someone’s social media post or sending a “Happy Holidays” group text. If you’ve got a few minutes while walking the dog, or doing dishes, reach out to an old friend on the phone and see how they’re doing. Or invite a new coworker to lunch. Simple actions like these show you’re interested in reviving (or creating) a genuine connection.
Lean into your interests
Our adult lives are typically organized around the realms of work and family, meaning you may not get much opportunity to cultivate your hobbies and personal interests. Find time to reconnect by joining local organizations, and leaning into hobbies.
The very act of engaging in a creative, tactile hobby—like painting or flower arranging—can boost your everyday performance and problem-solving. And hobbies can also help you connect with new friends who share similar interests. The celebrations and wins you have when involved in these pursuits will be all the more fulfilling.
It can be easy to convince yourself that you can go without socializing. But burnout and loneliness have ticked up alongside the explosion of remote work, meaning connecting with others is important.
Shasta Nelson, author of The Business of Friendship, encourages working parents to think of how they encouraged socialization for their kids schooling from home during the pandemic. Think of how your kids may not immediately seek out time with friends, but as a parent, you know this is good for them, says Nelson. “We know homeschooled kids need their social needs met, and parents have to be intentional about it. When it comes to working from home, we can still build social networks, but we need to be more intentional about it.”
No one wants to start a new relationship feeling completely deflated. Yes, it can feel nice to vent and complain to a new friend, but also, it can wear down others if you always seem unhappy when you talk with them. As Weiner points out, “Friendships almost always happen extremely gradually as a result of shared time and continued effort.”
Take things slow and take a genuine interest in people to develop real friendships that can last beyond a few casual lunch dates. It’s normal if you’re feeling a little rusty. “It’s okay for things to be a bit uncomfortable at first, especially when everyone is not familiar with one another,” he says. “Acknowledge the first few hangouts will be awkward. This will relieve the pressure to hit it off instantly, and encourage people to open up more.”
Invest in interesting people
To find good friends, cast your net wide when it comes to seeking out people with whom you feel you would click. They could have something in common with you outside of work, or simply be someone with an appealing personality. Make a list of people you’d like to get to know, and then set a goal of reaching out to a new potential friend each week. Remember, in order to build relationships, you need to spend time cultivating a strong connection with people. No long-lasting friendship is built overnight.