Friendship February: How to make friends

Making friends as an adult can be challenging. While meeting people on the playground can create an instant connection among children, creating and maintaining friendships as an adult requires more time, effort and understanding.

“There are still reliable ways to meet people,” said Dr. Karen Lawson, assistant professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor. “Find an interest you like, do volunteer work you feel passionate about, join a running or book club or take an interesting class.”

Lack of self-confidence often hinders people from engaging in activities to make friends. People should understand that they can bring value to a group of friends.

Build confidence

Three adults posing together for a selfie. One has a pair of novelty heart-shaped glasses for a silly pose.Low self-esteem might deter you from seeking new friendships, so talk to a trusted person about your worries and get a pep talk, whether that comes from a parent, roommate or an old friend. Practice affirmations to remind yourself that you have something to offer to the world.

Talk to anyone in your daily routine to practice gestures in a low-stakes situation: the cashier at the grocery store, other shoppers or someone who holds the door for you. Make eye contact and say thank you. Practicing these gestures can help boost confidence.

Limit negativity

Avoid controversial topics such as politics, the leadership of countries or any topics that could quickly put people at opposite ends of a spectrum.

Demonstrate interest and positivity when making plans with a new group of friends. If someone invites you to Sunday brunch, show your eagerness and reliability. Refrain from making excuses and make sure your friends can count on you to join them.

“Pay attention to what you sound like when you talk to others – it’s not fun to be around someone who is constantly negative. It’s just as easy to be optimistic as it is to be negative, so choose optimism,” Lawson said.

Give people the benefit of the doubt and do not assume the worst. If you expect a text from someone at a specific time about plans and they forget to contact you, know that things come up and you will still be invited.

Importance of friendship

The body has naturally fulfilling and occurring hormones that lead us to seek out others. The corollary is that we feel isolated and lonely when not with others. Friends offer reassurance, affection, love and positive feedback – things that humans crave and need. Other people around us offer different viewpoints, activities and interests. Variety keeps people interested and stimulated.

“There is probably something about everyone we know that brings something different to our life, like activities we may not be involved in or thought of before,” Lawson said.

Having four or five people you can count on, with one or two of them who really understand you, is much more realistic than trying to make 20 friends. A small number is sufficient and satisfying.

“Research shows that as more people make up a group, the less close you are to all of those people. You only need a few people to be happy, and it’s good to start small with anything,” Lawson said.

Sustain friendship

Make an effort by showing interest, replying and following up with friends. Friendships from childhood, middle school or college will dwindle if you fail to sustain them, even if the other person is less active about staying in touch but always replies when you reach out. If you never receive responses from another person, that friendship might not be worth keeping.

Lawson provides examples of putting in work in friendship:

  • Suggest a place to meet
  • Bring over a meal
  • Meet halfway
  • Send a text
  • Remember someone’s birthday

She also explains the importance of knowing your worth: “The other person does like you and wants to see you. You are worthy. Don’t let things go because of negative thoughts that occur in your head,” Lawson.

Seek help

If you experience a paralyzing condition that prevents you from taking even small steps, reach out to a mental health professional. A few sessions can help change one’s negative thinking.

By Homa Shalchi

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