Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, you’ve likely devoted countless hours to making new friends and maintaining the friendships that spark joy. But have you ever noticed that it’s more difficult to make friends as an adult?
It’s not in your head: research shows that the average time we spend each day with friends drops from 109 minutes at age 15 to 33 minutes by age 39. We also spend more time by ourselves, year after year. By age 79, the average person spends 485 minutes alone. That’s more than eight hours per day.
Thankfully, there are ways to build long-lasting friendships at any age. We asked experts to share their thoughts on cultivating adult friendships, including how to keep — and deepen — the ones you have.
Why Making New Friends as an Adult is Hard
For most of us, making and maintaining friendships becomes much more complicated after college. “After graduating, there is a lot of adjustment that has to happen around finding a job, which often takes up 40 or more hours of our week,” says Farah Zerehi, M.S., M.A., LMFT and founder of The Hive Therapy Collective in California. “That is a lot of time! And that doesn’t include the time we have to spend taking care of ourselves, like washing clothes, cooking, and engaging in other self-care tasks. This makes the amount of time we have to meet new people and meaningfully engage in relationships much smaller!”
“We tend to assume that new people aren’t interested in becoming friends. Bayard Jackson, Bumble’s Friendship Expert, calls this ‘The Liking Gap,’ or our tendency to underestimate how much another person likes us in our first interaction.”
Beyond this shift in priorities, we can also thank modern society. “The evolution of remote work, the deconstruction of organized religion…Our lives are more fractured and less communal by default,” says Sarah Dumoff, LCSW, a psychotherapist and founder of here/now, a modern group therapy practice in New York. “While we live in a [society] that celebrates individuality and autonomy, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to building community in an organic way.”
This doesn’t signal the end of lasting friendships, though — just that building your community might take conscious effort.
Getting Over Our Fear of Rejection
It’s natural to feel anxious when reaching out to someone for the first time. New friendships require a level of vulnerability that’s (at times) uncomfortable. But according to Danielle Bayard Jackson, Bumble BFF’s Friendship Expert, a lot of the adult friendship gap is in our heads. “One of the top misconceptions I hear is that other adults have already made and established their friendships, which can cause people to fear that it’s ‘too late’ for them to make friends,” says Bayard Jackson.
But, the truth is, many of us are looking to build new friendships. In a recent Bumble BFF survey, Bayard Jackson and her team found that nearly one in two (45%) respondents had made growing their friendship circle one of their New Year’s resolutions. Chances are, that stranger is looking to make new friends, too.
“People need people! Intentionally creating a life centered around your values can help you build meaningful connections.” – Sarah Dumoff, psychotherapist”
How to Make Friends as an Adult, According to Experts
01. Imagine Your Ideal Community
If you’re unsure where to find new friends, start by exploring your values and interests. What activities spark the most joy for you? What kind of people light you up? Are you attracted to high energy or quieter energy?
Spend a few minutes journaling on these questions. You might also try a vision board if you’re a visual person. Then, look for patterns. Are you drawn to the outdoors? Join a hiking or run club. To animals? Volunteer at a rescue. To crafts and hobbies? Sign up for an art class!
“People need people!” says Dumoff. “Intentionally creating a life centered around your values can help you build meaningful connections.”
“Never underestimate the power of complimenting a stranger.”
02. Make the First Move
Never underestimate the power of complimenting a stranger. It makes both the compliment receiver and giver feel good, which is a great start to a new friendship.
“Research shows that we like people who like us; it’s called the ‘Reciprocity of Liking,’” says Bayard Jackson. “So, if you’re at a coffee shop and see someone you want to approach, try offering a compliment on something such as their laptop stickers, especially if it represents an interest you share. You can also opt for a compliment as simple as ‘I had that drink last week! Great choice.’ That warmth appeals to others and can be the catalyst you need to explore more.”
03. Push Past Discomfort
It’s natural to get the jitters when socializing with strangers, especially after the last few years. That means it might take extra energy to reach out to potential new friends — and that’s just fine. You can start slowly and build your way up.
Dr. Jan Yager, author of three books on friendship, including “When Friendship Hurts” and “Friendshifts,” agrees. “The pandemic made many reluctant to go out, but now there is a resurgence of interest in interacting in person. You don’t have to go to a concert with 2,000 people, but you can register for an activity that you want to pursue [where you might] meet someone you like.”
We also tend to assume that new people aren’t as impressed with us as we are with them, which does us no favors. Bayard Jackson calls this ‘The Liking Gap,’ or our tendency to underestimate how much another person likes us in our first interaction. Understanding that feelings aren’t facts can help you push past that fear. “Mindset shifts can be helpful,” she says. “Rather than being reactive in your friendship journey, take authority and connect with others as an extension of your values.”
How to Maintain Existing Adult Friendships
A new friendship is delicate. A few missed plans and you lose the intimacy you’ve created. Here are a few ways our experts suggest you deepen your adult friendships over time.
01. Schedule the Time
Make space for the people you value. That means treating social time as a priority on your calendar. “As we get older, responsibilities mount and your time becomes even more precious,” says Dumoff. “Carve out time to catch up on the phone. Set a standing monthly calendar date for dinner with friends. These experiences can help us stay connected.”
And here’s another tip from a KonMari team member: Run errands together. Taking a grocery trip together is both productive and bonding.
“A new friendship is delicate. A few missed plans and you lose the intimacy you’ve created.”
02. Use the “Think-Text” Method
This is Zerehi’s favorite tactic for nourishing relationships, even when busy. “When someone you haven’t spoken to comes to mind, send them over a text and let them know you’re thinking of them and ask how they are doing,” she says. “This enables you to check in with people we don’t see or talk to regularly, and a text takes 30 seconds to send!”
“Listen to your friends, really listen. Don’t just call when you have something to share. A friendship needs to be reciprocal.” – Dr. Jan Yager, author of “When Friendship Hurts.”
03. Practice Deep Attention
Make time to see your close friends face-to-face. The goal is to give each other your full attention. If you’re struggling to make time regularly for this kind of deep socializing, Dr. Yager suggests a simple technique: See each other for your birthdays, and make them a true celebration. “That will give you both two times a year that you know you’re spending in a special way.”
Above all, when you spend time with a friend, give them your undivided attention. Put your phone away. Tune in fully to their hopes, concerns and experiences. “Listen to your friends, really listen.” says Dr. Yager, “Don’t just call when you have something to share — be there for your friends when they need to share. A friendship needs to be reciprocal.”
Lasting friendships take work, but they also make our lives infinitely more joyful. So, which friend will you “think-text” today?