Socializing IRL, after all, is a skill, said JR Ilagan, a clinical psychologist based in the Philippines. And any skill left unused will get rusty.
“Evolutionarily speaking, the reason that we were able to get to where we are right now as a species, a big factor of that, were the social bonds,” said Ilagan. According to him, social bonds can increase one’s sense of belonging and purpose, boost happiness, reduce stress, and improve self-confidence and self-worth. It also helps us cope with trauma and teaches us to work together.
While technology has advanced digital communication, Ilagan said Zoom calls and messenger chats can’t take the place of face-to-face interactions. “There’s also physical touch, reading of certain non-verbals, that can contribute to the maintenance and fostering of relationships.”
Over the pandemic, the spaces where people usually form and maintain friendships—like schools, workplaces, clubs, and community spaces—became inaccessible. So for the past few years, there was little opportunity to practice talking to people besides immediate friends and family. It’s no wonder then that many are lonelier than ever and have forgotten the important skill of making new friends.
While meeting new people isn’t exactly necessary for survival (though some studies say otherwise), Ilagan said there is a lot of value in expanding social circles.
“If we’re really trying to look at the betterment of other people, it does make a lot of sense to try and understand other people’s situations, and the further that these people’s situations are from us, then the more that we can be empathetic towards people who are outside of [our] social circle,” he said.
Making friends is good for you and for the world. But how do you do it?
Start with people you know
If the idea of meeting completely new people is just a bit too intimidating, Ilagan said there’s also value in reconnecting with people you haven’t spoken to in a while. Getting back in touch with people whom you already have a rapport with could be the start of a renewed relationship. It could also be a good way to ease yourself into making new friends.
Go to new places
One actionable way to make new friends is to immerse yourself in new places and situations. This means doing things you don’t usually do. But it doesn’t mean just recklessly doing things you’re genuinely not comfortable doing. For example, if you’ve never traveled alone before, you might want to start by visiting a domestic destination first. Extra tip: You may need to brush up on your small talk before doing this. Just in case.
Do new things
Taking up a new hobby could also be a good way to make new friends. “Sometimes, it’s hard to find commonalities with other adults,” said Ilagan. For example, we might find that the only thing we have in common with our workmates is that we work in the same place. Taking an “interest-based” approach to forming new friendships guarantees that you have at least one thing in common with the people you meet.
Make yourself available
It’s also important to remember that, like phones, friendships work two ways. Ilagan advised people to not just wait for and accept invitations, but to also invite people out themselves.
One of the top reasons adults find it difficult to make new friendships is the “lack of time.” So if you’re serious about forging new connections, some advise dedicating at least 10 minutes every day to fostering friendships. Hit an old friend up and ask them how they are, forward a funny meme to a chat group, or give a quick react to that Instagram Story. As adults, it can be difficult to carve out time, but the effort may very well be worth it.
Be patient. Only fools rush in—friends take time
There’s no need to rush into making new friends. According to one study, it takes somewhere between 30 and 50 hours of shared contact before an acquaintance gets bumped up to a casual friend, and about 300 hours until one might become a best friend. Of course, it’s not just about quantity—these hours spent need to be of good quality for such friendships to emerge. That means “being present” during your time spent together.
“This idea of making new friends in real life doesn’t have to be zero to 100 right away. We can do it incrementally,” said Ilagan.
Decide what kind of relationship you want
Another thing to consider is your chemistry with your potential new buddies. Do they make you feel safe? Will they be there when things are bad, or only when things are good? Can you be vulnerable with and trust that person?
“If the answer is yes, then great—this could be a person that a friendship could be developed with,” said Ilagan. If the answer is no, you can choose to no longer engage with those people, or you can set up boundaries. Some people might be fun to go out and get drunk with every now and then, but that’s about it.
Some things to consider when setting boundaries with friends include how much time you spend with them, how much of your life you share with them, and how much effort you put into your relationship.
Remember that friendship is a responsibility
Ilagan said that people will do well to remember that being vulnerable, kind, and an active listener, will help them form meaningful friendships.
But it’s also good to remember that friendship isn’t all about good times.
“Friendship is fun, but there’s also that responsibility of true friends to be there for each other and be that social support.”
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