Making friends as an adult is a challenge. And with both of my post-college moves (first to San Francisco, then to Bombay), I chose to pursue the development of deep friendships with great intentionality. First, because it drives a huge amount of my happiness. Second, because it doesn’t happen as organically ‘in the real world’ as it used to in college. Third, because I experienced pretty crushing loneliness after both moves. The move to Mumbai, a city halfway across the world from my family, was an especially tough transition.
Whether you have a million close friends (good for you, asshole! wait…should I not be calling people assholes if I want to make friends?) or none at all, whether you move cities every couple of months or never at all, we could all benefit from increasing the number and quality of our close relationships. Here are some principles I try and implement in my own life.
#1 — Ditch the Ego
Be humble. No one has to be your friend. Most people, especially by their twenties, have enough close friends that they aren’t in the bazaar shopping around for any more. So standing in the corner at a party is a profoundly futile thing to do. When I moved to Mumbai, it became quickly apparent that the onus was on me to make friends. I mostly stood in rooms with people who had grown up and gone to school together — of course none of them needed to talk to me! If I was going to make a friend in rooms like these, it would be my job to put in the effort to say hi, exchange numbers, and make the initial plan. While very humbling, this experience was also profoundly freeing, and emboldened me to ‘aggressively friendmake’ in a way I would never have allowed myself to do otherwise.
#2 — Show Up
I love Alessia Cara’s hit song “Here” as much as anyone else, but it’s pretty much the worst thing to listen to if you’re trying to make friends. She plaintively croons:
I would rather be at home all by myself not in this room
With people who don’t even care about my well being
Cheer up, Alessia! Okay, fine, so they don’t care about your well being….yet. But why should they? They don’t even know you!
You’re tired and you’ve had a long week, but if you’ve been invited to a plan, GO. You never know who you’ll meet, and you can always go home if it sucks. They’re only strangers because you haven’t bothered to get to know them.
#3 — Add Value
We all know that person who is just sort of…bleh. There’s nothing wrong with this person, in fact he/she is quite inoffensive, but he/she’s presence doesn’t add anything to proceedings. Operating under the assumption that most people are cool, they are likely not actually bleh, and instead profoundly inhibited, but that is another matter. Try not to be this person. You have something to offer; maybe you’re extraordinarily witty, or funny, or kind, or supportive, or thoughtful, or intellectual. Whatever it is, it’s a gift, and you should use it to be as good a friend as you can be.
Friendships are like muscles in that they require the occasional heavy lifting session to stay strong. One of my best friends always picks me up from the airport when I visit. Another writes witty birthday poems for his close friends. Yet another picks up phone calls no matter the time. These gestures touch my heart and make these friends irreplaceable to me. I’ve started writing emails of appreciation at points of transition in my life, and they’ve been well received. If these sound like things you would only do for a family member or significant other, it’s only because we abnormally restrict that level of care and draw the circles of our family too narrowly.
Even Paulie from Juno wasn’t born cool! He “tr[ies] really hard, actually.”
#4 — Be Vulnerable
The tipping point in all of my friendships — the point at which I know that we are really, truly, friends — usually involves a 1:1 conversation in which significant personal information is exchanged. Fundamentally, we undertake risk by sharing sensitive information, and in doing so signify a level of trust in the other person. This fosters a sense of intimacy.
With some friends, this conversation happens instantly. With others, it’s taken months. I’m not suggesting you open up to another human being willy nilly. Friendships unfold at their own pace. But I would suggest that you have a ‘real’ conversation, whatever that means to you, as quickly as possible.
#5 — Recognize When You’ve Made Friends! And Then Chill Out
“You have so many friends.”
The first few times I heard a variant of this, often from close friends I made during my year in Bombay, I reacted with a mix of disbelief and not-so-veiled hostility. These people were either facetious or mistaken. I knew myself to be introverted and socially awkward, with zero friends in Bombay. But eventually, I heard this from enough people that I reluctantly conceded that maybe it was I who was wrong. Furthermore, it was downright obnoxious of me to act like a friendless damsel-in-distress when, after a point, I clearly had great friends to support me.
Happiness should have been the natural reaction to these comments. Developing strong relationships was very much an outcome I had worked towards. But strangely, it is sometimes easier to admit you have a ‘problem’ and take steps to fix it than it is to admit that the problem has been fixed. To let go of your slightly victimized conception of who you were (in this case, an unestablished entrant to a city, shy to boot) and accept the empowered person you have become. Let yourself recognize when you’ve made friends, and be proud. Congratulations! You did it.