If you've been wondering how to make friends as an adult, you're definitely not alone. After you're out of school, you’re pretty much catapulted into a lifestyle that largely revolves around working all the damn time (how fun?), which often means losing the close-knit social circle that’s easily formed when you’re steps from friends in dorm rooms or on the same sports teams. So it’s just not a huge surprise that people become lonelier as they age, explains Jaime Zuckerman, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. And, despite the fact that our lives look nothing like they did when we were babies (yes, this includes college), we often mourn the relationships we used to have during that time, Dr. Zuckerman says. Raise your hand if you feel seen.
Thing is, as adults, the amount of time we have in a day (or even a weekend) to just hang is at an all-time low—especially if you have kids. And when you do have a spare moment, you’re more likely to do household chores or get some well-deserved rest than seek out social time, Dr. Zuckerman says.
All these factors can leave your circle significantly smaller as you age. “It becomes harder to find people to be friends with like you would when you were 20,” Dr. Zuckerman says.
And social media sure has a way of making us feel even worse about this. “People think everyone else is out and about and having fun while they’re sitting there mindlessly scrolling,” Dr. Zuckerman says. (Spoiler: They’re not.) Despite all of that validating yet depressing information, here’s how you CAN make friends as a whole adult, according to a psychologist.
1. Edit your friendships.
Sometimes people mourn friends that may not even mesh with their current lifestyle or value system—which is normal! But since we have less time to spare as grown people, it’s important that we prioritize quality of friends over quantity of friends. Think that sounds kinda harsh? Well, consider the fact that your free time is finite, so if you’re holding on to or feeling guilty about neglecting friendships that aren’t even fulfilling to you, you have less room for friends who have more to offer. So, before you start looking for new besties (as the youths say) audit your current relationships by asking yourself: What do I value? How have my values changed since I started hanging out with this person? Is our current friendship in line with those values? If not, maybe it’s time to step back to make space for people who appreciate the things that are important to you now.
2. Hear us out: Join a club or sports league.
Not to sound like your mom, but hitting up a pottery or basketball clurb can help you meet people with similar interests. While a deep friendship cannot be established on a love of ceramics alone, building new acquaintances and friends groups can be helpful when you’re just craving general social interaction. And, hey, you might hit it off with that person who loves Real Housewives of Beverly Hills as much as you do.
3. Go out of your way to do things you don’t normally do.
Speaking of activities, busting out of your comfort zone might help you interact with new people, aka potential new friends. Think about activities you’ve always wanted to try but never have, Dr. Zuckerman explains. It could be as simple as taking your dog to a new coffee shop every weekend (dogs = friend magnets, it’s science) or maybe you finally swing by that book club your work buddy is in. You could also just spark up a conversation with the regulars you cross paths with at the gym, the dog park, the library, or wherever. “Start small,” Dr. Zuckerman says.
4. Embrace those ~soft ~ connections.
Turns out, you don’t have to be close friends with everyone. No, really. “It’s important to differentiate between friendship and acquaintance, close friends and social friends. There's different levels [of friendship],” Dr. Zuckerman says. “You could have your dog walking friend. You can have your tennis friends,” she explains. All of these people offer up social interaction, which can make you feel good even if they don’t feel like your closest bond on planet earth. Why? “It’s exhausting to have deep connections with so many people, and people can serve different purposes in your life,” she explains. So maybe you’re not spilling your soul to your rec league soccer teammate, but you will go to them if you feel like kicking the ball around. A connection is still a connection.
5. Don’t bank on one bestie.
Who doesn’t love the idea of having that one best friend you spend all of your time with? But since older usually translates to busier, most adults just don’t have the bandwidth for that set up. Thus, “If you put all your eggs into one basket for one person, they may not be able to give you all that you need,” Dr. Zuckerman says. That could leave you feeling hurt if your ride or die is a little more MIA lately. If/when that does happen, try not to view it as rejection, she adds. This doesn’t necessarily mean you and your person are any less close—it could just mean that the logistics of your friendship are shifting a little. While this new dynamic might rightfully suck, try to use this new free time to invest in a friendship with someone you’ve been wanting to build a deeper connection with but haven’t made the time for—like one of those aforementioned ~soft connections~.
6. Don’t take what you see on social media at face value.
Remember: The socials are rigged. “Social media is engineered for you to feel left out, to feel like you're not doing something that other people are doing,” Dr. Zuckerman says. So try not to compare the relationships you have to the ones you see online—especially if it feels like your new friends are having fun without you. Truth is that they likely value your presence in their lives, even if you’re not hanging out 24/7. Plus, taking it personally can just make you feel even worse about your current social scenario and inhibit all the hard work you’re putting into building your friendships already.
7. Join interesting groups on social media.
If you feel like you don’t have much time for friends outside of work and other responsibilities, consider making virtual connections through social media groups related to your interests, Dr. Zuckerman says. For example, if you like hiking, join a hiking Facebook group or follow a hiking TikTok page. You could also use social media as a jumping-off point for developing friendships with people you follow. Reply to people’s stories if they post about activities you’re interested in or leave comments on their posts. “Talk to and engage with people online and socialize with people that way,” Dr. Zuckerman says. This will give you a sense of shared goals and community, which you can carry into IRL once you build up a mutual online rapport.
8. Have a platonic date night.
Ask out a person with whom you’d like to build a friendship. “Have one or two nights a week that is your social night with friends,” Dr. Zuckerman says. “Schedule it as a commitment,” she says, and plan something fun like a movie night or trying a restaurant with someone you’d like to be a new friend. Not up for a nighttime hang? Try lunch, coffee, etc. All that matters is you make building new friendships a priority throughout your week in a way that “holds you accountable,” Dr. Zuckerman says.
9. Avoid canceling at all costs.
While you might be inclined to send a Hey so, I’m feeling pretty wiped out… text after finishing a long day of work, avoid doing so with those budding new friendships. After all, you made these plans for a reason. Odds are, you’ll have a good time. Obviously, if you really just can’t, “make sure in the moment you pick an alternative date right then and there,” Dr. Zuckerman says. It shows you care and you’re genuinely looking forward to hanging out.
10. Ditch texting for video calls instead.
If you’re someone who usually talks to your friends and other connections through texting or social media DMs, try switching up how you communicate. “Go out of your comfort zone and FaceTime instead of text,” Dr. Zuckerman says. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but that face-to-face context can really do a lot to help you feel less isolated.” That’s because 1:1 time, even if it’s digital, can make both people more present and engaged, she adds. Plus, it shows that you’re making this new friendship a priority, and who doesn’t want to be prioritized?
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.