Let’s Demystify The Friend-Making Process
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re an open, curious human who is interested in developing real and meaningful connections with other humans (either that or you read my article on Vipassana meditation or Avicii and randomly wandered over here —welcome, get comfortable, and FYI we’re talking about adult friendships today!).
The friend-making process can be more challenging as an adult, when people can be quick to side eye you if you attempt to begin a conversation with a stranger or wonder what your motive is as you approach — Does this rando want to hit on me? Ask for money? Have me sign a petition to ban sporks?
Why is this, and what did we learn about making friends in the first place?
Let’s Rewind For A Minute (and Dig Up Embarrassing Old Pictures): Here’s My Awkward Friend-Making (and Losing) Journey To Date
I’ve outgrown a lot of friends in my life. When I was in elementary school, I thought that the best way to make new friends was to buy them things: Pencils from the pencil dispenser, Almond Joys during lunch time, and overpriced souvenirs on school field trips. It took me a long time to learn that you can’t buy friendships — and the ones that you can buy with money will leave you broke in both dollars and sense.
When I was in middle school, I thought that the best way to make new friends was… Wait. I didn’t really have any friends in middle school. I did, however, pretend to be a green-eyed white girl to catfish my crush and, after that plan went to hell, ate my lunch sitting alone in my math teacher’s classroom every day after that.
In high school, I became friends with fellow nerds. We all went to Matt Rudary’s house to have “homework parties,” which consisted of his mother bringing us red plastic baskets filled with Lays potato chips and us asking Matt how he got his answers to different physics and calculus questions and then copying then (he is now a software engineer at Google — thanks Matt!). The nerd culture was weirdly competitive, where we were lumped together by association but ultimately more frienemies than friends (anyone else who hasn’t repressed their high school memories feel me on this?).
My freshman year at the University of Michigan, I attempted to make friends by chameleon-ing into whatever whoever I was around was like. Oh, you like girls who are dumb? OMG I can barely spell! You go to church every Sunday? Sweet, Jesus is my homie! You like DMX? I love DMX! You like drinking? Sure, I’ll try it! You’re into water polo? No way, I was just about to join the coed water polo team!
For the record — I can spell, I’m spiritual not religious, I don’t like DMX, am totally not into drinking because I’m violently allergic to alcohol, and I could care less about water polo (yet spent a semester frantically splashing around attempting not to drown — water polo players are aggressive).
Long story short, bad shit went down at UMich and I transferred to Smith College for my junior and senior year.
At Smith College, I lived in Gardiner House with my fellow transfer students. We stuck together because everyone else at that point had settled comfortably into their cliques, thus forming friendships by necessity, proximity, and convenience.
I struck gold my senior year at Smith. A breakdancing expo was coming to town and I wanted to go watch the bboys break. I posted on The Daily Jolt, Smith College’s forum, asking if anyone had a video camera and wanted to go with me. One person responded. Her name was Jenny Ng, and she became my forever friend and chosen sister.
Jenny kept me alive during finals by bringing me food when I’d forgotten to eat due to cramming and last-minute paper writing. She made quality time for us to spend together, discovering each other’s quirks, interests, visions, and shared values. She challenged me to be a better version of myself while simultaneously being accepting, caring, and curious. She loved me exactly as I was. And she has for the 20+ years that have passed since then.
When I moved to Los Angeles after college, I fell in and out of different groups of friends.
I met one girl advertising on craigslist looking “to recreate SITC with 3 hot girlfriends” — the awkwardly cobbled-together crew collectively decided I’d be Miranda. I got tired of dressing up in stilettos to go the grocery store with them and peace-d out after a few weeks.
I started hanging out with a group of partiers who accepted me since my alcohol allergy resulted in my being a very reliable designated driver. Along with the alcohol flowed major drama, and at one point the group fractured because of something that someone said or did or didn’t like about someone else (pretty much how all drama works) and that was the end of that.
Another friend group was formed because we all matched in that moment, and over time we drifted apart. Just like love relationships, you can outgrow friend relationships. It isn’t good or bad, it just is — sometimes, things just don’t fit together anymore and it’s more suffering and struggling than it’s worth to try and keep it together.
After a LOT of trial and error (so very, very many errors — with important lessons in each and every one), I can say with confidence that I am grateful to have have developed some of the most extraordinary friendships with amazing humans around the world. Real friendships, with chosen family who are available for emergency calls at 3am, ready and able to call me out on my bs (and have theirs called out in kind), happy to give and receive feedback and support on dreams and passion projects, and who have beds ready for long weekend visits to San Francisco, Los Angeles, NYC, London, and beyond.
I believe that everyone is capable of developing real, meaningful, chosen-family friendships.
Which is why I sat down, broke down the process, and figured out the following steps to making amazing new friends as an adult of any age. I promise that following these steps will work whether you’re a college student, working professional in a new city, someone doing the work in your life to clear out toxic relationships and make space for healthy new friendships, or a senior hitting up your retirement home. It will take work, but it will be more than worth it. I promise.
Here’s A 6-Step Process To Making Amazing New Friends As An Adult
- Your vibe attracts your tribe — if you’re out in the world living your best life, doing what you love, and sharing it (yoga, art, entrepreneurship, dancing, music, fashion, personal growth work, creating pretty planner spreads, improv comedy, etc.), you will attract people who are passionate about doing the same. Having shared interests is a fantastic start to meeting new friends to build community with!
- Know and live in alignment with your values. Three qualities I am committed to embodying and require in anyone who I allow into my inner circle are: Integrity, the desire and ability to keep learning and growing, and joyful play and exploration. Get clear on what your core values are and get into alignment with them on a daily basis.
- Be someone who you want to be friends with. Go on friend dates with yourself! Learn to like and love your own company — would you want to hang out with a clone of you? If not, what would you want to work on so you would?
- Choose powerfully. If you let people pick you as a friend (or a partner!), then you can only choose from those who have chosen you. Your options multiply exponentially when YOU choose. If there’s someone who you’re drawn to, approach them! Reach out to them, tell them what you notice and appreciate about them, and ask them directly: “I love the way you’re living your life! I’m into [what’s resonating], too. Do you want to exchange info so we can get to know each other better as friends?” If you don’t know and ask for what you want in life, you likely won’t get it — if you know and go for it, there’s a much higher chance you will!
- Positively contribute to your community! Provide value and recognize the value in others. Commit to leaving people and places better than you found them, each and every time. Don’t be a taker or a matcher, be a giver (with good boundaries — and keep doing the work to set better boundaries so your giving feels nourishing, not draining).
- Follow up and follow through. Set a date and make a solid plan to meet up!
You are welcome to reach out to me if you are in need of support developing, repairing, or deepening friendships, love or romantic relationships, or healing your relationship with yourself first.
Here’s to creating real and meaningful friendships, community, connection, and love. ❤
FYI I wrote a children’s book for adults, dedicated to you! Click here to get your very own copy as a gift for yourself, for your inner child, or for a special little one in your life who you want to support and champion the dreams of.
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-Ivy Kwong LMFT, BareIvy.com