My son’s best friend moved away this weekend. Far away. That by itself would be hard enough, but my son is also starting middle school in a couple of weeks and now he has to embark on that journey without his best friend by his side. I wish I could run to the store and buy him a new best friend the way I can run and buy him a new pair of shoes, but I can’t. Instead I’m dedicating this post to him. We all have to step outside our comfort zones to make new friends from time to time. Here’s a little guide that will hopefully make the process just a little bit easier.
There’s a psychiatrist who runs a “Friendship Clinic” in California where he works with children who have a difficult time making friends. He has 3x as many boys who come to his clinic as girls (Friends Forever). This trend doesn’t get any better as boys grow up. Social support networks for men in our society are virtually non-existent (Social Isolation in America).
I’ve written more than once on Be Brave about how important it is to have friends (1, 2, and 3). I did a survey a while back and one of the things I was hoping to learn more about was how men make friends. I asked all the men who took the survey what steps they would suggest taking if someone was new to town and wanted to make new friends. Twenty-five percent of the men who took the survey said they had no suggestions because they have no idea how to make friends. Almost everyone else had only one vague suggestion. I decided I would have to look harder. What I found was encouraging.
How to Make Friends
Whether you’re a child or an adult, the process for making friends is pretty similar. All it takes is the courage to try and a willingness to accept that 5 out of every 10 times, for a variety of reasons, everyone is unsuccessful when they try to make friends (Friends Forever). Try not to take unsuccessful attempts personally and keep trying!
Step 1: Make Time
We live in a busy world and friendships take time to build and maintain. It’s easy to fill up every second with non-essentials and for some people it takes conscious effort to plan and make space in their lives for friends. It’s a good idea to carve out enough time in your schedule for at least 1 or 2 social get togethers every week.
Step 2: Develop Social Interests
Friendships are built around commonalities and interaction. We all have hobbies and interests, but some are more interactive than others, and some are more unusual than others. If you have unusual hobbies or interests, that’s great, but developing 1 or 2 that are more common can be extremely valuable for starting and maintaining your social network – especially as you get older and school is no longer something you share with all your peers. With boys and men, developing an interest in a sport (basketball, football, soccer) is always a good bet, but it’s not required. There are plenty of clubs, churches and activities you can join that don’t require athleticism.
Step 3: Find Opportunities to Meet People
Look around your school or town for opportunities to participate in something that sounds both interesting and interactive. Some churches and YMCA’s have regularly scheduled basketball games anyone can walk onto and join. Other towns have youth and adult softball leagues. There are scouting organizations, service clubs, historical societies and amateur theaters. Pick something that sounds fun and join.
Step 4: Network and Introduce Yourself
The first time you attend your chosen activity, walk around and observe the people who are there. Stand close (but not too close 😉 ) to someone who seems like they might be fun to get to know. If they make eye contact, introduce yourself and mention that this is your first time or that you don’t know anyone. If they don’t make eye contact, move on and try the same thing with someone else.
Step 5: Chat and Assess Response
Hopefully after you introduce yourself, the conversation will continue naturally. If not, you can try to ask a question or two to get the conversation going. Try to make sure you ask enough open ended questions that the other person (or people) are talking at least as much as you are. Watch their responses to see if they seem genuine and interested in getting to know you. If the conversation comes to a halt, move on and introduce yourself to some other people. Try to remember names and topics of conversation for next time.
If you need some more help, here are some KILLER CONVERSATION STARTERS from SCIENCE OF PEOPLE.
Step 6: Continue the Conversation
The next time you attend your chosen activity, make a point to say hello using each name you learned the first time. If someone looks receptive to more conversation, follow up by asking about something they shared with you in your previous conversation. For example, “How was that business trip you mentioned you had coming up?” or “How did your soccer tournament go last weekend?”
Step 7: Extend or Accept an Invitation
In an ideal world, once you’ve developed a casual friendship with someone at an activity, opportunities to get together outside of the activity will naturally come up, but this isn’t always an ideal world. Take advantage of any opportunities that do come up. Otherwise, you’re going to have to extend your own invitations. For introverts and people who fear rejection, this is going to be the hardest step. Here are a couple of ideas to make it easier:
- Connect your invitation to the activity. Suggest going out for ice cream or a drink after the activity. Some people love spontaneous get togethers. Others like more notice. If someone says no to a spontaneous get together, ask if it would work after the next activity.
- Organize a get together with multiple people from the activity. Invite several over to your house for a BBQ, a game night, or pizza and a study session.
- Ask for advice or help with something. No one wants to be friends with someone who uses them like a slave, but it’s flattering to be asked to share your expertise from time to time. For example, “I still don’t understand how the teacher got the answer to number 3, do you have time to come over after school tomorrow so you can show me how you got the answer? If you want we could also go swimming in my pool when we’re done?” or “That curve ball you just threw was amazing! Do you think you could teach me how to throw like that? Maybe we could meet at the field this weekend and then go grab some lunch afterwards?”
A couple of things to keep in mind: First, whatever you plan should be interactive. Organizing a movie night probably won’t help friendships progress very much. Second, it’s not unusual for it to take 2 or 3 tries before someone can accept an invitation to get together with you, but if someone seems so busy that they never have time to accept an invitation then they’re probably too busy to maintain a friendship. Try again with someone else. And finally, group activities are great for breaking the ice and getting friendships started because there are several people to help keep the conversation going, but friendships deepen with one on one time so don’t shy away from one on one activities forever.
Step 8: Maintain Contact
Continue the conversation (Step 6) each time you see your new friends.
Step 9: Trade Invitations
Give everyone space and time to reciprocate your invitations. If someone hasn’t extended an invitation after you’ve invited them out 2 or 3 times, it might be a sign that they don’t have enough room in their life for a new friend right now. Back off and keep trying with other people.
Step 10: Follow the Good Friend Rules
Once you’ve traded invitations a few times and established a friendship with someone, continue trading invitations and following the Good Friend Rules to help maintain the friendship (Smart Parenting, Friends Forever, Strategies for Making Friends).
For much more detailed instructions about how parents can help their children make friends, try reading the book, Friends Forever: How Parents Can Help Their Kids Make and Keep Good Friends, by Fred Frankel.