Micro guide to making friends as an adult

How can I identify environments that are conducive to finding new friends? How many hours does it take to form a close friendship?

Micro guide to making friends as an adult
NY Central Park / Kodak Portra 120mm
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It should go without saying, but never approach a person with the goal of making them your friend. This is socially awkward, and your strategy will likely backfire. Your aim should be to put yourself in situations that are conducive to making friends. Friendships will naturally happen or they won't.

When and where did you form your longest lasting and closest friendships? Probably in school, right? Why was it easier then and there?

  1. School was a place where you were surrounded by people who were in a similar phase of life doing similar things.
  2. You spent a lot of hours with the people described in reason #1

That's all you really need to know. Those two insights are enough to help you make new friends as an adult.

Connect with people who are in a similar phase of life doing similar things

If you want to identify environments that are conducive to finding new friends, ask yourself the following questions:

Q. Am I likely to find myself around people in a similar phase of life?

  • Am I likely to find myself around people similar in age to me or quite different?
  • Am I likely to find myself around people who have lived in my city the same length of time as I have? If you are new to your city, this is usually important.
  • Am I likely to find myself around people who are single or who have been married for years?
  • Am I likely to find myself around people who do not have kids or lots of parents with small children?
  • Am I likely to find myself around people who are just starting out in their chosen career field or who are senior leaders in it?

Q. Am I likely to find myself around people doing similar things?

  • Am I likely to find myself with people who do the same leisure activities? Will I meet other people who love to try new restaurants or dance or play boardgames? Will I meet people who enjoy going to sporting events or playing the sports that I like or are as excited about outdoor recreation as I am?
  • Am I likely to find myself with other people who understand and care about what I do at work?
  • Am I likely to find myself with members of the same religious or non-religious community?

Avoid being highly selective when it comes to screening environments based on the anticipated phase of life of the people you will run into, but don't ignore this factor. The opportunity costs are real. Prioritize environments where it is most likely that friendships will take root and grow.

Expect to spend a lot of hours with other people

If you are trying to expand your friend network and it feels challenging, you are likely not spending enough time with other people. Forming new friendships often requires a massive time commitment. This is an important expectation to set for yourself. It is not enough to just meet people who are in a similar phase of life doing similar things. You must spend hours with them – many hours.

How many hours, exactly?

The results of a study by Dr. Jeffrey Hall of the University of Kansas suggest the following:

  1. 50 hours can move you from acquaintance to "casual friend"
  2. 90 hours can move you to "friends"
  3. 200 hours can move you to "close friends"

Unfortunately, for many of us, spending 100-200 hours with people in a similar phase of life doing similar things is not as easy as it once was.

When you were a kid, everything was simpler.

"In high school, I sat around playing hearts with the same four guys about five days a week. In four years, we probably racked up 700 group hangouts." – "The Tail End" by Tim Urban

Now that you're an adult and all of your peers are adults, it's highly unlikely you will find multiple people who want to play hearts – or do any activity – five days a week. You and everyone you know are loaded down with responsibilities and obligations.

But what if you somehow manage to make time for an hourly Meetup or class once a week? Is that enough of a time commitment to build new friendships? Probably not. If you only meet once a week for 60 minutes, you will spend a maximum of 52 hours a year with that group of people. And, in reality, you and the other group members will miss some – probably many – of these weekly events. This does not mean that Meetups or classes aren't worth attending, just keep in mind that you need to spend a significant amount of time with these people outside of the regularly scheduled programming before they are likely to become good friends.

In general, there are two approaches to getting in the hours you need to build new friendships:

  1. Distributed approach – Spend 10+ hours each month with the same people. This can be as simple as inviting friends of friends, people you run into locally, or coworkers to coffee, brunch, a group picnic, a dinner, etc. Get creative.
  2. All-at-once approach – Spend multiple days or weeks in a row with the same people. This can be a multi-day or multi-week in-person training course, retreat, vacation, volunteer program, etc.

Before you spend a huge amount of time with a new group of people, ask yourself if they are in a similar phase of life doing similar things. This is how you recreate those optimal friend-building conditions you might have experienced as a kid.

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Remember – this guide is just a compass. Don't take it too seriously, or you will miss out on meeting and becoming friends with wonderful people :)