It kills to be lonely. Lacking good friends is roughly as damaging to your health as being obese or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to research from Brigham Young University. Another study showed people with at least three close buddies at work were 96% more likely to be “extremely satisfied” with their life.
Friends lower your stress, fend off depression, and serve a hundred other important functions. But plenty of people find themselves out of touch with their old friends (it was a lot easier to meet people in college), and without adequate replacements.
So how do you go about making a new pal? More importantly: How do you do it without being a weirdo?
1. Ask for referrals.
As in business, nothing beats a good referral. Translation: You’ll have more success meeting new buds if you’re introduced to them by existing friends or colleagues, explains Andrea Bonior, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix. Maybe one of your current pals gets together with coworkers for drinks once in a while, or a friend from work hangs out with some college cronies you’ve never met. If so, ask to join in. Just be upfront, and tell your current mate you’re trying to meet some new people, Bonior urges. (Otherwise it’ll be tough to shoehorn yourself into those outings without awkwardness.)
2. Find a new community.
Good friendships tend to form around shared experiences, similar interests, or both, Bonior says. That’s why work and school are such natural places to make acquaintances. (If you and another guy are in the same office or college, you already have one big thing in common, Bonior explains.) But if you need to meet people outside of those communities—say, you just moved to a new city—you need to find some new groups to join, Bonior stresses. She suggests making a list of your hobbies. Music? Sports? Movies? Whatever you’re passionate about, find some type of gathering that revolves around those interests, like open mic nights, intramural sports teams or CrossFit classes, film societies, and alumni mixers. “Follow your own interests, and you’re bound to meet people like yourself,” Bonior says.
3. Put in the work.
It’s nearly impossible to form a bond when you’ve only just met someone. Friendship researchers call this “the exposure effect,” or the idea that merely being exposed to someone over and over again breeds familiarity and affinity. This exposure effect is another reason regular group get-togethers are ideal friend-forming scenarios. So you shouldn’t try to latch-on to a new buddy until you and he have run into each other and chatted at least three or four times, Bonior stresses.
Also important: showing up. Sitting on your couch and watching TV may seem a lot more enticing than heading across town to that happy hour. But if you want to meet new people, you have to make the most of every opportunity, says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.
4. Ask questions—and remember the answers.
It’s one thing to make conversation with strangers, but another to turn them into friends, Bonior explains. How do you do it? You need to follow up and build on the topics you’ve talked about, she advises. “Try to get past small talk to shared hobbies by asking if he’s seen a popular show you like, or watches a sports team you follow. Or maybe just ask him what he’s been up to, and hope for areas of overlapping interest.”
Above all else, remember what he told you, Bonior stresses. “If you aren’t paying attention and following up the next time on the things he said, you won’t garner any interest in return.”
5. Go for broke.
You’ve gabbed with the guy a few times, and you feel like he could be a buddy. Now the really awkward part: proposing a meet-up outside of wherever you two normally run into each other. Again, group settings like bars will feel less threatening than a one-on-one situation, Bonior says. Try planning a barbeque or bar night with some other people you know, and invite your new acquaintance to join in.
If that’s not an option, here’s a last-ditch idea: Buy two tickets to a game or concert—something you and your prospective pal are both interested in that’s happening soon. Then tell the guy you got the tickets for free and can’t find a tag-along on such short notice. “This kind of accident of chance is a good way to arrange that first real outing,” Bonior promises.