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How to make friends as an adult

By Jen Spengler | September 3, 2019
How to make friends as an adult

By Jennifer Spengler, a health and wellness writer for Sharp Health News and a marketing specialist with Sharp HealthCare.

In college, I made friends on the first day of orientation. Turns out that awkward, forced fun really does have some benefits. At my first post-graduation job, my colleagues and their partners — some more permanent than others — became my crew. When I became a new mom, a neighborhood playgroup satisfied most of my adult camaraderie needs.

Fast forward several years, and I’m extremely fortunate to be blessed with a small group of women whom I’ve known since grade school and who are my “people” — supporting me through life’s challenges, celebrating life’s wins and making me laugh until … well, you don’t really need to know the rest.

However, I know that not everyone is as lucky as our little circle. And with half of these lifelong BFFs living out of town, I’ve faced the grim reality that making new adult friends in town can be difficult, especially after a recent move to a new neighborhood.

Friendships — which you would think should come naturally because all people desire love and companionship — have become a challenge for many adults. A recent study out of UC San Diego found that 3 out of 4 Americans over 18 report feeling lonely, which can lead to a variety of health concerns. In fact, experts say that loneliness is at epidemic levels and has been linked to diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and is as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

A formula for friendship

If so many of us wish we had more friends, why haven’t we figured out a simple way to get them? Well, it seems as if making friends isn’t a simple endeavor. A report from experts at the University of Kansas found that it takes adults hundreds — yes, hundreds — of hours to move through the stages of a relationship to become true friends:

  • It takes approximately 50 hours together to go from being acquaintances to “casual friends.”

  • Spending 90 hours together is what it takes to become “friends.”

  • More than 200 hours in each other’s company are required before you can consider one another “close friends.”

That’s a lot of time. Between work, parenting, managing a home, volunteering, being a good daughter and trying to be a good wife, I’m not sure I have a spare 200 hours, and I imagine many other adults feel the same way. However, it’s important to find a little extra time to invest in creating a bond or two, especially if it means it can improve our mental, emotional and physical health.

5 tips to make new friends

Unsure how to start? Here are five tips to get you moving on the road to friendship:

  1. Get offline and out of your house. Those 500 social media friends are not actually real friends. It’s important to get out IRL (in real life) among other people, look them in the eye and find common ground. Great spots to do this include fitness studios, meetup groups, volunteering, dog parks and classes.

  2. If you build it, they will come. Reach out via social media channels, your neighborhood message board or your current network of acquaintances and start something — a book club, supper club, running club, etc.

  3. Open yourself up. If you find someone that feels like a good fit, slowly allow yourself to be vulnerable and share a bit about yourself. We’re not talking about opening the floodgates of your darkest secrets, but a willingness to be open, trusting and deserving of another’s trust.

  4. Reach out. Get together. Repeat. Remember the 50 hours it’s going to take to become casual friends? Well, they’re not going to happen without some effort, and might even require you to set reminders on your calendar or smartphone. Make a point of checking in on a regular basis, be the one to suggest plans, and do it over and over until it becomes second nature.

  5. Just say yes. We adults are a tired people. Tucking into a good book or starting a new TV series binge can sound very appealing, but there are no real friends to be made on the page or screen. Challenge yourself to say yes to every invitation you receive — within limits, of course — and you’ll soon find that getting up the energy to go out improves your overall energy along with your health, outlook and number of good friends.

I can honestly say I was pretty good about the first four tips when I moved to my new community. I joined a local spin studio and met some great people while working up a sweat. I created a book club, in which good food and wine sometimes overshadow the books, and deep discussions about our personal lives might eclipse the plotline.

I set a reminder in my calendar to reach out to a friend going through some challenges at the one time each week I know I’m most likely to reach her. And I met some wonderful parents of my daughters’ soccer teammates. We certainly spend enough time on the sidelines together to get — at the very least — into “casual friend” territory.

However, I'm not always up for last-minute plans or "school night" activities. Whether this is due to simple exhaustion, the draw of all those great shows now found on the small screen or the fact that I am an introvert, I'm not sure. But I do know that I have never once regretted just saying yes to time spent with someone I'm lucky enough to call a friend.

Jen Spengler is a health and wellness writer with Sharp Health News, and mom of three daughters.

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