From the first day of preschool to college graduation, we have direct access to people our age in similar circumstances as a network for friends. School doesn’t guarantee effortless friendships that fall into our laps, but it gives us a good starting point and pool of potential friends.
Enter adulthood. Those friendships you’ve spent the first couple decades of your life building and maintaining are hopefully still strong. But they might be long distance or plagued by differing schedules. Chances are, you’ve kept some, but are also likely to have drifted apart from some of the people who were more on the fringe of your social circle.
Making friends as an adult is no easy feat – and once you meet a potential friend it can be hard to know how to make that relationship blossom from a work colleague or casual acquaintance into a deep and lasting friendship. Maybe you’ve met someone new at work, the gym, or been on a few promising Bumble BFF “dates.” Now you’re asking yourself how to move from casual acquaintance to friend status and ultimately make a great friend. Here’s how to deepen new friendships as an adult.
When I was in first grade, I used to come home from school and call everyone in the class list until someone was free for a “play date.” I started at the top of the list and worked my way down. Is it a coincidence that my two closest childhood friends to this day were alphabetically at the top of the list and as a result the people I reached out to most often?
Proximity is a major factor that leads to feelings of closeness and deepening relationships. A great way to foster a friendship is to show interest in being around a person and then make it happen. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali argues that unlike first graders, “as we get older, we forget the skill of walking up to someone and asking them to hang out with us.”
As an adult you may want to steer clear of going through your work email list in alphabetical order, but if you want to see if you can bridge the gap from work BFF to real life BFF, ask them to hang out.
According to Osibodu-Onyali, “many people secretly want to make friends, but they’re too self-conscious to ask someone to join them in an activity.” Whether it’s going off site for lunch, grabbing happy hour drinks after work, or inviting them to do something on the weekend, showing interest is your first step toward deepening a friendship.
Hang out one-on-one
Group settings are great ways to meet new people in a low pressure environment. Whether it’s a group fitness class, volunteer group, after work happy hour, mutual friend’s party, or Meetup group, if you’ve met someone and feel like you’re clicking try testing that relationship out of the context of the group.
However, if you really want to deepen new friendships, spending time with someone one-on-one may foster closeness. Plus, it may give you a chance to get to know your potential new bestie and learn information they might not share with other people in your social circle.
Engage in common interests
If you’ve met someone through a mutual friend or online service and been on a couple good friend dates, you’ve likely talked about hobbies and interest and hopefully zeroed in on a few that you have in common. Take that new friendship out of the coffee shop and into the territory of your shared interest. Whether you both love volunteering, trivia, cooking, amusement parks, or yoga, make plans to do that activity together.
Talking about activities you both enjoy is great, but engaging in those activities together will bring you closer and deepen new friendships.
The power of vulnerability
It may feel weird to open up to somebody you just met, but vulnerability is a powerful tool for increasing feelings of closeness in new relationships. According to licensed psychotherapist Allison Duquette, “when we share something deep about ourselves with another human, we elicit an emotional connection, which release neurochemicals, which create a bond.”
When you want to try moving from small talk to medium talk with a new friend and deepen new friendships, test the waters by sharing something vulnerable and your new friend is likely to open up too. The trick is to keep things in the territory of medium talk before moving into the really deep stuff.
Duquette further speaks to this stating, “it is important to remember that there is a difference between sharing something appropriately vulnerable which creates connection, rather than sharing every trauma we have experienced all at once.”
Try bonding with your new friend about how challenging this week’s fitness class was, mild frustrations at work (be sure to keep it professional and avoid office gossip if this person is a coworker), or mutual stressful experiences before diving into your personal history and deep struggles.
Over time, if the friendship is beginning to deepen you should be able to increase that vulnerability. Your new friend will likely begin to reciprocate and be vulnerable as well and you can move into deeper topics, lean on each other when things are tough, and celebrate life’s highs together.