Making friends used to be so easy. It happened after you swapped your PB&J sandwich for her tuna fish, or maybe when you shared a bunk at summer camp. In college, you might have commiserated about your crazy roommates or met when you rushed your sorority.
Now, in the land of grown-upsville, everyone seems to have their social circles solidified and significant others locked down, and making new friends is a lot trickier than hitting “accept” on your Facebook page.
“When we’re young, we’re lumped together in classes or sports and we’re having shared experiences that naturally bond us together,” says Alyson Lanier, a relationship coach in Tampa Bay, Florida. “Then we get older, and getting married and having children influence where our time and energy goes,” she adds. Toss into the mix long hours at the office, sneaking in some gym time after work, and plowing through DVR’d episodes of The Bachelor and Homeland, and it’s easy to see how we just don’t have the same kind of opportunities to meet new people as we used to.
But there are a few tried-and-true ways to make new friends when you’re an adult. Whether you’ve moved to a new town and need to find a new posse or you’re just looking to expand your go-to group of pals, here’s how to grow your social circle now.
Make yourself happy. It sounds counterintuitive, but the happier you are, the more self-confident you’ll be—and the more people will be drawn to your seriously good vibe. “Wear clothes that make you feel beautiful as opposed to what you think guys might like to see you in, eat foods that nourish you, fill your space and put yourself in places that inspire you,” says Lanier. “If you do this, you’ll engender authenticity, curiosity, and open-heartedness—and you will attract the friends you want without feeling like you’re trying.”
Join (or start) a club. If you love to cook, throw a monthly potluck where you ask friends and co-workers to each bring a dish and a friend. Or sign up for a 10K or triathlon and train with a running or tri club. You could even volunteer for a local mentoring program or at a women’s shelter. The key here is making sure you’re doing something that you actually want to do. “If you join a group or take up a cause, make sure it’s one that you find personally fulfilling,” says Nadine Briggs, author of How to Make and Keep Friends. “Try new things with the idea of living life to the fullest, rather than being on a mission to find new friends.”
Ditch your phone. When you’re waiting to meet someone at the bar, resist the urge to scroll through your Instagram feed. Also, stop texting when you’re waiting in line at H&M or sitting on a train. The more eye contact you make with people, the more likely you’ll be to interact with them. Keep in mind that friendships can develop as a result of simply saying “hello.”
Be gutsy. Even though your ideal way to meet someone might be to naturally strike up a conversation at a cocktail party, sometimes you’re going to have to work up a little more chutzpah and be direct with someone. “When I moved to a new city, I’d actually walk up to women who seemed cool and say, ‘You seem cool. Want to grab a coffee sometime?’” says Lanier. Sure, doing that can be a little scary. But what’s the worst that can happen? She says no and you instantly learn that she’s not as cool as you thought she’d be—and you never see her again.
Get a dog. OK, this tip is admittedly not going to work for everyone. But if you’ve wanted a dog and have the time, space, and bucks to take care of one, a pooch can be a great way to meet new people. You’ll strike up all kinds of conversations with strangers who ask your pup’s name or tell you he’s cute. There’s also the dog park, where you’re bound to meet other people who share your love of four-legged friends.