I hit my social peak at five years old. Kindergarten was “da bomb,” let me tell you.

I was double-booked for play dates. I frequently had three, yes THREE birthday parties in the same weekend. During lunch, I had a system to hang out with all of my friends. I would eat my sandwich at the blue table, eat my carrots at the green table, and eat dessert with the red table (where the best swapping was).

At recess, it was agony trying to decide if I should play tag, do the monkey bars, or trade stickers at the big oak in the corner of the playground—often panting while trying to do all three. When the end of school bell rung, I would skip along the line of waiting mothers in their parked cars and high-five all of my friends as they pulled away. Sometimes I cried before “having” to go away on school break.

And then… middle school. It went downhill from there.

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Am I the only one who struggles with this?! I want to teach you how to make friends as an adult.

I was waiting to board a plane at an airport the other day and overheard two little boys have this incredible interaction:

Hi, I like trucks.

I like trucks too. This is my dinosaur.

Cool! Can I be your friend?

Yes! Let’s play with dinosaurs on trucks.

I wish I could walk up to someone nice, tell them something I liked and then ask them to be my friend. If only it were that easy! For some reason, becoming adult friends gets much trickier. Here’s why:

  • We meet fewer new people. We no longer have new classes every semester like we did in college, an infinite number of high school clubs, or sports or summer camps to attend.
  • Our priorities have changed. As kids, priority number one is fun. You want to play. You have recess, school vacations, after school play dates, and camp. As adults, we work, we have family responsibilities, and we have to pay bills. Oftentimes, play and fun and relaxation take a backseat.
  • We’re too cool. Let’s be honest, asking someone to be your friend sounds lame. Why? Because it’s terrifying! They might say no. So, we act like we’re too busy for friends, like we’re too old for play dates, like we don’t need anyone anyway.

It’s also scary.

  • We’re afraid of being rejected, so we don’t put ourselves out there.
  • We’re worried that someone might be secretly toxic, so we hold back.
  • We’re worried about being taken advantage of, so we pull away.

But here’s the thing. Friends matter. Money will come and go, and career success will fade in later years, but friends only make you richer. I believe that finding, building, and maintaining fulfilling friendships is one of the most important things we do in our lifetime. I know it’s hard. But I have a big idea. I want to give you a different approach to making friends:

Friendship is the new romance.

I feel incredibly blessed to have found the most amazing group of friends after many, many years of awkward searching. They love to dress up in crazy costumes, are willing to participate in my science experiments (usually), and put up with my weird antics (like asking to be blindfolded and seeing if I can recognize each of them by scent).

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We attempt to play soccer together:

Soccer

(We have won only one game so far. #winnersatheart)

We have weird theme parties:

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(Dress Like Your Heritage)

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(Dress in all white and have a spontaneous picnic)

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(Christmas Toga Party…because why not?!)

We have adventures:

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(My husband humored me by taking the only 2 person kayak)

Looking back, I realized we had gone through a courtship process of sorts. (They are going to tease me mercilessly for writing this post; I am sure of it). It made me begin looking into the process of making friends. I was fortunate enough to talk to readers all around the world who have found their “best friends.” Except for the lucky few who had friends from childhood, those who had found adult friends had experiences remarkably similar to mine. They had to “date their friends” first.

So, I want you to court your companions. Flirt with friends. Date your peers. I want you to think about making friends like dating, but without the heartbreak.

We search for soulmates, why not best friends?

It’s totally okay to make a New Year’s resolution about finding your soulmate, and to spend time and money on dates wooing the perfect romantic partner, but for some reason it’s weird to say that your goal is to find a best friend.

Let’s change that. In this post, I want to show you how you can search for your best friend. Whatever this means to you—build your buddy system, hone your homies, meet your mates:

  • How to find the right kind of friends
  • How to transition from acquaintance to confidante
  • How to build solid friendships

Warning:

I know it feels a little weird to be talking about the science of making friends—to break down friendship into steps. But, unfortunately, the art of building friendships often gets lost in childhood. I think friendships are important and worth the effort. So, I have broken down the process into steps so we can relearn this essential skill.

The Science of Making Friends as an Adult

Go through the following list of steps, just like you would court a new date. You are going to court your new friends.

Choose Your Own Friendship Adventure:

  • If you want to make a totally new group of friends, start with Step #1.
  • If you have someone in your life who you think would make a good friend, but aren’t sure, skip to Step #2.
  • If you have someone in your life who you would like to get closer to, but aren’t sure how, skip to Step #3.
  • If you want to “make it official” with a friend you have, skip to Step #4.
how to make friends

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Step #1: Courtship

Let’s say you’re newly single and ready to mingle. What’s the first thing you do? Most people think about the kind of person they want to meet. If you’re a woman, you probably made a list. Something like this perhaps?

  • witty
  • outdoorsy
  • smart
  • stable job
  • family-oriented

Then you look at the list and think about where you might find this type of person. You either join the most relevant online dating website, or join a local group or class to find this “type” of person. A list like this also makes you more attuned to spot this person when you see them.

If you know who you’re looking for, it becomes easier to find them.

Go through the following prompts:

Look at the list above and see if anyone you already know pops into your head. It could even be a distant relative or a friend of a friend or a spouse of a colleague. If no one pops into your head, that’s okay. You are starting from scratch. Make a list of places, groups, clubs, classes and social networks where you might meet the kind of person above:

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Step #2: Flirting

This is the most important step for making adult friendships. Flirting. Adults make two mistakes that get them all mucked up when it comes to making friends:

  • They go too fast. Just like in a romantic relationship, if you go too fast in a friendship, you might end up being friends with the wrong kind of person. All of a sudden you find out something you don’t like. They become clingy, you pull away, awkwardness all around.
  • They never ask. This is just like having a crush on someone, but never asking them out. Many adults think or hope someone might be a good friend, but they never pursue it because they are afraid of rejection, aren’t sure how, or have convinced themselves they don’t have enough time.

Flirting helps with both. Flirting is how you test the waters, how you get to know someone to see if there’s chemistry and how you stave off rejection. Whether you already have someone in mind, or you are going to go to a few events and meet new people, here are three ways you can friendship flirt:

  1. Fun Tease: Friends are for fun, for play and for relaxation. One of the easiest ways you can see friendship compatibility is to see if you are into the same things. Just like on a date, you want to float things you enjoy and see if they do too. You can mention a concert you went to last month. Ask what they are up to this weekend. Talk about your favorite sports team. Bring up a new sport / class / book you have been wanting to dive into and see what they say.
  2. #2 Value Tease: Besides being a companion for activities, the best of friends also need to provide emotional support. This is often where friends and best friends divide. As you get to know someone, you want to know if they have the same values as you. For example, I had a great friend who thought it was extravagant to spend money on travel. She loved being home and didn’t see the point of going elsewhere. We got along in almost every other dimension, but I LOVE to travel. I do it all the time for work and pleasure. Every time I had a trip coming up (always) we would get into the same argument about it. In the end, it drove us both nuts about the other. This sounds small and silly, but it matters in terms of you having to respect your friends and their opinions and their decisions, even if they aren’t the same as your own. You don’t have to have the same values, but you have to be able to understand your friend’s point of view and respect them for it.
  3. #3 Feeling: Most importantly, as you are interacting with a potential friend, tap into how they make you feel. Do you laugh with them? Do they make you feel excited? Intrigued? Engaged? You want people who make you feel good. And, of course, it has to go both ways. That’s called wooing…

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Step #3: Wooing

By this point, you have someone (or a few people) in your life who you think might make a great friend. You want to pursue them, go on some dates, spend more time together. How? Here we borrow a saying from weddings. In the States, most brides wear four unique items on their wedding day for luck (or just for fun). Something old, such as a vintage ring; something new, such as a new wedding dress; something borrowed, such as their mother’s veil; and something blue, such as a blue garter. I find this is an easy way to think about different types of wooing. Here are easy four ways to “ask someone out:”

  • Something Old: Do you have an old favorite? Favorite movie? Favorite restaurant? Favorite dancing spot? This is a great way to have an excuse to hang out. For example, just recently I was talking to a new potential friend about my favorite (and the only, in my opinion) genuine Mexican restaurant in Portland. “Oh wow! I love Mexican food,” she said. Bingo: fun tease. Then it was easy to say, “Cool. I was planning to go on Friday. You free?”
  • Something New: I became friends with my friend Stephanie because we both had been dying to try something new: dance classes. We both were bemoaning how awful the gym was when she said she had heard about a cool Bollywood Dance class. Then it was easy for me to ask if she wanted a partner in crime to try it out. We also have tried a cardio drumming class and a cook-around-the-world night. She is amazing. Want to try something new? Bring it up and see if they are interested in joining. This is both a fun tease and a woo.
  • Something Borrowed: Friends lend us ideas, books, clothes, suitcases, and time. This is another great way to feel out a new friendship. Have a book you love? Offer to loan it to them. My friend Samantha was wearing the most beautiful shawl—it looked so warm and fuzzy! I brought it up to her, and she so kindly said, “You must borrow it—I have two!” You also can borrow ideas. If you know something that might help someone else, offer to teach them. Are you a whiz with resumés? Offer to edit it for your new friend. Are you a great cook? Have a cooking day with a new friend if they are trying to learn their way around a kitchen. I started a Spanish + vegetarian cooking club exactly this way. Seven of us got together because we all were trying to practice our high school Spanish and learn to cook more vegetarian. It’s easy to make friends over a steaming tray of homemade tamales.
  • Something Blue: I don’t mean actual blue, I mean sad blue. We all go through hard times. It might be you, it might be your new friend. You want foul- and fair-weather friends—those who are with you through the good times and the bad. In the beginning of the wooing process, it’s important to be honest. If you’re going through something, bring it up and see how they can help. This is a great way to know the depth of your potential friendship. I never will forget a time with my friend Lacy in the beginning of our friendship. Speaking of weddings, I was having a momentary freak out about my wedding dress. I was sure I had picked the wrong one (I hear this is normal). Anyway, I called Lacy in the middle of the day, and I asked her if she would be willing to come with me while I tried on my wedding dress one last time. She took the workday afternoon off, schlepped across town with me, and sat with me, being so incredibly supportive as I made her examine it from every which angle. Yes, it was the right one. Yes, I couldn’t have done it without her. Yes, she is my best friend today.

Try one or all of these with a potential friend to get a “date” on the calendar to see if they might be a good fit.

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Step #4: Dating

Now comes the serious part. You have someone you like and slowly have been courting them. You’ve been doing a few things together here and there, and you feel they have bestie potential (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Now what? It’s time to see if the relationship has staying power. Most importantly, you want to know if you are good for each other.

Over the next few weeks, go through more of the wooing steps and ask yourself these three essential questions:

  • Could you be locked in an elevator with this person?
  • Are they genuinely happy for you when something good happens to you?
  • Do you truly want the best for them, even if it isn’t convenient for you?

Toxic relationships happen when we secretly have ill wishes for someone or they have them for us. This happens a lot with “frenemies” or friends who don’t actually support you wholeheartedly. They get jealous, they get “judgy,” they get controlling.

It’s extremely important to be on the lookout for these kinds of toxic indicators early on. Just like in a relationship, so-called red flags rarely tend to go away. However, unlike a relationship, you don’t have to marry this person, so:

You can be different, but you have to love each other for your differences.

Step #5: Love

Congratulations! You’re in love <3. This is the most amazing, fulfilling, mushy-gushy, part of friendships. (Yes, that’s a good thing.) I think this is the part of the friendship where investment really pays off. What do I mean by investment? Emotional investment, time investment, energy investment. Even the best romantic relationships require tune-ups and energy. And this isn’t bad or hard. I think it is beautiful. Yes, I am getting mushy-gushy. Here’s how you keep your friendships running on high:

  • Tabs: When your friend cares about something, you care about it by proxy. Know what’s going on in your friend’s life. Do they have a big work project? A sick parent? A busy week? Check in. One of the best feelings in the world is having a friend check in on something that is important to you and not them—because you know they are doing it purely to be supportive. My friend Ana-Lauren always texts me when I get home from my travels. My friend Stephen always texts me after speaking events. (How does he always remember?!) And my friend Lacy has a sixth sense for when I’m stressed. (She has hidden cameras in my mind, I swear.) I try doing the same for the things that matter in their life. And it is my pleasure, because their success is my success too.
  • Wishes: What does your friend wish for? What are their goals and dreams? I love to ask my friends about their New Year’s Resolutions and birthday wishes. Of course I want to help, but I also want to be emotionally supportive and provide accountability. It also feels so good to know someone is on your team. Friends are your teammates and your supporters for life.
  • Growth: Sometimes friends have to deliver difficult news, call you on your bullshit, and challenge you to be better. I love it and hate it when my friends do this. My friend Margo is amazing at calling me out on stuff I need to change. She does this with so much love, advice, and support, that sometimes I mistake her rebukes for praise (or maybe I just wish it to be so). True friends are willing to say the difficult thing if they know it is right. We can debate and argue healthily with good friends, and that makes us better people together.

Friendships are our greatest asset. Not all of us are lucky enough to have best friends from childhood, but that’s okay. We can make amazing friendships as adults—it just takes a little bit of courage and a little bit of romance.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a national best selling author & founder at Science of People. Her groundbreaking book, Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People has been translated into more than 16 languages. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma. She regularly leads innovative corporate workshops and helps thousands of individual professionals in her online program People School. Vanessa works with entrepreneurs, growing businesses, and trillion dollar companies; and has been featured on CNN, BBC, CBS, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur Magazine, USA Today, the Today Show and many more.

15 replies on “How to Make Friends As An Adult In 5 Easy to Use Steps”

  1. Janice

    I find all of your lessons invaluable and spend a good part of each day catching up on old ones before I discovered your channel. I made a pact with myself some years back that if I am putting all the effort into staying in touch and connected then it is time to cut that friend lose. This has worked for me and I now have a small very close group of amazing friends.

  2. Jody

    Vanessa,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and much needed article. Growing up and in my 20 and 30’s I had all kinds of friends. They always seemed to be there and I clearly never realized how fortunate I was. Today, I am 57 and friendless. I can’t make a friend to save my life it seems. Of course I have acquaintances here and there, but it’s all the relationship amounts to. I have developed such a complex and low self esteem that the negative energy I now carry with me freaks them out and sends them scrambling. Reading your article is the first time in a long time I Felt like there might actually be hope for me yet! I’m going to try out your plan. I’m happy you ended up finding such a wonderful group of friends today. The loneliness of not having anyone at all to call and talk to is so miserably sad to experience.

    1. Kemi

      I could have written that exact message. I’m 56 not 57, but the rest is verbatim my response. I can see how it has become a spiral, that I’ve become desperate for friends and that desperation is like a bad odor that my potential new friends pick up on. I’ve caught myself considering running away, but I know “where ever you go, there you are.” For now, with COVID, I keep telling myself this is a time of preparation and growth. I’m reading and studying and preparing for a reboot in January when we have a vaccine.

    2. joe

      Well, I’m glad i’m not alone. The toughest thing to accept about having no friends is, I actually think Im, a nice, normal, funny, smart person. BUT for just about every person I’ve been in so called friendship with, abandons you, somewhere in where I think im good, Im not. There must be a few reasons why people just don’t want to associate with me. I try not to think about it most of the time but when it grabs me, I sink real low. I just dont understand it. I really am a nice person but man that is really a killer.

  3. Lia

    Thanks for the article. I have gone through times of feast and famine when it comes to adult friends. As the mother of a young child, I noticed that we moms were like camp followers – following the interests of our children as participation and fortune dictated. I had what at the time seemed to be like very strong friendships with the other mothers whose children participated in the same activities as mine. Unfortunately, those friendships just melted away in the face of limited time and busy schedules when our children’s interests eventually took them, and us, in different directions.
    Now that my youngest is in college, I am ready to “court” a new group of friends, hopefully ones based on MY schedule and interests rather than those of my child. I am looking forward to the process and appreciate the tips!

  4. Sam

    Interesting read. One of the worst, hurtful factors that affect adults in the process as I myself have encountered are below:
    1. When a former boss, coworker, client or even subordinate is remembered to have gotten along well with in a past company and mutual exchanges were kept up, but despite I with sincere goodwill and trying to reach out illogically and shockingly for no reason not hearing back anymore and worse unfriended for no reason and seeing it different with others. This is taken very personally and shakes my trust and initiative.

    2. Other scenarios involve longtime friends whom I considered like a sister from college who did a lot for me, were always there and whose wedding I attended and shockingly and unclearly ended the friendship after 8 years saying how my too much contact with her family and friends makes her uncomfy when I been trying to reach out and catch up like before even when she in a relationship. It shakes and moves when she still friends with our mutual friends from before. Another is when having met someone online and making as a opposite sex friend and being invited to wedding 1 year after and still in touch and meeting up when she came to visit us for work and suddenly unclearly later she doesnt respond back and says hurtfully how she not comfortable to talk to me anymore as unclear after usual good history and good she did and I did?

    3. Wonder where we can find of how we can always keep friends till we die as long as we make effort and mutualities were there? Or how to know for sure to avoid investment in a person with subtle signs at 1st meeting that it will be one-sided even when other person offers contact information and mentions to meet up?

    4. Seeking friendships in adulthood seems great, but past hurts or betrayals of longtime friendships ending unexpectedly for no reason or illogically hinders or when you offer sincere goodwill and not reciprocated nor given a chance hinders.

  5. M

    Awesome Vanessa, thanks for the tips.

    Tough sometimes for guys after 30 to make friends,…I’ll give some of your ideas a try.

  6. Lizelle

    An absolute wonderful session – Guess I am going to clean the “friendship cupboard” so to speak. A real eye opener and I feel stronger already by just the thought of how I will no longer allow myself to be minimized. Thanks

  7. Giulio

    Hi Vanessa my name is Giulio from Italy (this means that you have to excuse me for my english ;))
    I don’t want to tell you too much compliments, only that you are fascinating and full of life and I like your name 🙂
    One curiosity: Do you have a work beyond this one, I intend how do you earn money to live?
    I want to ask you if you have studied or heard about EI emotional intelligence, I think this is in relation with your topics, and maybe you could make an article about it.
    Thanks for all your interesting course and best wishes
    Ciao

  8. Charlene

    Wow, what great advice. It is really hard to make friends as adults and you’re right in that nobody talks about it. The older you are the more important it is. With family spread all over the US we can’t expect our family to be our only friends.

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