Posted Online: April 22, 2013, 10:16 am
BFF 101: How to make friends as an adult
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By Dawn Klingensmith
Photo: CTW Features|
Unfortunately, making friends as an adult doesn't seem quite as easy as making friends as a child. Here are some ways to get out and meet people.
In childhood, that simple proposition can mark the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
For adults, making friends is a bit more complicated, in part because we think back to when we were kids and it seems like friendships just happened. Actually, though, friendships usually arose out of consistent exposure and proximity.
"We saw the same kids all the time at school, we played on the same streets, we slept in the same cabin at summer camp," said Shasta Nelson, author of "Friendships Don't Just Happen."
"The challenge with adults is we don't always have that consistency."
That means we must create it – by taking a class, joining a group, going to church or taking the baby or dog to the park on a routine basis. Doing so activates a psychological phenomenon called the "mere exposure effect," which describes our tendency to like someone better simply because we often see him or her, said Gretchen Rubin, author of "Happier at Home."
"I've become close to some unlikely people just because circumstances put us in constant contact," she said.
Which brings us to another piece of Nelson's advice: Consider a mismatch. "Think of an example in your past of someone you didn't think you'd be close to, maybe because of an age gap or opposing political views or some other difference, to remind yourself that you've liked and grown close to people in the past who didn't seem to fit," she said.
Get curious. Curiosity uncovers commonalities and may spark a friendship with an unlikely person. Trying to get to know people, "if we just show up with curiosity as our highest agenda, people will feel important and liked in our presence," Nelson said. "And there would be so much less pressure. Most of us think we need to impress people, but people don't want to be impressed – they want to be liked."
At events, "Scan the room for the wallflowers and make an effort to say hi," suggests Jenn Flaa, author of "The Happiness Handbook."
Say nice things about others. Another research-backed psychological phenomenon, spontaneous trait transference, refers to people's tendency to unconsciously transfer to us the traits we ascribe to others, Rubin said. So, by calling someone arrogant, we may be perceived as such, while calling someone admirable may help us gain admirers.
Say yes to invitations, said Rachel Bertsche, author of "MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend." A lot of people decline invitations to gatherings where they won't know anyone besides the host, but that's how to meet new people. "Set a time limit and come home if you're miserable, but go," she urges.
Set a target. "When I enter a situation with a new set of people, I set a goal of making three new friends," said Rubin, adding it makes her act friendlier.
The strategy sounds calculating, she admits, but people do it at networking events all the time to expand their career contacts. So why not set a specific target for more meaningful relationships?
Finally, don't keep score. "It's easy to fall into the trap of 'I invited you for coffee, now it's your turn to invite me.' As adults, it doesn't always work that way, we get busy and forget," Flaa said. "Sometimes you have to keep taking the lead. If it happens too much, you can always say, 'OK, I've set up the last three outings. It's your turn next, let's meet on Saturday at noon, and you pick the place.'"