Friendships can come and go, ebb and flow, and, as we age, some can disappear altogether. While technology does make staying in touch (however loosely) easier, digital friendships can’t fully replace old-school, face-to-face time. While real friendships may require a little more effort, their benefits to physical and emotional health are legion, so never underestimate their importance – and keep in mind that it’s never too late to make new friends.
No time to make new friends? Well then, isolate at your peril. It’s said that at least 20 percent of people struggle with too much alone time, and a third of Americans over 40 say they are lonely – and that loneliness can have a considerable negative impact on health. True social engagement and good friendships have been shown to boost optimism and a sense of connection. Knowing that someone has your back can actually help you live longer and more healthfully, so find time to make and maintain those connections, even if you are a busy, responsibility-laden person (and who isn’t these days!).
OK, so, maybe we all get that genuine and lasting friendships are a key part of a fulfilling life, but where to start? Maybe you’ve forgotten how to kindle a friendship or perhaps your skills have gotten a little rusty, but you’re open to expanding your friendship bandwidth. The first step? Try one (or more!) of the following friendship-igniting tips and watch your social circle — and your health – grow:
Get out there.
As the old song goes, ‘what good it sitting alone in your room?’ In other words, get out there. This may include going to an event, participating in a group activity like a 5K race or school fund-raiser, striking up a conversation with someone intriguing, renewing a friendship that may have faded, or following up on a new one.
Yup, there’s an app for that.
You can use the digital world as a way into new friendships by trying a “friend dating” app that enables you to connect with potential platonic pals through the friend features. Word to the wise though: we all spend far too much time online as it is, so don’t think of apps as the only way to make connections; think of them more as a supplement.
If you feel a connection with someone, take it to the next level. Extend an invitation. Ask them to join you at a group activity like a workout or an outdoor concert, a night of bowling, anything you like to get the ball rolling. Depending on how it goes, you can determine if you wish to extend more invitations for smaller get-togethers like coffee or dinner dates. If it’s a good fit, everybody wins.
Be a little forward and follow up.
When you meet someone you like, capitalize on the momentum. Follow up relatively soon after the initial meeting, while the connection is fresh in both of your minds and extend an invitation or have a follow-up conversation. Yes, it may remind you a bit of dating, and that’s because it kind of is, with potentially a meaningful relationship as the payoff!
Just say yes and mean it.
If someone invites you out, say yes! The more people you meet along the way, the better. Think about every invitation as an opportunity to expand your circle. Friendships don’t happen while you’re watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram – they happen when you’re out having real experiences with real people.
Step out from behind the curtain of small talk.
Small talk only goes so far. Sure it’s great at a cocktail party but eventually, if you want to spark meaningful conversation, know when it’s time to trade generic questions like “What do you do?” for ones that ask people to think a little more deeply, like “What do you care about?”
Become a stellar listener. Trust and intimacy grow from feeling heard. When a new friend speaks, really listen and over time, hopefully they will do the same for you!
Go on adventures together.
Shared experiences are deeply bonding, especially when they involve challenges. Even if the challenges are modest, planning a special day or activity and actually doing it is a great way to create the beginnings of a shared history.
Find a common interest and community.
Many friendships are born from yoga studios and gym classes. The website Atletosports.com connects you to other athletes looking to play a sport or do an activity. Show up regularly to a studio, match, or trail, and you’re bound to connect with others.
Maybe your pet can make the intros for you! MeetMyDogapp.com helps you and your dog socialize together—ball chasing for the pets, a chat for the owners — so both of you can boost your social lives and make new friends.
Don’t take things personally.
Rejection is part of the process, so don’t let it bruise your ego. Remember, just like dating, not every person who comes along will be the right fit. If a potential new friend declines an invitation, don’t hold it against them. It doesn’t mean you’re not a fantastic person. More likely it means that person does not have the space or ability to cultivate a new relationship right now. But who knows, down the line, their circumstances may change, and they may reach out. If and when that happens, welcome them with open arms.