Stop us if this sounds familiar: Once upon a time, you were a social guy who had not just one but a few distinct circles of friends. Work buddies. College friends. High school friends. You hung out on weekends, went on trips together, threw dinner parties, were maybe even in one another’s weddings. But as you got older those circles started to shrink. Kids came along. New jobs were acquired. People relocated. Life happened. It was never discussed, and there were no big going away parties. It was just sort of this natural thing. Now, those friends exist mostly in group text threads; maybe you see each other once in a blue moon. It’s a bummer, but it’s a part of life. So now you need to confront one of the more perplexing questions a modern man faces: How do I make friends as an adult?
Men are notoriously bad at making friends. Blame longstanding ideas of masculinity. While friendship is a fundamental human need, men are discouraged from learning the tools needed to maintain it. “We don’t model them, encourage them, or act like it’s normal,” says Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert who’s explored the intricacies of non-romantic relationships, in books, presentations and partnerships with such companies as Facebook.
This makes things hard. It also means we’re more likely to lean on our spouses. “Men have fewer friendships and less social support than women,” Dr. Will Courtenay, a psychotherapist and leading figure in the field of masculinity previously explained to Fatherly. This in turn makes many men turn to their partner or spouse for support. “When a man becomes a father — and his partner or spouse becomes a mother — he loses a lot of the support and attention he’s been used to getting from the one person he relies on the most.” An ideal situation this is not.
The truth of the matter is this: It’s crucial to recognize that friendship is a difficult but important thing to chase. We all need friends to lean on, to share with, to assist, to grab a beer with. And our kids need us to model what good friendships look like. The problem is, when we realize we need friends, we don’t know where to start. Luckily, with mindset adjustments, and small-but-important steps, you can make the connections you need. Here are some expert tips for making new friends as an adult.
1. Accept That You Need a Friend
“Acknowledge that friendship is a human need.” Nelson says. You need someone to talk and feel connected to besides just your wife. Otherwise, your mental wellbeing suffers and you likely put an unfair burden on your wife to be all things for you. It’s imperative to accept that and be comfortable with it.
It sounds obvious, but the first step to making friends is to admit you need to make friends. That can be difficult if you’ve been conditioned to associate emotional intimacy with weakness. “You need to give yourself ongoing permission that this is normal, this is healthy,” Nelson says.
2. Get Out of Your House (And Your Head)
You’re not going to meet new people in your living room binge-watching streaming service comedies and podcasts. Ted Lasso is a nice guy, sure, but he’s fictional. And while the Stuff You Should Know fellas are total chillers, they’re not your real friends. You’re locking yourself into what psychologists term a parasocial relationship, where people invest time, energy, and emotion into people who probably don’t know you exist. It feels comfortable in the moment but that feeling comes at the cost of more rewarding relationships in the future. “They don’t lead to how we ultimately want to feel, which is connected,” Nelson says.
3. Fish Where You Know Fish Are
People form bonds when they see each other regularly. At the earliest stages of making friends, that means gyms, churches, clubs, and other spaces where people routinely gather. This will entail some research into local events that are a good fit for you. Hop on Meetup. Hit up your area’s reddit page. Do some work. Dave Grammer, a Los Angeles therapist specializing in men’s mental health, recommends taking classes. “Stick around to try and chat with the other people in the class,” Grammer says. “It’s a bit awkward at first but the benefits far outweigh the anxiety.”
4. Give Yourself Permission to be Vulnerable
Men learn to avoid emotional intimacy outside of dating and marriage. “It’s a human need, but we have conditioned men to think that the only place that it’s safe for them to get intimate needs met is in romance,” Nelson says. “And so we don’t allow men to get some of their closer, more meaningful needs met, except for romantic relationships.”
Men, adds Grammer, are expected to power through whatever comes up and not be bothered by anything, thus talking to a male friend about being scared or hurt is discouraged. Overcoming the social taboo on talking about these emotions is the key to converting friendly acquaintances into real friends.
5. Reconnect with Old Buddies
If you’re lonely and can’t connect to new people, reach out to longtime pals you’ve fallen out of touch with. The stakes are lower than connecting with someone new. Even if the friendship doesn’t fully rekindle, it could help reduce anxiety about reaching out to potential new friends. Look at it like a friendship sparring match before the title card event of making a new friend.
6. Spot People who Share Your Quirky Interests
Hobbies are double-edged swords in relation to friendships. Often, they are solitary pursuits, involving hours of intense, happy concentration. But enjoyable as they are, they cut you off from the world. Unless, that is, you take advantage of them to connect you with people. If you’re passionate about a niche activity or subculture, be attuned to signs of it. That thing you love doing alone could be an easy connection with a new friend.
“I made a new close friend during the pandemic because when I was out with my kids and dog,” Grammar says. “I saw someone building a desk in their garage and just went to talk to them about it. I’m a hobbyist woodworker and it gave us a great starting point for conversations.”
7. Dial Down the Dominance
Thanks to social pressure to conform to gender roles, individual insecurities, life under late state stage capitalism and a book’s worth of other reasons, male introductions are driven by mutual needs to establish alpha status. Unfortunately, that chest thumping keeps friendships from forming. We want to be friends with people who make us feel good, not towel-snapping put-down artists and constant self-promoters. “Social science tells us that to be healthy we need five positive interactions for every negative interaction,” Nelson says.
8. Be Curious About People
When you meet people for the first time, are you trying to get to really know them or are you just trying to slot them into a category? An easy way to tell is how quickly you ask about their job. Christian Busch, New York University’s Global Economy Program Director and author of the book The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck, says that during introductions, asking people what they do isn’t enough. “Approach every person and every interaction with curiosity,” Busch says. “Everyone has a story to tell, and we have more overlaps with people than we think.”
Instead of prompting people to voice LinkedIn bullet points, Busch suggests asking questions like “What do you find most interesting?” “What inspires you about xyz or “Why did you get into xyz field?” that weave core interests about people into conversations. “There will be many ‘surprising’ overlaps once we discuss underlying passions and interests rather than surface-level jobs and positions,” Busch says.
9. Say ‘Yes’ More
Domestic comforts and inertia have powerful pulls, especially in a COVID world. It’s important to break free. When people invite us to go golfing, camping, paddle boarding, or to get a drink, it’s common to resist and only see the downside. Fight that instinct and say yes more often. Sure you might be tired the next day, but the upsides are worth it.
10. Pursue Things That Interest You
Michelle Wax, founder of American Happiness Project, says that building friendships is similar to dating. “It’s all about opening up your mind to new experiences in order to connect with new people.” That means, when engaging in new experiences, it may help to think of connecting with people as a secondary goal. “The key here is to attend events or become involved in organizations that are intriguing to you, so that no matter if you connect with someone or not, it’s adding value and fulfillment into your life,” Wax says. If everybody at your first cooking class is a wet blanket, you may have fallen so in love with sauteing that you’ll pursue it further, which will eventually lead to the sous chef you need by your side.
11. Be Tenacious About Hanging Out
Consistency, Neslon points out, is at the heart of meaningful friendships. If you’re only occasionally checking in with friends, you’re probably sharing only in a superficial way. You give a broad overview of life events without sharing aspects of each other’s interior lives. As a result, nothing of consequence happens in those interactions — neither person learns anything, reveals anything meaningful, or comes to a new conclusion. Work to be vulnerable and offer up insight into who you are. Those rich moments of friendship only occur when we see people often and not only become familiar with them but also grow comfortable with them.