The benefits of having friends are considerable. Having friends is an important predictor of happiness and life satisfaction. Both the number of social contacts but more so the quality of those interactions early in life predict loneliness, well-being, and even sad moods up to three decades later. However, making friends is a challenge. It takes time and effort. Research shows that North Americans typically spend just 41 min a day socializing — one-third of the amount of time that is spent entertaining ourselves, watching TV or commuting to school or work.
Types of friendships
Researchers have identified several different types of relationships that count more or less as friends – acquaintences, social friends (i.e., bowling buddies), confidants and allies.
Acquaintances. Most people have a number of people in their lives that they may regularly see at work or school but who you be unlikely to see outside of work. You might consider these individuals are ‘friends’ but the are best considered acquaintances. These ‘friendships’ are contingent on their location – usually school or work. When thinking about how many acquaintances you have, ask yourself if you would see them at all outside of work or if you would stay in touch if you no longer were at work.
Still, don’t underestimate the importance of acquaintances. These are the people that make your school or workday more enjoyable, and they can all become more than just acquaintances if you wish.
Social friends. Social friends are the people you hang out with and do things with. You may hike, watch sports, or go to a movie. They are more than acquaintances. Spending time with them does not depend on being at work or school but relies more on an activity to get you together. These are bowling buddies. You don’t necessarily share deep thoughts or dark secrets. They are an important part of your well-being. They give you an opportunity to destress, laugh enjoy someone’s company.
Confidants. These are the people in your life you can turn to for advice and assurance when things don’t go well. These are the friends that you can say anything to. Trust that they will take your side and value you as a person no matter what happens. Confidants are rare. But you don’t need many of them. Confidants are built by sharing thoughts and worries, setbacks and dreams with a social friend, who shares the same with you, that you can trust and who can trust you.
Allies. These are the people in your life, whether at school or at work, who provide you with some kind of advantage benefit. At school, these are your study partners. You work together towards a shared goal and benefit from each other’s knowledge, expertise or skill. In the workplace, it is who you turn to for help and who will ask you for help. These friendships are based on an exchange of some goods. Goods can be anything. If you are in the book business, it is a book that you are promoting that you would like someone else to read or even publish. If you are in the real estate business, then it is a property that you would like sold or developed. If you are in the business of promoting people, then it is a person that you would like your friend or ally to meet because that person is likely to be of value to them.
All in one.
Sometimes, people can be all kinds of friends. You may have a friend that you socialize with but with whom you can confide. This friend may also be an ally helping you to find a job but also someone you help to locate new hires in their workplace.
Why do we make friends?
Psychologists and evolutionary theorists have argued that most (if not all) humans have a basic fundamental need to be with others and belong to a group. Biologically we are a social species. Forming small groups, whether they are groups of acquaintances, social groups, close friends or allies, all serve the same purpose to fulfill this fundamental lead to be with others and to belong. Most, if not all, of us feel loneliness when not able to spend some time with a group of others. These need to belong with others and the loneliness that arises after a period of time not being in a group, drive us to spend time with others. Making friends of any kind is the activity that allows us to meet these fundamental needs. Some of us, a very small number of us, don’t need a large number of friends. But still need one or two.
How many friends can you make and maintain?
The social brain hypothesis, promoted by evolutionary psychologists, predicts that there is an upper limit to the number of people with whom we maintain close, face-to-face relationships (Dunbar, 2010, p. 24). This research argues that our brains can recognize and recall information, prior interactions and interrelationships among no more than 150 individuals. They argue that this limit is an emergent property of the manner in which our brain is structured. That’s an upper limit, and not all of those 150 individuals could result in friendships that can be maintained. But it does suggest that there is an upper limit. More importantly, the number of friends we can make and maintain will be limited by the amount of available time in our days for the activities that are needed to maintain friendships. Time is a scarce resource. Making friends takes time. Maintaining friendships even more.
How long does it take for a friendship to form?
Relatively little is known about how long it takes for friendships to form. A small number of longitudinal studies of friendship development suggests that the development of friendships can happen quickly, usually within 3–9 weeks after meeting (Hays, 1984, 1985). More time may be required for close friendships to develop,; typically three to four months (Saramaki et al., 2014; van Duijn et al., 2003). But the time needed to form friendships can vary dramatically depending on how a person’s time is allocated. Spending more time with acquaintances who are not yet friends leaves less time for fostering close friendships.
Research has suggested that a person described as an acquaintance can emerge in one hour; but that casual friendships emerge around 30 hr of time spent together. Beginning friendships emerge after spending around 50 hours together; good friendships begin to emerge after 140 hours, but the best friendships do not emerge until after 300 hr of time spent with one another.
Although spending time together is essential, research has also shown that how that time is spent is equally important. An intensive program of research conducted in 2017 by two psychologists Hall and Davis showed that time spent with others filled with just small talk (e.g., just talking about current events to pass the time, talking about pets, sports, TV/music/movies) was not related to the development of friendships, but conversations and activities fostered a bond or sense of belongingness did.
Here are a few examples of what predicted the formation of friendships.
- Talking about events in your lives that have occurred since you last saw each other
- Talking about what happened to you during your day
Discussing serious topics that get you both involved in the conversation
- Engaging in activities that are fun or that allow you to release some tension (e.g., vent, or blow off some steam)
- Talk in ways that express your admiration (e.g., “you killed it, that was so well done”), gratitude (e.g., “thanks for backing me up on this”) or affection (e.g., “doing that (with you) was a blast”).
Why would anyone say yes to me?
As difficult as all of this may feel, keep in mind that the majority of people are looking for friends – not just acquaintances and people to hang out with but friends and allies. Most people want what you want – more people in their lives. For this reason, most people (but certainly not all), will want to spend time with others, including you. You do have to find people that you feel comfortable with, which means spending a lot of time talking to people and getting to know people.
Take the pressure off
If you start feeling the pressure to make friends, you will start worrying about whether or not every person you meet will become a friend. That’s a lot of pressure that can stress you out and the other person. That’s not how this works. You need to find a few people that you are comfortable with. But that means meeting a lot of people. You are better off adopting the mindset of just “meeting people.” Meet as many people as you can for the sake of meeting people – rather than trying to make friends. If you go about it this way, you will meet a lot of people, many of whom will be sort of interesting but not really who you feel comfortable with.
But in the midst of all of that, there will be a couple of people with whom you click. These will, over time, become friends.
Six things to do to make friends.
Whether you are trying to start an acquaintance, form a friendship, or foster an alliance, there are several things to keep in mind.
1. Be approachable
Whether it is an acquaintance, friendship alliance, you will need to start talking to others. First impressions can determine whether or not a person will communicate with you at all. That means be approachable. And the key to being approachable is your facial expression. If you look sad, bored, irritable or lifeless, no one is going to talk to you. A smile is the key to being approachable. If you’re not sure about that, take half an hour at lunch and go for a walk with a smile on your face and count the number of people who smiled back. A smile is infectious.
If you’re standing in line with others, a short “Hey, how are you doing” can start a conversation. Click here for more information on how to start and maintain a conversation.
What’s your barrier to making friends?
There are a lot of different reasons why making friends may be difficult. Identifying your hurdles is the first step to overcoming the difficulties that some many people face in trying to make new friends.
Get started on making more friends?
Our worksheet will walk you through all of the best strategies on how to make friends.
2. Do stuff and get involved
One of the best ways to make new friends is to meet people through an activity. It doesn’t really matter what that activity is, so long as it lends itself to meeting other people. If you want to meet people at work, then look for activities at work that you can join. It might be a walk at lunch, a fitness activity after hours, or a volunteer group sponsored by your employer. Outside of work, there are hundreds and hundreds of meetups located in cities everywhere. Just google “meetup” and find something that interests you. Meeting people that can become more than acquaintances is a numbers game. You need to meet a lot of people, start some conversations and see if friendship can emerge.
It can be easier to meet people and talk to others about an activity that interests you. If you like to cycle and you join a cycling club, then the conversations are a bit easier. It’s all about the bikes. But you don’t have to have a shared interest. In fact, the activity usually is just an excuse to get together. There are lots of book clubs in which the books don’t get the stuff discussed that much because, deep down, it’s not really about the books. It’s about meeting people, and that’s OK.
3. Don’t wait for others.
If you don’t have activities planned where you can meet people or you’re not meeting as many people as you would like, you can and probably should let other people know that you’re open to doing stuff. That can feel really hard, and it can be, at times, downright anxiety provoking. But, if you keep in mind that most people are looking for this, then there’s a very, very good chance that someone will take you up on your offer.
To make it a bit easier, pick an activity, and invite others. You might say something like this when you are in class or even in a meeting.
The weekend is supposed to be really, really nice. I don’t have any plans, so I thought I would try some kayaking. I’ve never really done this before, but it sounds like a lot of fun. I was wondering if anyone else we like to give it a go. If you think you might like to try it out or even help me out, let me know. More the better. Here’s my cell number or e-mail address.
Now there’s always a chance that someone is going to say no to this. But if you set it up like this. The worst that’s going to happen is that people won’t reply. That means no one really turns you down. And you don’t really put anybody on the spot. You leave them your number. They contact you. By adding in the idea that you’ve never really done it before lowers everyone’s expectations. It sends the message that you don’t even have to be very good at it.
4.1 You will need to work at it : Checking in
One of the most important predictors of long-term friendships is that friends spend time checking in and following up. If you met somebody at school or at work and you’ve done anything together, follow up. Fostering friendships is and requires an investment of time. That means spending a bit of time each week checking in with people sending texts just asking hey, how are you doing. At times it may feel like work, and it is. But it’s not that time-consuming when you think about it. At the end of a very, very tiring week, it may feel like you have no time to text a friend or two. But you do. If you’re super busy, make it a priority, get it done at the beginning of the day. Spending time checking in on friends is one of the strongest predictors of lasting friendships. If you want friends to check in, follow up.
4.2 You will need to work at it : Follow up
It’s important to let people know that you had a good time. That means taking a moment to let the other person know that you enjoyed yourself. You might say this was a lot of fun, but I could do that again. If you were invited, you might say thanks again for including me had a good time getting to know all of you more.
4.3 You will need to work at it : Creating opportunities to check in and follow-up
Maintaining friendships is about creating opportunities to check in and follow up. There are lots of opportunities that can be used to send text or e-mail. If someone you know has a birthday, you might say something like just wishing you a happy birthday, and I hope you have had a great day. If you want to grow that friendship, you might actually offer a little bit more information and tell them something more about how you have been doing or how you’ll spend the day. You can read more about how important sharing information is by checking out our page on how to have conversations. Sharing something personal about yourself or how your day’s been going is one of the important parts of building friendships. If you don’t know the person very, very well, then keep it light. It can still be personal. If you are a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, then you might share something about the Leafs.
There are lots of opportunities. Whether it’s the new year or a birthday, St. Patrick’s Day, Earth Day, Canada Day, or any other holiday, these are all opportunities to check in with your friends. Of course, you don’t need to have a holiday to reach out, but if you’re looking for an opportunity to restart a friendship. Linking it to an existing holiday may make it easier. ,
5. Say yes to invitations even if you do not want to.
One of the most important things that you can do when trying to make new friends is to say yes to every opportunity and every invitation — even the ones that you may not want to go to. Keep in mind, it’s never about the activity. It’s just about who you might meet.
Too often, people tell themselves that they’re not going to have any fun, it won’t be that interesting, or not going to be worth the effort. But the goal here is to increase your chances of meeting people. If you keep in mind that you can meet somebody anywhere at all, standing in line to get into a restaurant talking with someone During an intermission or while waiting for a bus, there are dozens of opportunities everywhere to talk to somebody. So, decide if the activity was worthwhile after you’ve done it.
It also means if your school or work his schedule and activity for people go to it. Find out who you can meet. And if you really want to increase your chances of meeting people and making friends go to all of them. Yes, it’s a lot of work. If it was easy, it would have already worked. But meeting people and making friends takes time. For a while, it may feel like it’s a job. But it will be worth it in the end.
6. Have a positive attitude
Having a positive attitude is important for most things, including friends. There are some people who just seem to be positive all the time, no matter what happens, even after setbacks and disappointments. Those are remarkable people, but most of us aren’t like that. Sometimes, those people who are super positive all the time can be annoying.
Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you need to be positive all the time, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t say something critical or complain a little bit. Good friends and even people you just socialize with will want to vent and will be OK with you venting too. But you can’t complain all the time, and if all you do is vent to your friends about what’s wrong and not gone right, then they won’t get what they need from you. So, say how you feel, vent a little, complain a little, but make sure that you spend enough time listening to others, giving them the same opportunity to vent if they want to, and letting those friends know how much you enjoy spending time with them, get excited about their successes and accomplishments.
7. Don’t aim for perfect
When meeting people for the first time or spending time with friends, keep in mind that nobody’s perfect. If you look long and hard enough, you can find a reason not to like almost anybody. But if you do that you Won’t make any friends and there’s a good chance that you’ll lose a good number of the friends you already have. Sooner or later, everyone’s going to say something that might be disappointing or irritating. But what is true of others may also be true of you. We are all a mixed bag of odd things that are enjoyable, interesting and, for someone on any given day, a little bit irritating.
If you can accept that everyone’s going to have some good things and not-so-good things, then there’s a large large number of people that you could spend time with. They may not be your best friends or a close confidant, but they might make good friends to socialize with or bowling buddies. And if you give people a chance and are a little bit forgiving and sooner or later, you can look past most shortcomings.
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Hall, J. A., & Davis, D. A. C. (2017). Proposing the Communicate Bond Belong theory: Evolutionary intersections with episodic interpersonal communication. Communication Theory, 27, 21–47. doi:10.111/comt/12106
NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). (2009, May 27). Half Of Your Friends Lost In Seven Years, Social Network Study Finds. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090527111907.htmvan Harmelen AL, Gibson JL, St Clair MC, et al. Friendships and Family Support Reduce Subsequent Depressive Symptoms in At-Risk Adolescents. PLoS One. 2016;11(5):e0153715. Published 2016 May 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0153715(US Dept. of Labor (2021). AMERICAN TIME USE SURVEY — 2021 RESULTS
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