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Making New Friends in Your 20s Is Hard. I'd Know – I Tried Everything

Making friends is harder than ever. So, to be less alone, I tried three approaches: talking to strangers, getting a hobby and using apps.

by Kieron Passaway; photos by Hillie Chan
25 October 2019, 8:00am

All photos by Hillie Chan

Once you’re old enough to understand boring crap like APR rates, making friends gets difficult. Out: teenage bonding over strawpedos; in: solemn and repeated exchanges with the same five colleagues, your housemates, and the few people you’ve stayed in touch with since uni or your first proper job.

It doesn’t help that us Brits are notoriously bad at making new friends – a 2019 study from Snapchat found the average Briton has two close friends, the lowest number found in the nine countries surveyed. The average Saudi, meanwhile, has between six and seven best pals. Embarrassing.

Personally, as someone who has recently moved to London, this bummed me out. I've not really got anyone I consider a friend who I met beyond my old university years. And that also fits the stats. A 2016 study by both Oxford University and Finland's Aalto University found that we tend to make more friends until we're 25, at which point the numbers drop drastically (initially quicker for women, though by the time we're 40, men tend to say they have fewer friends than women). Being the solitary yet helpful man I am, I thought I’d test the best way to find new friends as an adult. And to do so, I came up with the following techniques – approaching a stranger, taking up a hobby, and using friend apps. Here’s what went down.

Test one: Approaching a stranger

Making friends
The author, approaching two lads

Many would argue that it is inhumane and unethical to approach a person in their personal space. They are not expecting interaction. They are listening to My Dad Wrote A Porno. They are holding the smoking gun in a heated WhatsApp debate that runs 100 messages deep. Very simply, they are not ready for you, desperate and unhinged, to say things such as “hello” and “how are you?”, because this isn’t a University House Hunting event, this is real life.

But, hey! If we want to understand the most effective way to form new adult friendships, one must dive straight in. In this case, that meant approaching the two men in the picture below.

Making friends

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” they replied, though with a confused lilt, as if to imply: “why are you talking to me??”

Clearly, they didn’t want to chat. But I wanted to talk to these lads; that’s what friends do. And so, I launched in. “Don’t you think London is cold and isolating? That the tube disconnects us from our surroundings,” I offered, presenting a route into conversation.

They nodded, hesitantly.

“Okay, anyway, can I have your phone number?”

A small but hard-hitting pause ensued, so I mentioned my situation (just moved to London, without kin) and how I was approaching strangers because I was agonisingly lonely. They looked at one another in unspoken agreement, something I imagine friends do regularly.

“… You can give us your number, and we’ll text you when we go for a pint.”

I saw this as a slight, but kept my cool, taking Damian’s phone and adding my number. Thing is, the harsh truth is: we all know what giving them your number rather than the other way around means – you’re getting aired, bruv.

So, how effective was test one?

How Was It To Approach: Without alcohol it felt strange and anxiety-inducing. Approaching strangers is an awfully rogue thing to do when you’re not a street fundraiser employed by Oxfam. 5/10.

How Was The Experience: It initially felt awkward. however it did slowly ease somewhat into normal chat after few foot-tapping minutes. Not exactly the colour of the chats you have with your mates, though. 4/10.

Are We Friends: These lads have ignored me. 1/10.

Overall Result: Brutal, but a necessary baptism by fire. I can handle anything now.

Test two: Taking up a hobby

Making friends
The author, preparing to rock climb

However much Powdered Meal Replacement energy it exudes, people who go rock climbing know how to live. They have fulfilling friendships that serve purpose – this is irrefutable truth. And so, despite never doing it before, I booked myself in for a session, fancying myself some of that.

Very quickly, I realised speaking to new people is a lot easier when you have a common goal or interest. We were all trying to pointlessly climb to the top of a man-made wall, and it felt like I could interact with people about that wall. But first, to connect with these boulderers, I must understand what it is to boulder, so I gave it a go. Easy, I thought. This is fucking easy.

Making friends
The author, talking to a bouldering veteran

“You know, you have to stick to one colour, that’s how it works – that’s the ranking system,” one of the bouldering veterans said to me.

“Ah, yeah, makes sense. This is my first time,” I mutter.

“I can tell.”

“So, what’s your name?”, I said upon returning to ground.

“Natalie.”

“You come here often?”

“Yup...”

Be it my obvious inexperience or barbaric desire to make friends that may have come across as flirting, Natalie quite clearly didn’t like me.

Making friends

After being significantly bodied, I decided to make my way to a new wall; a better wall, a wall where I’d use the correct ranking system correctly and impressively.

Here, I met Rafi and Will, who were also new to bouldering. Sure, we connected about the hardships of bouldering, how bouldering has made their skin thicker, why bouldering is a really great exercise many don’t consider – but though it didn’t feel forced, this discounted one fact: everyone who boulders solely wants to talk about fucking bouldering. Time to leave.

So, how effective was test two?

How Was It To Approach: Relatively easy, considering we were involved in the same activity. 9/10

How Was The Experience: For me, pretty shit as I don’t like talking about the thickness of hand skin. But for everyone else there, it looked euphoric. 9/10.

Are We Friends: Looking back, going rock climbing to make friends when you’re not the biggest rock climbing fan does seem stupid, yes. So no, no pals here. But considering that’s largely my fault, I’m giving this section 6. 6/10.

Overall Result: Not terrible. Good for breaking the ice, but harder to maintain rapport.

Test three: Downloading a friend app

Making friends
The author, waiting for a friend

It is 2019 and we are weird as fuck. We do everything with our phones, even measure our sleep, so obviously you can meet friends with apps, which if you really think about it should be one of the most popular uses of our smartphones. I downloaded Bumble BFF to facilitate my thirst.

The first person I spoke to quickly brought up the fact he was a nudist, behaving somewhat over-zealous in asking me to be nude with him sometime. This was but a small mark on what turned out to be a great experience, though, because soon after I started chatting to Josh.

Like me, Josh had a reason to be here – he’d recently moved from Australia – so we arranged to meet for a pint.

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I arrived on time, but Josh was late. It felt very much like a Tinder date, to be honest, which I found funny: I was a desperate mess. This had to work. It had to be possible to make a friend after all this effort.

Luckily, Josh was remarkably similar to me in energy and we vibed on the awkwardness of meeting a friend on an app. After learning the parameters of Josh’s character – his upbringing, job, likes, desires, where in London he lives – we decided it was time to head to a gig. Which is a shit idea for a friend date or any date for that matter: you can’t talk. But it was fun nonetheless. Afterwards, we exchanged real phone numbers, arguing that the Bumble discourse had continued for too long.

I waited two days to text. This what you need to do I’ve been told, play it cool. Then I sent a message saying what good fun the night was and how we should arrange to do something soon. Josh mentioned that he and his friends regularly go to a pub quiz and that I should join. I agreed.

Weirdly, the pub quizzes have become a regular thing. While writing this piece, I went through an intense breakup and I legitimately text Josh for advice, despite having only known him for around six weeks. He’s a really great guy. I’m actually slightly shocked Bumble worked, but this is 2019 baby.

So, how effective was test three?

How Was It To Approach: Can’t say it was smooth organising a meetup, to be honest. 6/10.

How Was The Experience: I can’t vouch for everyone on friend apps, but Josh was an absolute delight. He made any element of awkwardness seem insignificant and petty. Do I love Josh? Who knows. 10/10.

Are We Friends: We meet up most Tuesdays and even share the odd meme or two, which in this day and age is peak friendship. 10/10.

Overall Result: We're mates! I've done it!

Making friends

In conclusion:

The friend app route wins.

I have a friend, and you can have one too! Download Bumble BFF, you friendless loser!

Tagged:
friendship
No New Friends
Male Friendship
friendships
making new friends