5 Ways to Make Friends as an Adult, According to Science

After college ends, or you leave your first job, or you have kids and get sucked into a three-year vortex wherein your closest social contact is with the lovely receptionist at your pediatrician’s office, we don’t find many opportunities to forge brand-new unbreakable bonds. So how do we go about discovering and strengthening social ties IRL? Thankfully, science has some advice.

a group of friends laughing together

Be a ‘Trampoline Listener’
Referring to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, self-help author Eric Barker notes that “being likable can be as easy as listening to people and asking them to tell you more.” So how do you become a better listener? Researchers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who analyzed data about business coaching for the Harvard Business Review, noted that listening is not just about silently nodding your head: “To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight." So, instead of thinking of yourself as a sounding board, try more for the trampoline metaphor: You’re not just providing supporting, you’re also giving back energy and height. Yep, go ahead and interrupt your prospective new friend—as long as whatever you say demonstrates you took in and got inspired by what they said.

two women on a coffee date

When You Offer Support, Be Specific
Whether it’s about a presentation your new bud is preparing for or a fear that their child will have separation anxiety, avoid advising with platitudes. (See: “You got this!” or “Aww, I’m sure she’ll be fine.”) Zero in on a detail instead: “It sounds like you really did your research on the topic. Since you’ve memorized your key talking points, I can tell you’re going to kill it.” Not only will doing so make the person feel closer to you, reports The Cut’s Cari Romm, referencing a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, but it will also make your new friend feel better. “They’re not the flashiest compliments, but they’re grounded ones,” Romm writes. “They’re based in facts. They’re steadying. And for someone awash in a sea of nerves, it’s a relief to have something to grab on to.”

Overshare…If You Dare
One study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology confirmed what anyone who overshares already instinctively knows: We like new friends better when they’re open books, “Positive associations were found between self-disclosure and the individual characteristics of self-esteem, relationship esteem…and responsiveness,” per the researchers. Psychology and Brain Sciences professor Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne on why oversharing works: “You assume that someone who discloses to you likes and trusts you,” she explains. However, you have to time your self-disclosure just right: too soon and you risk alienating your new friend, too late and you may miss the chance to connect. Aka, don't get weird too fast. 

two women at the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Invest in Casual Acquaintances
Don’t be so quick to walk away from water cooler conversation or phub the chatty Cathy in line at the coffee shop. “Even interacting with people with whom one has weak social ties has a meaningful influence on well-being,” reports The Atlantic, citing a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.  

Resurrect Your Zombies
Another gem from The Atlantic, courtesy of a study in Organization Science: “Reviving dormant social ties can be especially rewarding. Reconnected friends can quickly recapture much of the trust they previously built, while offering each other a dash of novelty drawn from whatever they’ve been up to in the meantime.” So go ahead and track down your study abroad roommate and neighbor from three apartments ago. Tell them Wasssssuuuuup? (They were your friends in 1999. They’ll get the reference.)