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how to make friends

9 ways to make friends as an adult

Most peope have no idea how to make friends as an adult without alcohol. In this article, I lay out how to make friends as an adult without the bar scene.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

I saw a tweet the other day that read asking people how they made friends as an adult. Though the world is coming out of a social distancing protocol that left most people feeling lonely, this was echoed in a deeper sense.

I’ve talked to many adults, and they feel like they don’t have any true friends or meaningful relationships in their life. Adult lives are hectic and busy, but that’s no reason to neglect the most important thing: our social relationships. 

A tweet asking how you made friends as an adult
A tweet asking how you made friends as an adult

Just about every person on the face of the earth is one tweet, one status update, or one email away but we still feel alone.

Technology has made distant relationships close but close relationships distant.

Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make strong friendships as an adult. I’m talking about becoming friends with the type of people who stick by your side no matter what’s going on in your life. I’ve made adult friendships that are stronger than any bond I had as a teenager.

We were good friends when I was a broke alcoholic who had nothing to offer but my company—and even that wasn’t the highest quality.

We could blame the lockdowns for social isolation, but really, that’s a recent excuse. Go back to early 2020. Or 2019. Struggling to make friends was still a problem. 

I’ll tell you a little about the right way to make new meaningful friendships beyond casual acquaintances, as well as the wrong way to go about it. Because knowing what to do gets you just as far as knowing what you shouldn’t.

Accept that you’re bad at making social connections

This is because most of us have never had someone teach us how to build a social circle. Instead, for most of our lives, we’ve just made friends with whoever shared a certain life stage with us. Neighborhood kids, people we played on sports teams with, and classmates make up where the typical adults get their friends from.

These people may become lifelong friends, but this is often not the case. Interests change as we grow and many of us start to feel isolated when we no longer have the same thoughts, feelings, and interests as these people—if we ever shared them at all.

Consider the results from a survey of over 2000 Americans about making friends as an adult. Research shows that:

  • They haven’t made a new friend in 5 years
  • For the majority, popularity peaks at age 23
  • For 36%, popularity peaks before age 21
  • 82% feel like friendships are hard to find

In other words, the research shows that adults are terrible at building and maintaining a circle of friends. In other words, the research shows that adults are terrible at building and maintaining a circle of friends. And it doesn’t matter where you are in the world.

A 2013 meta-analysis by researchers in Germany combined data from over 177k participants across 277 studies. They discovered that friendship networks had been shrinking for the past 35 years (source).

Maybe we got used to being casual friends with classmates or teammates. We carried that dynamic into college. But when university life ends, those acquaintances fade. We go from seeing our favorite people every day to barely keeping up with our closest friends.

Social media keeps us busy with the illusion of a social life, but it really just distracts us from hunger pangs for real human connection. Part of having a happy life is having a list of people you see in person regularly that you enjoy.

Seeing your friends in person and having social interactions with them there, not just on a digital screen, is the key to having a happy life in real life.

You want to know that people out there are thinking about you—not because you just posted a cool tweet or Instagram post, but because they genuinely like you.

We miss that as adults. We want it. But we don’t know how to get it.

Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to make strong friendships as an adult. I’m talking about becoming friends with the type of people who stick by your side no matter what’s going on in your life. I’ve made adult friendships that are stronger than any bond I had as a teenager.

We were good friends when I was a broke alcoholic who had nothing to offer but my company—and even that wasn’t the highest quality.

I’ll tell you a little about the right way to make new meaningful friendships as well as the wrong way to go about it. Because knowing what to do gets you just as far as knowing what you shouldn’t.

If you have children, use them to help make friends

We often feel overwhelmed by the number of things we need to accomplish during our adult lives. You are not alone if you feel socially isolated because of your children, work, relationships, and other responsibilities.

A study of young people’s social networks found that those who were in relationships had, on average, 2 fewer close social ties. Those with children had lost out even more; they’d lost 3 close social ties, including family members. Friendships often because we have other priorities. The title of the paper sums up things well: “Romance and Reproduction Are Socially Costly.”

The trick here is to remember that if you’re a parent or in a relationship, you’re part of a new world. It’s hard to be friends with people who live in a different world than you so because they’re operating on different priorities. But the nature of being a parent is that you’ll end up with a lot of potential friends. The parenting community is one of the most active communities of people in t

Don’t make new friends at the bar

Too many adults, especially those socially stunted from college dorm life, think that finding friends means joining a group of dudes at the bar every Sunday to drink booze and watch sports. Maybe they team up to find people to hook up with. Lonely people looking for lonely people.

I get it. I used to try and meet people just like this, but you’re not going to build fulfilling or lasting relationships by meeting random drinkers at bars. Acting like an adult means forming your relationships with intention, with purpose. You know what you want from friendship and you know what you have to offer.

True friendship starts with spending a lot of time around people who are good candidates for building lasting bonds with.  This means finding people who have similar interests. However small that may be, that shared interest binds you together. That’s why you need something in your life that you are passionate about. It’s common ground on which you can build new friendships.

Be passionate about something

Adults tend to form relationships based on shared interests. This gives all parties an activity to enjoy while spending time together and something to discuss when kicking back. It could be said that the key to building friendships is cultivating your interests. So if you want to socialize and build relationships, do one of two things.

  1. Join a community that revolves around what you are already passionate about.
  2. Join a community whose passion you do not yet share but can develop.

In other words, your two best options are to seek out groups of people with interests like yours or develop interests shared by an existing group. I recommended the first route since it’s a more natural path to enjoyment, but your interests may be too niche to easily find a group sharing them. In that case, take the second path. It’s just faster.

If you assimilate correctly, you’ll end up with new hobbies, skills, and friends you can count on in life. For example, since I started taking daily Spanish lessons, I’ve formed a whole new network of amigos hispanohablantes. New interest, new friends, new friends of friends. The benefits are many.

Once you connect with people in a group, you have an automatic topic to discuss that you know they’ll enjoy. Spending time together is easy. If you’re both into visual art, for example, text them and ask, “Hey, you free? Want to get together and sketch?” Meet in person or screenshare what you’re working on over video chat. You practice together. Grow together. Have a blast together.

Now, that’s all well and good, but you’re probably thinking, No shit . . . of course you can hang out with people whose interests you share. That’s the easy part. Finding the group in the first place . . . that’s hard.

That’s fair. Figuring out which group to join and how to fit in with other members who’ve been there for a while is where a lot of people go wrong. Here are some tips on how to do it right.

Find activities to build a social group around

making friends as an adult
making friends as an adult

We live in the Internet age. It’s not difficult to identify new interests or find communities. There are groups and activities for everything. Your goal is not to find individual people, but communities.

Don’t open Facebook and stalk individuals who claim your hobby on their profile. Communities and groups are more welcoming to strangers, and they provide a greater chance of meeting someone you’ll be compatible with. If you make ten new acquaintances, chances are good you’ll become friends with at least one of them.

That brings up the mathematical consideration. Get the numbers on your side. Your shared interests function as an initial entry point into a new group of potential friends. That’s no guarantee you’ll get along with everyone in the circle.

Sharing interests doesn’t mean you’ll have the same values. We both may like chess, but if I’m a diehard conservative, and you’re a bleeding heart liberal, the probability that we’ll be anything more than acquaintances inside the group is close to null.

Now you know what I mean about running the numbers. Involve yourself with multiple groups all with a reasonable amount of people. Larger community size means more potential long-term friendships.

That’s really the best advice I can give you on whether or not to join a group. Say yes. Join several. From there, you’ll want to put your best foot forward. First impressions are everything. Let’s leave a great one.

Be an unselfish expert or an eager newbie

Once you’re part of a group, getting people to like you is straightforward. Yes, I’ve got a set of binary options for this, too. Present yourself to the group in one of two ways.

  1. You’re the unselfish expert.
  2. You’re the eager newbie.

The unselfish expert approach works if you find a group of people doing things you already have some expertise in. This approach establishes your instant value to the group. They’ll want you to stay because you bring a wealth of knowledge and experience. It lends them more credibility as a group built around that interest and your knowledge may help each member deepen their own enjoyment.

As an example, if you’ve been skiing for ten years and visit a skiing meetup, you’ll enter that community with a knowledge base others in the group will find useful. Share what you know freely. Soon, other members will come to you for advice and ask for feedback on their technique. Leverage this respect into real friendship.

The opposite group assimilation approach is if you enter the group with zero knowledge. But you make up for that with zero ego. You’ve got an authentic curiosity for learning everything you can. You’re the new guy. Everybody likes the new guy.

Here’s how to live up to that role.

Get people to talk about their favorite things

People generally like to talk about what they enjoy. So get other members in the group talking for hours.

Ask them to show you the ropes. This works so long as you’re comfortable admitting what you don’t know. The best phrases to use run along the lines of, “Oh, wow, I’ve never heard about that. Tell me more!”

By allowing others to present themselves as experts, you’ll make them feel smart and important. The trick is to use what you learn and show that you are taking the advice of your new group.

People love when a person takes their advice. It’s a way to bond because you’re demonstrating trust and respect. If you respond to other members’ teaching with enthusiasm, you’ll cultivate true friendship. And as you, too, become proficient in your new hobby, you’ll have a range of new activities to enjoy together.

Transition to socializing outside of the group on a regular basis

Me hanging out with new friends in Cafe New York in Budapest
Me hanging out with new friends in Cafe New York in Budapest

Over time, something cool will happen.

You’ll get comfortable both as a student and an expert in-the-making. You can blend the two based on who you’re speaking to. Maybe your new group has one “chief” expert who loves to teach and a bunch of newbies looking for direction. Jump in there between them into the role that feels the best.

Whatever you do, don’t be the guy that never listens and only complains. People really hate that guy. Don’t be the newbie who doesn’t really want to learn, who just lurks silently without engaging.

[Read: The 3 biggest reasons that people complain]

They hate him, too. It’s creepy. People generally can’t stand the selfish expert who refuses to share knowledge and the know-it-all who assumes no one else knows anything either.

Step out of your comfort zone

This is huge for my introverts and people with social anxiety. 

If you’re gonna make friends as a full grown adult, there’s no reason to be intimidated. These approaches will get you started, but they’re not the entirety of friendship.

No matter how you go about finding a community, make an effort to talk to people beyond the group’s subject matter. Act like a real person with original thoughts, deeply held values, and genuine sympathy. There are natural ways to transition to different topics and show you care about the other people you want to get to know.

Key takeaways for making friends as an adult

  1. Accept that you’re bad at making social connections
  2. If you have children, become friends with their friend’s parents
  3. Don’t make new friends at the bar
  4. Be passionate about something
  5. Find activities to build a social group around
  6. Be an unselfish expert or an eager newbie
  7. Get people to talk about their favorite things
  8. Transition to socializing outside of the group on a regular basis
  9. Step out of your comfort zone

Once you’ve made new friends, the next step is to actually be likable. After a while, these new friends will become old friends. For now, these are the basics you need to make friends after you’re no longer confined to the social experiment known as “school.”

Life is hard. Friends make it easier.

Now go make some.

Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

Follow me on Twitter.