Nearly 30% of Americans feel constantly lonely. In our vastly connected society, we’re missing a key asset to life happiness: good, in-person friendships.
No matter if you’re a high-school student, in college, or nearing retirement. We could all use some advice on making and maintaining strong friendships. This article will tell you just how to do that.
Buckle up, my friend, we’re in for a long ride.
Ask Yourself Some Preliminary Questions
If you’re reading this article, you’re unhappy with some sort of aspect with your platonic relationships. Maybe you feel you don’t have enough friends. Maybe you find that the friends you do have aren’t very nice to you. Maybe you want to learn how to make the friendships you have even better.
Understanding your motivations for making friends best enables you to structure a path on how to actually make friends. For example, if you want to improve your ability to talk to strangers, you’re going to have to work on confidence. If you want to improve the relationships you have, you’ll have to work on communication skills and time management.
Before you spend time with other people, spend a little time with yourself. Note anything that could be seen as red flags before you begin this journey to achieving friendship goals.
Do you think you have low self-confidence? This could affect the type of people you meet and keep in your life.
Do you have poor communication skills? This doesn’t mean stuttering upon meeting new people when you’re nervous, as lots of people do that.
Poor communication skills means you are not able to express your wants, needs, and boundaries to people in your life, which could mean you find yourself in friendships wanting more (wanting to spend more or less time with that person, wanting to express frustrations with the friend, etc) but not being able to express what exactly you need to improve your friendships.
Do you have poor commitment skills? This could mean being the “flakey friend” who cancels plans with people last minute or, consciously or not, refusing to put in the time needed to foster intimate and fulfilling friendships. Without realizing it, a lack of commitment to your platonic relationships could be why you feel you don’t have good friendships in the first place and want to improve them.
As with anything, if you want to succeed in an endeavor, such as finding love or flourishing in a career, you’re going to have to commit to self-improvement. By noticing your shortcomings and vowing to improve them, you create a healthy foundation from which strong friendships develop.
But even if you’re putting in the maximum effort to be a better person, you might find it difficult to find suitable folks to foster friendships with. Why is that?
Why It’s So Hard to Make Friends
Maybe you have the gift of making friends no matter where you are. Lucky for you, you probably don’t feel very lonely.
But there’s a difference between meeting new people and maintaining friendships. According to Jeffrey Hall, a professor of communications study at the University of Kansas, it takes about 50 hours of interaction for people to move from acquaintances to friends. So while you may be surrounded by people all day, such as on the bus to work or in your office, you’re surrounded by people who could be your friends versus those who actually are. But you can change that if you put the effort in, right?
Well, turns out you might not have the time to actually put those 50 necessary hours in. Americans are one of the busiest, most workaholic nations in the world. People have an average of four hours and 26 minutes of free time each week, a study commissioned by H&R Block reports.
With such intense work weeks, you’re more likely to spend those measly hours watching Netflix in an attempt to relax versus putting in more energy to hopefully make a new friend. So it seems that if you do decide to go to a bar to find some friendly conversation, you’ll meet more empty seats than actual human faces.
So it’s hard to find people and to put in the time to actually foster friendships. But let’s say you find someone you enjoy the company of. They’re funny, engaged when you talk to them, and you have a lot of values and interests in common. Here’s how to actually go about making this person a valuable relationship in your life.
Making Friends is All About Intention
We live in a society that values work and productivity over meaningful relationships, but it’s not impossible to make the latter a reality.
Below are a few practical tips to find new friends:
- Go to what interests you. This may seem obvious, but we often let other people’s expectation of what we “should” be interested in sway our genuine interests. For example, if drinking isn’t your thing, you don’t have to go to bars to chat with people because that’s what you think other people do.
No matter what you like, be it Dungeons and Dragons or competitive bowling, there’s bound to be other folks out there interested in that thing too. Follow your passions, not the expectations of other people.
- Don’t be concerned with finding validation. This can mean a variety of things to different people. Of course, you could meet someone who constantly flatters you and makes you feel good. These people could have good intentions, or they could be buttering up to use you. Only time — and perceptive people reading skills — will tell.
But yearning for validation goes deeper than a few superficial compliments. Sometimes, especially when we have low self-esteem, we try to fit into groups of people we feel would make use feel “cool” or “popular” (which can also mean different things to different people, depending on your interests and circumstances).
For example, John just graduated from college and started up a new job at an accounting firm. He wants to make friends with two of his coworkers, Donnie and Tessa, but they clearly dress way better than him. John feels being friends with those two coworkers will make him be seen as the rich person he’s always wanted to be, so he spends far too high of a percentage of his paycheck on nice clothes.
John’s new wardrobe gets Donnie’s and Tessa’s attention, and the three hang out more. But the friendship is shallow and weak since ⅔ of the people in it are focused on superficial matters versus actual human connection.
We’ve all been friends with people we thought would elevate our status or perception of ourselves, but it’s time to break that habit. The habit is a symptom of low self-esteem and discomfort to the person you really are, and you can’t go around life living like that.
The authenticity of your friendships reflects how comfortable you feel with the circumstances of your life. Take stock of how both look. When the latter’s in the clear, you’ll gravitate toward people who will genuinely improve your life, not hollowly uphold some idealistic notion of yourself.
These are the key motivations to set right before you start pursuing friendships. Now we’ll see what it looks like when you’ve found friends, but maybe not the ones you want to keep around.
How to Weed Out Bad Friends
Congrats, you’ve found tons of friends who you think are improving your life. But you feel something isn’t right. After hanging out with certain characters, you feel strained and ill at ease.
You might have picked up a few unhealthy friendships in addition to positive ones. Here are a few major red flags to make sure you’re on track with keeping only positive, beneficial people in your life.
- They make you feel terrible. Of course, cut out any person who verbally or physically abuses you. There’s no reason to lash out at a friend in such a way. But most situations aren’t so simple to extricate yourself from.
For example, your friend might be going through immense emotional distress and lashes out at you for unfathomable psychological reasons. It’s understandable, and it’s alright to express empathy for your friend. But you shouldn’t let your friend’s mental health impact yours. If you feel exhausted or hurt because of your friend’s actions, it might be best to cut off communication — at least for the time being. You can rekindle the friendship after several months of reflection and growth.
However, even if you’re friends don’t use language or violence to explicitly make you feel terrible, people have more clandestine ways to hurt others. For example, your friend could purposely exclude you from fun things they’re doing, could expect you to listen to their problems but offer no reciprocal listening, and so on.
Take stock of how you feel in your friendship. If you feel worse after meeting them, decide whether you should continue seeing that friend.
- They never return favors. Sure, it’s better to give and receive. But receiving is nice too!
Especially when it comes to emotional labor. Being nice to people — supporting them, listening to their rants about work or partners — is tiring, but you do it out of the goodness of your heart. If your friend only takes your emotional efforts without returning the favor, you might be in a bad friendship.
See, emotional labor is like giving people cups of water out of a bucket. When someone’s thirsty — in need of someone to listen to their rant, for someone to support them — you’re giving them a cup of water from your bucket to them.
But if you keep continuously giving, you’re going to run empty. You’ll feel exhausted and angry that you’ve spent your emotional resources in such an unsustainable way.
The best friendships are when people swap their emotional cups of water (metaphorically — don’t go crying over the tap.) They give a little, you give a little, and you both receive fulfillment and nourishment.
If you’re constantly giving to your friends — emotional labor and beyond, such as gifts, services, and time — you should first communicate your needs to your friends. You can’t expect everyone to be mind readers and intuitively “get” why you’re unhappy with their friendship. But if you communicate your emotional needs and your friend still can’t reciprocate, you have the grounds to cut off the friendship.
- They cause more chaos in your life than necessary. You can ignore this if you’re a dramatic person who loves being in the throes of other people’s affairs (we get it, you’re a Leo).
For everyone else, drama causes more stress than necessary. If your friend purposefully stirs up your world just to watch the pieces fall, you’ve found yourself a bad friend.
Of course, not everyone intentionally causes chaos. Maybe your friend is a poor planner and often improvs important meetings and projects. Your friend wouldn’t prepare for an important task, fails the task, and then responds in a way that might seem chaotic or unnecessary to you (it was their fault after all). Other people just seem to be a magnet for unfortunate events, which can’t be helped.
It’s okay to help friends having a hard time, but if they’re consistently behaving in ways that negatively affect your mental health, you should distance yourself from this friend.
- They’re a user. This tip goes nicely with the second point above about returning favors, but it goes further than that. Some people can be as nice as day, returning your emotional needs and whatnot and still be using you.
This friend may come off as sweet and caring. And maybe they are, it’s hard to tell. But if they seem to enjoy hanging around you for certain reasons only, such as the items you own or the way you look or the other friends you have, then this person would be in the friendship with you for the wrong reasons. Friendships should be based on mutual respect between individuals, not respect for what those individuals possess.
You can always tell when a friendship doesn’t feel genuinely based on the right reasons. Trust your intuition and reflect on how your friend talks and behaves. Feel free to communicate to your friend how you feel, but still feel confident enough to cut ties with them.
- They don’t listen to what you’ve told them. Some people have poor memories. They can’t remember people’s birthdays or middle names, their favorite color or place of employment. We get it.
But people tend to remember emotions versus details. When you express things your friends have done to upset you in the past, you automatically tilt the conversation toward an emotional lens. You’re not talking about birth dates or arbitrary pieces of information. You’re dealing with important stuff that the brain is designed to remember better.
Therefore, there is no excuse for your friend to continue to do what has upset you if you’ve clearly and thoroughly communicated that to them. Let’s say your friend tends to gossip around you about other people, and you don’t like how the gossip feels automatically negative. They stop for a while, and all is fine. But your friend resumes gossipping and continues to do so even after a reminder.
That’s a minor instance that shouldn’t necessarily break a friendship, but it’s a warning sign that your friend doesn’t uphold your needs as strongly as they should. If you’ve brought up grievances to your friend and they still can’t seem to remember them, you should check if there are other things wrong with the friendship.
Whew, that’s a lot of ways people can be bad. But let’s focus on making sure the good people in your life continue to be in it.
Keeping the Positive People in Your Life
It’s all about understanding human behavior and psychology. Reading people is the gift you need to develop or sharpen to remove toxic or fake friends from your life.
And thus, reading people will also allow you to spot who’s genuinely interesting in being kind, caring, and focused on self-growth. These are the people you want, and below are the ways to make sure these people continue to be in your life.
- Always keep an open dialogue. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: people aren’t mind readers. No matter how in tune you two might feel, you ultimately cannot expect another person to understand what you are thinking and feeling.
As such, you can’t keep your emotions bottled up and assume the problem will either:
- Go away.
- Your friend will magically understand what’s wrong and adjust their behavior.
If only it were that easy. No, instead, you must keep your pride at bay and learn to be vulnerable, especially with the awesome people you want to keep in your life.
By expressing your mental state to another person, you put all your problems out on the table and allow your friend to adjust their behavior. If they’re a good friend, they’ll listen and accommodate your desires.
You should not only be communicating issues with your friends but positive praises of your friend as well. If your friend looks good that day, tell them. If your friend achieved a promotion or finished an important project, recognize their successes.
Healthy communication means saying what needs to be said for the benefit of the relationship. Grievances should, of course, be laid out to dry, but if there are positive occurrences in your friend’s life, they’ll be happy to hear your approval. Open communication means both parties in the friendship feel safe and emotionally nourished around the other, improving the longevity of the friendship.
Now, we can’t talk about fostering friendships without talking about the elephant in the room: social media.
Use Social Media Sparingly
Social media is amazing. You can talk to people across the globe over FaceTime or Skype, which is a feat never seen before in our evolutionary timeline.
But that’s the thing. While we can talk to people all the time, our brains feel most connected to physical humans in close proximity to us. You need to foster quality human interaction to truly bond with other people.
Thus, social media acts as a convenient crutch that’s ultimately debilitating. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram make us think we’re interacting with our friends, but they’re really just pixels on a screen that happened to come from that friend. That’s not the same thing.
And yet, social media is steadily creeping further into our lives. Approximately 3.1 billion, or about a third of the world’s population, people use social media regularly, but it’s estimated that 210 million people have internet and social media addictions. The numbers are only going to rise as technology becomes more entrenched in our lives, giving us the much sought after connectivity of the past.
We’re going to outright say it: No matter how much social media you’re using, you could use less of it. Even if you think it will help you build a brand and better your career, you most likely find yourself scrolling endlessly on your guilty pleasure platforms.
Social media can be used to connect you to friends you used to see but have since moved away or to find friends you never thought you’d meet. But it’s easy to get carried away on a media that’s designed to hack into your brain. Be mindful of your time and use social media intermittently.
How to Improve the Friendships You Already Have
Now, here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Even if you don’t want to leave your room and find new friends, there are ways to make the friendships you do already have much stronger. And yes, some even involve that dastardly social media.
- Ask a Facebook friend you haven’t seen in a while to a video call. If you really can’t meet up with this person in real life, staring at their face is better than staring at their text on a screen. If you were close to this person when you lived in the same town, you’re going to still have a great conversation — even if you have to shake the dust off a little bit. Set apart some time to dedicate to this old friend, and you’ll learn all the new things they’re doing and the new person they’ve become.
- Send something to your friend you think they’d enjoy. This could be a nice text message, a funny GIF or meme, an item you found on Amazon, whatever. Your friend will enjoy the nice surprise and like that you’ve been thinking of them.
- Set up a weekly time to meet with your friend. Setting up routinely meet up times not only racks up the 50 hours necessary to turn an acquaintance into a friend, but the 200 hours necessary to turn a friend into a best friend. Besides, regular meetup times means you can catch up on the daily happenings in both of your lives and have regular
conversations. Even if it’s as simple as watching a movie together, regular meetups make get-togethers much more fun.
- Comment, don’t just like, their social media posts. It takes zero seconds to like someone’s post. But it takes thoughtful action to leave a nice comment. Despite being small, the extra energy behind leaving a comment could be enough to make your friend’s day.
- Try to innocently touch your friend. Touching people makes them like you. Placing a supportive hand on your friend’s shoulder when they’re having a hard time or casually holding their hand in conversation is enough to spark that (literal) human connection with someone. You remind each other that you’re human and that you’re physically and emotionally there for each other.
- Be conscious of your friendships. Of course, we can’t cover everything that will improve your relationship with your friends in one article. You’re going to have to be cognizant of what your friends want and try to address that as much as possible. If anything, maintain strong communication with your friends and do whatever you can to show that you want them in your life. Show, don’t just tell.
- More friendship goals to keep your friends happy. Don’t take one another for granted, spend quality time with your friends, give your friend time for their own life too, don’t abuse their trust, give them attention when they need it, don’t be overly critical, be there for them both with happy and sad times.
Friendship Goals are Easily Obtainable
If you do the hard work to improve yourself and better your relationships. While more relationships are forming and becoming maintained online, the art of having in-person friends is not lost.
Even if you feel lonely or dissatisfied with your friendships, there are ways to get you out. With enough work and commitment to improving your situation, you can find new people, make friends, and do what’s necessary to keep positive people in your life. We’ve laid down a strong foundation in this article, but where this road goes is up to you.
Just don’t walk down that road alone. Life is better when you’re surrounded by the people closest to you, so make sure you’re not taking them for granted.