“If someone tells me they plan to go hiking this week, for example, I might end the conversation by saying something like, ‘I know a couple of hiking spots that you would probably love. Are you on Instagram? I’ll send you a link,’” she says. Or maybe you suggest a visit to your favorite park with a fellow dog owner. The goal is to intentionally create a space in which you can continue to connect, either in-person or online, after your initial interaction.
Invite someone you meet in a group setting to hang out one-on-one.
So, you’ve met someone you vibe with—maybe at a knitting club or hiking group—and you’re seeing them regularly. Now what? According to Franco, a one-on-one activity is the best way to take your friendship to the next level. “Once you find a person you like, think about generating exclusivity, which means having experience with that person that you don’t have with everyone else in the group,” she suggests.
One of the easiest ways to create the closeness that fuels friendship is to have unique experiences and make memories together, Dr. Franco says—whether it’s a suggestion to grab a quick dinner after a workout class, go for a walk around the block on your lunch break, or get ready together before an event you’re both going to, making this progression is an important friendship milestone. If you’re feeling shy or aren’t sure if they reciprocate your interest, start by inviting them to a group hangout you’re planning (like your birthday party or a picnic in the park) before progressing to just the two of you.
Consider turning your work friends into real friends.
If you’ve ever worked closely alongside your coworkers—maybe behind a service counter, in a kitchen, or at adjoining desks—there’s a strong chance you’ve had a work friend. “It sounds really unsexy, but one of the top places we make friends is at work,” Jackson says.
Work friends can easily become real-life friends—as long as you consider professional and personal boundaries, of course, and don’t, say, pressure a direct report to join you for dinner or invite your boss to a party they might not feel comfortable attending. And one of the best ways to change the dynamic of a relationship with roots in the workplace is to employ a change of scenery, according to Dr. Franco.
“If you’re only interacting with someone at work, it’s going to be hard to sustain that friendship when you no longer share the same workplace,” Dr. Franco says. “Different settings bring out different parts of ourselves, so you can really get to know each other.” For example, a colleague may feel a lot more comfortable opening up about their personal life while you’re grabbing an ice cream or watching a baseball game together than they might in a shared office kitchen.
But if you’re not sure if you’re ready to step out into the fresh air together, Dr. Franco says a good first step to test the temperature of a potential friendship with a coworker is to introduce non-work topics into your conversations. Maybe you can find common ground around the music you like by sharing a playlist you’ve been loving recently, or bond by swapping restaurant recommendations. The idea is to reveal a deeper version of yourself, so you can see if there is potential for a long-term IRL friendship.
When you meet someone you like, make it obvious.
Much like in dating, letting someone know you like them—and knowing they like you back—is a big part of making new friends, so you may need to get comfortable with saying your feelings out loud. Not surprisingly, “research shows that we tend to like people who like us,” Jackson says. “At the risk of oversimplifying it, sometimes you just need to tell someone—in a non-intense way—that you like them.” You don’t necessarily have to use that L-word, but by letting someone know that you enjoy hanging out with them or think they’re a fun and interesting person, you’ll make your intentions clear, and may increase your chances of making a new buddy. You can say something like, “I’m so glad we finally made this coffee happen—I’ve been having so much fun cracking jokes with you at choir practice.”
This advice is especially helpful when you consider a 2018 study that found people regularly underestimate how much others like them and enjoy their company. Basically, if we humans like to be liked but we also have a tendency to leave interactions unsure of where we stand with others, it makes sense why making your feelings known to a potential friend match can move the relationship in the right direction.
Feeling slightly overwhelmed by how much care and thought is required when it comes to finding and making new friends? Know that this reaction is completely normal. Both Dr. Franco and Jackson note that it takes a lot of time and consideration to make new friends, but that accepting—and embracing—that effort is the only way to make meaningful connections, which are always worth it.