How to Make Actually Meaningful Connections With PeopleIt’s never too late to find your people.
We promise: You’re not the only out here wondering how to meet people and turn them into legit, lifelong friends. That’s because making friends in adulthood isn’t easy, and there’s a handful of reasons why. One biggie: Our responsibilities tend to increase as we get older, which means we’re being torn in many different directions and often not investing as much time and attention into our friendships.
“Family, work, relationship, self-care, and personal growth can lead us astray from other people,” says Miriam Kirmayer, PhD, clinical psychologist, speaker, consultant, friendship researcher, and Wondermind Advisory Committee member. “It’s frankly hard to find the time to dedicate to friendship and connections.”
We also have to do more of the friend-finding work on our own, compared to when we were kids or young adults and had constant opportunities to make friends, whether in school, sports, or other extracurriculars. “A lot of experiences were inherently built into our daily schedules that encouraged connection,” Dr. Kirmayer says. Sure, you may have social opportunities at work, but they’re not usually as quick and easy to act on. “For many people, friendship falls to the bottom of their priority list,” says Dr. Kirmayer.
We probably don’t have to tell you just how important social connection is to your mental health and happiness. But there are tons of reasons why you might be struggling to find your people. Maybe your friend group has grown apart (literally or figuratively), or maybe you just never really found that core group of friends that every sitcom promised you would find by your twenties. If that sounds like you, don’t stress. Here, Dr. Kirmayer shares how to build deeper bonds in your current relationships and start brand new ones that bring meaning, support, and a whole lot of value to your life.
Stop comparing your social life to anyone else’s.
We’ve all seen that picture-perfect image of a tight-knit, inseparable friend group on TV (think: Friends, Sex and the City, New Girl), and it can be kind of a bummer when you look around and realize you don’t have that sort of crew. But that’s not always realistic—and it's also not necessary to have meaningful relationships that enrich your life. (Big cliquey groups can mean major drama anyway.)
And expecting the perfect, made-for-HBO squad “can create a discrepancy between what our relationships involve and what we want them to look like, leading to dissatisfaction, anxiety, and constantly comparing how our social circles measure up to other people,” says Dr. Kirmayer. That takes a lot of your mental energy away from putting in the work you should be doing to deepen the relationships you do have.
“The beliefs we have about what our social networks should involve can stand in the way of us building new connections and relationships we can benefit from,” Dr. Kirmayer says. So, step one in finding (and fostering) meaningful connections is to recognize that your friendships are no less valid if you don’t all live across the hall from each other and hang out at leave five days a week. Sure, that makes for great screen time, but life just doesn’t always work like that.
Focus on deepening your existing friendships.
Making stronger, more meaningful connections doesn’t have to mean going out and finding completely new friends. “A fundamental starting point for many people is deepening and strengthening relationships you already have,” according to Dr. Kirmayer. Here’s how she recommends doing that.
- Identify who you want to forge a deeper bond with. Some questions to consider: Who is in your immediate circle? Who are the people you see every day? Who are the people you are connected with but don't consider close friends? Who is in your orbit—maybe a casual acquaintance or a friendly face you see regularly and don't connect with (yet) in a deeper way?
- Be intentional. Ask yourself: How do I feel around these people? Why are these relationships I'd like to deepen? “It’s not always about casting a wide net but focusing on who you want to spend time with and how you can focus on those connections first,” Dr. Kirmayer says. “Relationships of any time require ongoing work and effort, and if we cast too wide of a network we can burn out. We only have so much energy.”
- Get vulnerable. “The best way to approach relationships with intentionality, once you’ve identified those people, is with the act of self-disclosure,” Dr. Kirmayer says. “This is the primary way we deepen our connections.” What that means: turning into a real-life BeReal and sharing more of yourself. “Vulnerability is very uncomfortable, so we often shy away from it—but then we also shy away from opportunities for closer connections,” Dr. Kirmayer explains.
Heads up: Honesty and vulnerability doesn’t mean trauma dumping your deepest darkest secrets on a casual Thursday night hang. It just means pushing the boundaries a bit beyond the typical surface-level convos you have.
Here’s what that could look like, according to Dr. Kirmayer: “Opening up about a challenge we’re facing or something we could use advice on. It could also be opening up about something you’ve really been enjoying lately.” If this next-level-friend candidate is a work buddy, talk about a hobby you’ve really gotten into outside of work. If it’s a fellow parent on the playground, bring up something else in your life that you enjoy beyond your kids. “Letting people see who you are and what you appreciate and value in life is a really fundamental way we can build closeness,” says Dr. Kirmayer.
Another great way to deepen a friendship is by prompting the other person to share more about themselves. “Ask really interesting and interested questions, giving them the opportunity to open up, or focus on offering support, help, or lifting them up,” Dr. Kirmayer suggests. Showing up for someone else and offering them kindness and support can go a long way in forging a new sense of trust and closeness, she adds.
Hack your life to put you in close proximity to people you might want to be friends with.
Maybe you considered your current acquaintances and realized there isn’t anyone there that you’re really craving a closer relationship with. No sweat. Branching out and finding new friends—who you actually have a lot in common with and can bond deeply with from the get-go—is another excellent option. That said, we realize the idea of meeting new people can be kinda terrifying (hello social anxiety, my old friend).
A tried-and-true way to do this is to think about things you like to do and then go do those things. Take that boxing class you’ve always wanted to try, check out trivia night at your local bar, or go work in a different coffee shop than your usual spot. Maybe even join a club or sports league in your area (pickleball, anyone?). Just literally put yourself out there to meet people you wouldn’t normally cross paths with. And, as scary as it might be, doing these things alone might make you more motivated to chat up the strangers (potential friends!) around you and see if you click.
Once you meet someone new, turn to the same principles Dr. Kirmayer suggested to deepen already-existing friendships. “The same strategies that help us deepen friendships will allow us to build a new relationship,” she says, adding, “the stepping stones may look a little different, though.”
For example, with someone you just met—since you don’t have any history—you may need to take a little more time to get to know them, build trust, and feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. So be understanding if they need a little more time to feel ready to open up. Dr. Kirmayer suggests listening for when the other person shares something deeper about themselves and thinking about if there is something related that you can connect on. “It’s about being mindful of the back and forth that happens when building a friendship,” she adds.
Remember: Good things take time.
Sure, there might be that person you hit it off with immediately and your friendship just takes off. But building a truly meaningful connection usually does require some time. “It does not happen immediately for most of us, and it doesn't need to,” Dr. Kirmayer says. “We need to be a little patient with ourselves and other people—we all differ in how quickly we can open up in a way that allows for an authentic connection.”
So try not to get discouraged and take it personally if your new boxing class buddy doesn’t automatically invite you to brunch next weekend. Just keep showing up authentically and putting in the time and effort to build a relationship that’s founded on understanding, trust, and a mutual desire to have someone you can really count on in your corner. That’s really what it’s all about.
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.