Is the 3:6 Rule the Secret to Making Friends as an Adult?

I was hardly ever what you would call popular. People who attend Shakespeare camp rarely are. But in my teens and 20s, I always had a robust group of friends who shared my weirdness in differing ways. There were the misfit backstage theater kids in high school. There was the thick-as-thieves college group that wouldn’t dream of not traveling as a pack each Friday and Saturday night. There were the early career book publishing besties who, to this day, text each other upwards of 20 times an hour. But somewhere in the mix of having kids and becoming a boss myself, I stopped making the friendships that had felt so effortless in my younger years.

The difficulty of forming friendships in one’s 30s and 40s is not unique to me. As reported by The Atlantic, “the average age at which we meet our best friends is 21—a stage when we’re not only bonding over formative new experiences such as first love and first heartbreak, but also growing more discerning about whom we befriend.” Then, as our time becomes less available and our lives more complicated, “we tend to end up with less of ourselves to give.”

This isn’t to say I don’t regularly meet women (and, OK, the occasional man) whom I want to befriend. I’m constantly finding myself in a conversation on the playground with another parent and thinking, “I could actually be friends with this person!” And sometimes I even get as far as setting up a coffee date. But then it never leads anywhere. I can’t seal the deal.

The problem, says my friend (a dear one, from my early career book publishing group), is that I’m not employing the 3:6 rule. The 3:6 rule—which I don’t expect you to have heard of; my friend is fairly sure she made it up during one particularly isolating maternity leave—is the dictum that, upon identifying a new friend, you need to have three meaningful interactions with them over the course of six weeks, and at least two of those interactions have to be IRL.

So, let’s say you meet a hip-as-hell fellow gardener in your Pilates class and exchange numbers. Interaction one could be impromptu smoothies after class one week. Interaction two could be a flurry of DMs about the best spring perennials to plant. Interaction three could be a planned trip to the botanical garden to see the cherry blossoms. Bottom line: If they all happen within a six-week period, you have solidly entered the friend zone.

Neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind Dr. Sanam Hafeez agrees that this type of frequency is what forges a new relationship. “Ideally, if you can get together once a week for the first two months and spend the time in different settings such as dinner, a movie, a gym class,” she says, “you will be able to see many different facets of that person and understand what makes them tick.” But most importantly, she maintains, it’s about “consistency of in-person contact, phone or other communication.”

I recently tried the 3:6 approach with one of my son’s classmate’s moms who is cool, sarcastic, well-read and just as creepily into real estate stalking as I am. On week one, we found ourselves chatting over a kickball game with the boys at the blacktop. On week three, we went deep via text into the house on my block that just went on the market. (Is there parquet under that wall-to-wall carpeting? We think there’s parquet.) On week four, my husband and I invited her entire family for dinner, which turned into the kids playing wildly in the basement while the adults lingered over wine and Moroccan chicken. It felt natural. It felt easy. It felt like we were truly, on-the-same-page-about-it friends.

It's too soon to tell if this 3:6 rule is the solve to making lasting friendships in adulthood. My new pal and I have since texted regularly, and we’ve got a tentative lunch on the books, but we've yet to hang out since dinner three weeks ago. Still, I have to think that my commitment to consistency has to increase the odds. After all, I may be past the point in life when effortless friendships simply materialize. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with putting in a little effort.

jillian quint

Editor-in-Chief, Avid Reader, Wallpaper Enthusiast

Jillian Quint is the Editor-in-Chief of PureWow, where she oversees the editorial staff and all the fabulous content you read every day. Jillian began her career as a book editor...