Highlight reel (TL;DR)
- To make friends, first and foremost, you need to put yourself out there.
- Cultivating friendships isn’t just about meeting new people. It also involves making an effort.
- Active listening is an essential part of attracting healthy friendships.
Making new friends is hard. Whether you’re an introvert who has a hard time with social interaction or you just moved somewhere new — it’s normal to feel lonely. Estimates suggest that almost 50 percent of American adults feel the same way.
“If I ask you what you think a human’s basic needs are in order to survive, you’ll probably tell me about nutrition, water, and shelter. However, something we don’t always consider is our need to belong,” says Anja Hess, clinical director at Wildwood Therapy, a feminist mental health clinic focusing on trauma recovery.
Research suggests that people need to spend around 50 hours together to develop friendships, while it likely takes more than 200 hours over at least 6 weeks to form a close friendship.
When you’re young, meeting these hourly thresholds is easy. You’re stuck with the same people in a classroom every day. But spending time with potential friends becomes more difficult as you get older.
There are ways to build genuine friendships and connections with others. Here’s how.
What is a healthy friendship?
“A healthy friendship is one that is characterized by mutual care, respect, trust, and openness,” says Erika Nye, a registered clinical counselor who started Connect Student Therapy because she struggled with mental health as a post-secondary student and wanted to help others going through what she did.
Nye points out five signs that you’re building a healthy friendship:
- honest and respectful communication, especially during conflict
- reciprocation, which doesn’t have to be exactly equal but should be balanced
- openness about each other’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences
- respect for differences in beliefs, values, and life decisions
- support for each other’s goals and successes
Another way to evaluate whether a relationship is healthy is to ask questions like you would in romantic relationships, says Laura Avila, a registered clinical counselor for Cala Counselling. Does this person add to your life, or do they tend to take energy from you? Do you feel safe and comfortable sharing things with them, or are you walking on eggshells?
This doesn’t mean you have to open up about everything in your life, but Avila says a healthy friendship should feel reciprocal and like a safe space to share as much as you feel comfortable.
Below are six tips to help you attract friends and maintain positive, healthy friendships — all backed by expert advice and peer-reviewed research.
How to attract friends
1. Put yourself out there
Getting involved in activities you enjoy is one way to put yourself out there.
Joining a club, taking a class, or volunteering are good ways to meet others who enjoy similar activities, ensuring built-in connection and conversation topics.
2. Show genuine interest through active listening
Active listening can help you create friendships because it allows you to get to know someone on a deeper level.
Showing that you’re actively listening and caring about what the other person has to say also helps create the reciprocity that Avila says is so important in healthy friendships.
To show that you’re listening, use cues like nodding your head and saying “mhmm” or “yeah.”
3. Look approachable
While Avila acknowledges that being on your phone can help reduce anxiety in stressful situations, she warns that it can make you appear unavailable and unapproachable.
“Maybe don’t wear your headphones one day, or if you’re waiting for someone in a space where you can actually talk to other people, then don’t be on your phone,” says Avila.
“You can take baby steps. You don’t need to go and approach someone right away, but in my experience, everyone’s in the same boat. Everyone’s looking for friends. And I think that people would actually be very grateful if someone approached them.”
3 tips for building healthy friendships
After you’ve put yourself out there, it takes work to build and maintain healthy friendships. Here are some tips for strengthening your connections.
1. Reach out, even if it’s stressful
You don’t always have to wait for others to make the first step, especially if they’ve already shown they enjoy your company and want to be around you.
Research also shows that adults who think friendships happen based on luck tend to be less socially active — and are therefore more lonely — than those who make an effort to show up to community groups and events.
2. Be yourself, be imperfect
Avila blames social media for the pressure to be perfect all the time. “I think that we’re so afraid of not being that perfect version of ourselves that we’re forgetting vulnerability and raw reality. Be willing to be imperfect.”
3. Communicate healthy boundaries
Open communication is important for maintaining healthy friendships. This involves being honest about your feelings and respectfully addressing conflict and issues when they arise.
While it may seem easier to avoid conflict, Nye warns that this can lead to resentment and even the end of a friendship. She stresses that it’s important to set boundaries and respect those set by others.
New friend red flags to watch out for
If your new friend isn’t respecting your boundaries, that’s a big red flag. Maybe they’re guilting you after you’ve said no to a request, for example.
“When we disclose a boundary with someone, we don’t actually owe them an explanation,” says Hess. “If someone asks you to justify your needs or wants, I recommend being curious about why they’re asking: do they want to understand you better, or do they want to argue against your reason?”
Another red flag is if they only seem to focus on themselves. Maybe your conversations always revolve around them, or they consistently cancel plans last minute — either way, it’s something to be on the lookout for.
The final word
Even if it’s hard to put yourself out there, social connections can help with mental and physical health. If you’re an introvert, putting yourself out there can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to jump in all at once. Take it one step at a time.
Hess recommends practicing being vulnerable and starting by asking others for help.
“Why not ask a classmate to hold your coffee while you sit down and see if that’s the beginning of a friendship?” she says. “Or, to maintain or build on an existing friendship, why not invite someone over to watch a movie next time you’re having a bad day?”
Bridget Stringer-Holden is a journalist in Vancouver, British Columbia. She's currently pursuing her Master of Journalism at the University of British Columbia as a recipient of the Vancouver Sun David Bains Scholarship, and she has bylines in Vancouver Magazine, Western Living, BC Business, Radio-Canada, Healthline, and the Capilano Courier. Bridget finds meaning in uplifting the voices of others.