On Making New Friends as an Adult


It was an unusually warm February day in 2017 when I walked into Studio 2, a quaint coffee shop in South Minneapolis, and nervously scanned the room. I was looking for a maybe (?), potentially (??), soon-to-be new friend. I didn’t see her. I pulled out my phone and glanced at my Instagram messages, double checking (fine, triple checking), that I was indeed in the right place. I was, of course, but it never hurts to make sure.

I stood there, unsuccessfully trying to fit in, my mind beginning to perform the mental gymnastics it likes to do before any social encounter—’What will we talk about?’ ‘Do we shake hands? Hug? Not engage in physical contact at all?’ ‘Will they like me? As a human???’—until my maybe, potentially, soon-to-be new friend walked in.

“Kendall! Hi!!” I yelled across the crowded space, with an overeager wave to match. We exchanged greetings, ordered coffee, sat down, talked. We covered all the usual bases, and for an hour and a half we got to know each other there, from across the table next to the window. Some time later, we got up to leave, exchanged numbers, hugged, and went our separate ways. And NOT TO BREAK THE MAGIC WITH A BUNCH OF SPOILERS, but in the year and a half since that balmy February day, Kendall and I have become actual friends. I’m going to be in her wedding next June. I cannot wait.

So that’s it, really. My journey in making new friends as an adult. You grab coffee. You click. You get to be in their wedding. Everything is perfect!!

No, just kidding. The road to friendship bliss can be a bit more meandering than that, as it turns out.

It had first occurred to me a few years prior, this inkling to make new friends. I had been out of school for a while, in the midst of a weird post-college friendship limbo. The majority of my friends were often busy—with long-term relationships, with family, with work, with travel. I was busy, too, sure, but there were still plenty of weekends when I found myself entirely alone. I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to expand my community, if you will. But I had no idea where to start. Where does one even make friends as an adult?? I had no idea.

Growing up (at least for me), new friendships were made in rather formulaic environments. You went to daycare, you made friends there. You went to school, you made a few more. You went to summer camp, you latched onto a few new people. You participated in extracurriculars, you made friends with shared interests. On and on it went, with more of the same in middle school, and in high school, and then, if you decided to go to college and live in the very small, contained spaces known as dorm rooms, you had the chance to make even more friends. You were set. It’s not that it was always easy, the business of making friends during school. But there were plenty of built-in opportunities—nuggets of time and proximity that were sure to render you at least a few confidants.

That all seemed to change after school. Unless you worked in an office with a lot of people around your age (whose company you also happened to enjoy??), or you were coordinated enough to participate in a sporting league, or outgoing enough that you simply happened to, I don’t know, meet people in the public realm (?!), the task of making new friends could feel daunting. Which is exactly the predicament I found myself in prior to that February day.

“So, how did you do it?” you may find yourself asking. “How did you overcome your mild fear of human interaction plus occasional social ineptitude long enough to convince people to give you a chance over coffee??” Terrific questions. A+ inquiries. The thing that allowed me to meet most of my new friends was, actually, the internet.

A friend (/mentor/former boss) named Danielle had published a blog post titled Find a Friend in Your City, hoping to respond to the exact quandary I described above. Her goal was exactly as it sounds—to connect people who were interested in meeting new friends in their respective cities. Over the course of the next few months, I connected with multiple women through that means alone (Kendall included!), all of whom are still good friends of mine today.

I’ve met folks in the comments section of other blogs, too. And if at this point you’re thinking, ‘Jackie, do you just… prowl the various comments sections of the internet in your spare time, hoping to lure in new friends??’, the answer is a definitive yes. Or, I mean, not really. But comments sections of websites you love actually aren’t a bad place to meet people. After all, you already know you share similar interests, in at least some respects; that common ground can be a good place from which to begin a relationship. I would recommend.

Another way I’ve met people online? Through the apps on my phone that occupy so damn much of my time—through social media. Often the people I meet via Instagram or Twitter are those I’ve known for years, before one of us finally caves, slides into the ol’ DMs, and says, “Would you want to grab drinks sometime?”  Social media platforms can be great, connective places in their own right. But getting to know people in person? That’s generally even better.

I’ve realized over this past year and a half the value of both well-established friendships and newer ones. The friends I’ve had since high school and college know me. They’re aware of my quirks and shortcomings; they could list off many an embarrassing story that should never see the light of day. As far as relationships go, they’re the easy, comfortable kind, grounded by a strong foundation built brick by brick over the years.

The friendships I’ve made more recently? They’ve opened my eyes to new ways of living and being in the world. They’ve changed my perspective and made me examine my own patterns and habits more closely. Every time I meet someone new, every time we click, I’m wholly amazed all over again. There are so many people floating around these places in which we live—people with diverse backgrounds and viewpoints and with stories to share—and I’ve realized I’m doing myself a disservice if I don’t at least try to get to know a few more of them.

If you are not in the market for new friends right now? That is fine! That is cool. I understand it and I respect it. If you are? This is the part where I distill down a few of my own suggestions for how to do so. There is no set strategy, no predetermined path everyone must take to make new friends, to build their respective communities. So take mine with a grain of salt, and let me know if you have any of your own (please and thank you!!). Alright, here we go:

  • Hop into the comments section of your favorite blog. Mention the city you live in, ask if anyone else lives there, too. If you get a response, connect with that person on social media. Meet up face-to-face if it feels right. This method might sound weird on paper but hey, sometimes it works.
  • If social media is more your jam, think of the people you interact with most on your platforms of choice. Send them a DM. Ask if they’d like to meet for coffee or drinks sometime. The worst that can happen is they don’t respond, or they say no. (Believe me, I’ve long gone over all the worst possible outcomes in my head; the legwork has been done.) You can survive a no, I promise.
  • It is also possible—rare though it may seem!!—to encounter people out in the wild, in person. I’ve met folks through mutual friends and on planes and at various public locales and at the extremely niche event that was the live taping of a podcast. The key to meeting people in real life is, in my experience, to be present; to put down your electronic devices; to pay attention as the world spins around you. I am not trying to lecture, I swear (I generally maintain a vice grip on my phone, too! I am working on it!)—I am more so issuing a gentle reminder. People will approach you with much more ease if you’re not engrossed in a screen at all times.

These circles of relationships we make and foster over the years don’t have to close up after high school or college. They can keep expanding and contracting, ebbing and flowing with whatever stage of life we happen to be in right now. We grow, we change, and we can continue to invite new people in. Who knows: the next person you meet might be exactly the one you need in that moment. They might not be, and that’s okay, too. Either way, by my calculation, you may very well get some coffee out of the deal. And coffee? Coffee is always a good idea.

Images via: 1 / 2 / 3


Jackie Saffert is a human person who lives in Minneapolis. In her spare time, you can find her running along the river road, loitering in the vicinity of the nearest puppy at a local brewery, or recharging her soul (?!) in her tiny sanctuary of an apartment. She likes to write; she thinks you are very kind for reading the words above.

  • Great post and actually a really good subject that could be taken even further! Making meaningful and lasting friendships can be surprisingly difficult after the effortless years at Uni when you made a bunch of new friends every week at another party. Especially now that a lot of young adults move abroad to find jobs, finding friends in the new culture and environment becomes even more important but can be a lot more difficult.

    Teresa | outlandishblog.com

  • And the more you put yourself out there online and in-person, the more you become open to meeting new friends too! I used to have a hangup about making friends and felt it was near impossible to get close to people if you met as an adult, but now I think that’s the furthest from the truth. The majority of my important friendships were made post-college.

  • Just reading this post made me regret not asking the number of the good-looking stranger who talked to me in the bus on the way to work months ago. I hope I’ll be able to see him again, though. Haha! This is such a good read.

    Augustin Ra | alwaysra.blogspot.com

  • Hi Jackie, I can’t even tell you how much this article speaks to me. I’m 31 now and decided to start my own business in very early years and moved to another city. The side effects: Work which I actually love, but very rare occasions to find friends. I know exactly how you felt because I’ve been there. I’ve tried friendship and new in town groups on Facebook, but ended up with some weird “blind friendship dates“ and instantly lost faith for the next couple of months. And let’s be honest: It’s still easy to find those friends, which you can meet for drinks, but we are looking for something valuable now – real friendships, people we can really connect with.

    

I love that you speak about your journey so honestly and think more of us should do it! So many of us struggle with this after school. I think I will catch up on this topic someday on my blog, too. Maybe someone from my town reads it (Germany, Munich) 🙂
    

I am happy for you that the work paid off and you’ve got your happy ending!
 Kati

  • Maybe it helps, but I’ve built Compatipal (https://www.compatipal.com/) for exactly this reason. Describe yourself with short attributes (tags), say “JustinBieber” and “Slipknot”… then find others with an interesting combination of tags in your proximity and contact them, or let others find you.

    The coolest new feature IMO is the map, where you can actually see how people from around the the world share your interests.

    The main problems I faced were: Where do you find people when you spend 95% of your time at home/work? And: I believe part of the reason, why I don’t want to talk to just anybody I meet on the street is not because I’m an introvert, but rather because it’s highly inefficient to talk to hundreds of people and spend hours of awkward conversation just to maybe find one that I can get along with.

    If you want, you can enter your location and up to 4 tags, it’s free (just use your spam email adress if you don’t trust me…). The vision is to someday find your true soulmate(s) with a few clicks.