Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships—with romantic partners, family members, coworkers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!
Q: No one tells you how lonely becoming an adult can be. I moved to a new city a couple years ago, and it’s been hard to stay in touch with my good friends back home. Even worse, all the new friends I’ve made here are either married or pretty much engaged. How exactly do you make new friends as an adult? —J.P.
A: I have many clients in my private practice who are going through the same thing as you, so you are not alone. I’ve even gone through this myself, so I’m happy to help from my own experience!
Creating friendships and connections is so important for health and longevity. We also know that oxytocin — the “bonding” hormone — gets released not only with affection or touch, but also when you’re having meaningful conversation with a friend. It feels good, soothes us, and makes us feel supported. After all, we are social creatures and we crave and need connection and belonging.
The first important step is to get yourself into situations where you are around other people who have similar interests as you. Try looking at a local events calendar to see if they have something that interests you, like cooking, dancing, concerts, photography, hiking, or activism and volunteering. This way you have the advantage of being around other people who have the same hobbies and passions as you, so you’ll already have something to talk about.
I also recommend checking out Meetup.com. This website connects people with similar interests specifically to help you make new friends. Some examples are a French conversation group, a kayaking group, a wine lovers group, a book club, or a writing group. Any interest you have, I’m sure you can find a meetup for it, and if you don’t see one that suits you, you could even start your own.
Once you are around people with common ground, the key to launching real friendships is to be interested in the other person. Many people make the mistake of trying to seem extremely interesting, but the key to making friends the other way around!
You can also use Bumble, which has a friendship matching section on their app (BumbleBFF). I find this is a really great way to gain access to a pool of people you would likely not come across otherwise, and so have some of my clients. You’re all looking for the same thing, which is to make new friends, so it’s definitely worth a shot!
As for me, when I moved to a new town about six years ago (and I had moved away from some of the best friends I have ever had), it was incredibly difficult. I was lonely, but I was also lucky to meet and connect with three other women who are also therapists. We created a monthly meeting to support each other in our work, and now we meet for dinner, go for walks, go to movies, and regularly socialize. That was all out of a shared experience with our profession. So, if you have access to a professional organization in your city, try to find out if there are any in-person meetings, social hours, or networking times. If you want, you can also try making friends with co-workers — just remember to respect professional boundaries.
Once you are around people with common ground, the key to launching real friendships is to be interested in the other person. Many people make the mistake of trying to seem extremely interesting, but the key to making friends the other way around! As research by The Gottman Institute indicates, it’s far more important to be interested in the other person. Ask your new friends some open-ended questions which, instead of yes-or-no responses, have stories for answers. You’ll learn more about them. The Gottman Institute has a free app called “Gottman Card Decks,” which includes an Open-Ended Questions deck. These are for romantic partners, but many of the questions can apply to friendships, too. Some of these questions include: Where would you like to travel? If you could design your perfect house, what would it look like? If you could live in any other country, which would you pick and why?
As you can see, these kinds of questions deepen conversation and spur it on, which really helps when trying to build friendships.
Once you’ve established an initial connection, you will have to put yourself out there by inviting people out for a hike, dinner, coffee, or other shared experiences. You might feel vulnerable, but that’s okay. Try saying something like, “You know, since I moved here, I’m really trying to make new friends. Would you want to grab coffee sometime?” People appreciate this kind of honesty and vulnerability, and if they’re interested, they’ll surely take you up on it. Good luck in your friendship search, and remember that trying hard at first will pay off in the long run.
More from Asking for a Friend here.