Desperation drove me to do it. “Looking for someone to chill with,” I wrote on the San Francisco Craigslist personals forum.
“I recently moved here from NY to pursue a career in journalism. It’s tough meeting new friends in a new city, especially after college,” my post continued. “I’d love to get a drink and a snack with a cool guy or girl tonight. Let me know if you’re interested.”
I read it over, and felt compelled to add one last line: “Friends only, thanks.” This was Craigslist, after all.
Having relocated to the opposite coast, fresh out of college at age 22, I suddenly found myself without any local friends. I felt pathetic publishing the post, but once the responses started rolling in, I realized I wasn’t alone in feeling lonely. There were actually a lot of us.
The demands of adulthood—from pursuing a career, to growing our families, to finding love—can cause our friendships to take a back seat (and possibly evaporate altogether). Before you know it, you look around and realize you have no one to hang out with. And at this stage in life, it’s hard to even figure out how to make friends, let alone find people with whom you’re compatible.
A response popped in my inbox from another woman about my age. We decided to have a friend date at a local restaurant. While it was every bit as awkward as a typical first date, the experience also brought me a flood of relief: Finally, someone (anyone!) to connect with! We ended up hanging out regularly during my stint in the city by the bay.
Putting yourself out there feels awkward—the fear of rejection can cause even the most extroverted people to crawl into their shells. But friendships play a critical role in our health and happiness. According to a 2016 study, researchers found that people with “a higher degree of social connectedness” had better physiological function and lower risks of certain disorders.
Equally important, our friends act as foundations of support when times get tough, cheerleaders when we’re chasing our dreams, and celebrants for our achievements, large and small.
“It’s important for women to feel connected to their friends and to have that support, especially as we go through life’s ups and downs,” says Nicole Zangara, licensed clinical social worker and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Making friends isn’t easy, but you don’t have to publish an awkward post on a sketchy forum to start meeting people. Real women from around the country (and the globe!) shared their top tips on finding new friends—and keeping them. Here’s how you can push through loneliness and open yourself up to friendship at any stage of life.
An Expert’s Take on How to Make Friends
When you’re feeling lonely, it’s all too easy to wallow in it and avoid trying to make friends. Why should you bother? Does friendship even matter?
Having friends absolutely matters, says Zangara. In fact, friendships fulfill more than just a social need—they also influence our health. Research shows that the presence of a “best friend” reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in a person’s body. An active social life can reduce the rates of cognitive decline in old age by up to 70 percent, according to another study. Researchers say that our friends also help us adopt healthier habits, like working out and eating nutritious meals.
“If a friend is trying to get into shape, it can impact the other friends in the group to also get more active,” explains Zangara. “If someone tries to quit smoking, she might become a positive influence on her other friends to do the same. Feeling supported provides happiness and overall greater life satisfaction.”
If those aren’t enough reasons to start figuring out how to make friends, get this: A meta-analysis of 148 studies found that people with stronger social relationships had a 50 percent higher likelihood of survival. Talk about the power of friends!
Opening Yourself Up to New Friends
Making friends as children was breezy for most people. Just sharing a favorite color could be enough for two girls to become besties.
But when we grow up, things swing the opposite direction. It’s like we forget how to make friends once we graduate. What’s the deal?
“When we’re young, we have many opportunities to meet other people in our classes, at our extracurricular activities, on our sports teams, and in clubs,” says Zangara. “It gets harder as an adult because you have to intentionally create the opportunity to meet people, and some of us don’t want to put forth the effort, or even know how.”
Realizing your need for genuinely intimate relationships with friends is a step in the right direction. But before you can approach others, you need to make sure that you’re approachable yourself.
“When making new friends, especially if you’re self-conscious, try to be open minded and ask others about themselves,” Zangara suggests. “Sometimes just a smile can make you seem much more approachable and friendly. Making good eye contact also helps, and you will seem confident.”
People are drawn to each other for different reasons, whether it’s an ambitious career, a shared interest in science fiction, or a quirky sense of humor. It’s natural, and while there’s no way to force it, giving off a confident, positive vibe will increase the likelihood that someone will be charmed by you.
Strategies for How to Make Friends
When you’re longing to find the Thelma to your Louise, you might be at a loss for where to go. But you’re not the first person to navigate the world of making new friends. We asked women from around the world about the strategies that helped them find their besties. While none of them suggested Craigslist, they did share the clever ideas that worked for them.
1. Sign up for sports.
Sherri Bourdo, a physical therapist in Fort Myers, Florida, found herself lonely when she relocated from Wisconsin. So she started looking for ways to keep busy and pursue her passions—and that’s when she found some local friends.
“Volleyball is one of my passions, so I checked into all the local clubs and recreational centers for teams that may need an additional player. Just my luck, a team needed one girl and I joined them for the season. They became (and still are) some of my closest friends,” she says. “The great thing with volleyball or any sport is that most people who play are usually into health, fitness, and staying active, which can help you continue connecting with other people and building more friendships.”
If traditional team sports aren’t your thing, try other ways of being active, like a Pilates class or group hiking. There’s something about the act of moving your body makes it easier to build connections with others.
2. Give someone a compliment.
Bars are a great place to meet friends, right? That’s what Samantha Allen, a legal assistant in Boston, believed when she was looking for new pals. It generally worked—but she did something extra at a local watering hall that made a big difference.
“A few months ago, I complimented a woman at a bar on how wonderfully she matched her red lipstick to the same red shade of her leather purse, and we’ve been good girlfriends ever since. We spent the rest of the night hanging out, and today when we go to dinner or out for walks, we always laugh that so few people meet new friends the way we did,” she says.
Noticing something unique about another person and actually speaking up about it can break the ice on a new relationship. Try complimenting one new person a day to see where it leads you.
3. Try something unexpected (like karaoke).
Whether it’s indoor rock climbing, singing in a choir, or taking a pottery-making class, a new activity can help you break out of your shell and meet friends from other walks of life. For Alexandra Palombo, a communications specialist in Washington, D.C., that activity was joining a competitive karaoke league (yes, that’s a thing).
“Part of its appeal is that you could potentially meet 47 other people that you didn’t know before on any given night,” she says.
It turns out that friends who sing together, stay together. Even though Palombo has since left the league, she credits the experience as the thing that helped her make “about 80 percent” of her local friends, including both her old roommate and her boyfriend of five years.
“I highly recommend that people who are new in town search out stuff like this and give it a try,” she says. “Worst case scenario: It’s no fun. The best case, though, is that you make a ton of new connections outside of your workplace.”
4. Connect through your kids (or your dog).
“Kids are your key and entryway to meeting friends,” says Alison Bernstein, founder of real estate strategy firm Suburban Jungle and mom of four children.
Each social or recreational activity your child has during the week creates an opportunity to strike up a conversation with another mom and hopefully hit things off as friends.
“Chat with other parents at birthday party drop-offs or sporting events,” Bernstein adds. “As your kids make friends, you’ll automatically have things in common with their parents as all your children will go through their ‘firsts’ together, from starting kindergarten, to gaining independence, and ultimately graduation. That common bond goes a long way.”
Don’t have kids? A dog can have a similar effect on helping you make friends, says Bernstein.
“Dogs are always a conversation starter,” she says. “Many towns have dog parks which are great places to socialize. You can meet so many people there and set up dog play dates.”
5. Go on a retreat.
Retreats are like summer camp for grown-ups—not only are they a chance to step outside the routine of everyday life, they’re also a catalyst for friendships to form and deepen, fast. That’s what Andrea Valeria, digital nomad and vlogger at It’s a Travel O.D., recently discovered during a multi-day retreat with nine other women in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
“I’m constantly trying new travel-related experiences so I can meet more cool people,” she says. “Most recently, I went on an all-women’s entrepreneurial retreat by Vaera Journeys. Spending a week with women who like to hustle as much as I do turned out to be a great idea. I walked away inspired and with a few new friends.”
You don’t have to go too far from home to find a retreat, though. Look for a local retreat with a theme that interests you, whether that’s yoga, spirituality, getting back to nature, or anything else, so you can make friends who are as enthusiastic about something as you are.
6. Get digital.
As isolating as social media and the internet can be, online spaces can also be useful places for making connections—if you know where to look. Estrella Sansait, a Canadian expat living in Spain, says that online groups make it easier for introverts like her to find new friends.
“Opening up to new people has always been a bit of challenge for me. When I moved abroad, I forced myself out of my social comfort zone and was able to create connections with a handful of amazing people through Facebook groups and Meetup. Some of them are still in my life,” she says.
Jacquelyn Kyle, a travel blogger based in New Jersey, also had good luck making friends through digital platforms.
“I used BumbleBFF. It felt a bit shallow to swipe ‘no’ on potential friends, but it was remarkable to me how similar the process is to dating. I went on a few BumbleBFF ‘dates’ that were just as awkward as any romantic date, but before too long I met Alexa. We connected immediately, and each ended up sharing much more about our lives than we’d planned. She’s my best friend, and I’m so happy I met her,” says Kyle.
7. Connect with people in your field.
Your profession instantly gives you something in common with potential new friends, along with tons to talk about. Emily King, owner and creative director of Whiskey & White Events, says that she leveraged her career as a “solopreneur” to spur her social life.
“Not having any coworkers can be lonely. So I’ve intentionally reached out to other creative business owners in my city and industry and a small group of us meet once a month for what I call my Encouraging Friendship Group,” she says. “We talk about our businesses and provide each other with inspiration and support to follow our dreams, both personally and professionally. It’s been incredibly rewarding.”
Wondering how to make friends in your field? Try going to local networking events, joining professional associations, or even just inviting someone with an interesting background on LinkedIn out to coffee. You never know where it might lead.
The HealthyWay Friendship Challenge
Now that you know some ways to start making friends, it’s time to go out and try them. HealthyWay’s challenging you to put yourself out there and approach three potential friends in the next week. Go head, invite a colleague out for drinks, ask the cool girl in your spin class to go to brunch, or set up a much-needed mommy date. Let us know how it goes by hitting us up on Facebook, or snap a pic with your new friend and tag us on Instagram @healthywaymedia.