Shasta Nelson, the author of Friendships Don't Just Happen! and the founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women's friendship matching site, shares some realistic advice. (And, yes, it is awkward for everyone.)
Can you expect to make close friends once you're past your 30s?
Yes! Research shows we're replacing half our close friends every seven years, even into our 60s. It helps to know that the revolving door is a normal part of life.
What's a mistake grown-ups make when trying to meet new friends?
Thinking they need to look for a twin. If you're single, say, you need another single buddy. Open your mind about whom you're willing to be friendly with and focus on what you may have in common. It's not important what those things are.
How do you spot someone who's right?
Friendships are not discovered—you're not going out to find that ideal BFF. Friendships are fostered. Research reveals that we can bond with almost anyone. A study of cadets at a police academy showed that friendships there grew based on alphabetical order—people bonded with those seated close by. We've all experienced a form of this—a random coworker who became a confidante because you saw her continually.
How do you move past small talk with someone you'd like to be friends with?
Inquire about an area you have in common, but in a way that's more personal. If your kids share a play group, don't discuss what the kids are up to—talk about how you're dealing with things. For instance: "How has this stage of parenting been for you?"
And then what?
Initiate plans. Many of us will invite someone out once, then think it's the other person's turn. If she doesn't step up, we assume she doesn't like us, because our fear of rejection is so high. What you should be thinking is: Did that person say yes? Did we have a good time? Great. Repeat. As long as she says yes two out of four times, keep asking. Most relationships have a primary initiator; the other person may give in different ways—she could be the primary listener.
That sounds hard for introverts.
Introverts are better at other friendship-building skills, like being consistent and going deeper. The process of making friends is awkward for everyone. We've never danced this dance together before. Are we the kind of friends who Facebook or text? Are we lunch-once-a-month friends? The more we do it, the less awkward it gets with that person.
Why is it so much harder for adults than for kids?
Consistency is a major requirement for building a friendship—and keeping that up is trickier with busy work and family schedules. This is why work is one of the best places to meet friends—your time together is already built into your day.
Can you find friends via social media?
Facebook and Instagram can help support existing bonds, but it's not easy to make new friends online, unless it's through professional networking or a shared Facebook group. A cold introduction can come off as creepy.
What about the challenge of making friends as a couple?
The dream is finding a couple and you all really like one another, but even if the guys don't totally hit it off, the foursome is worth continuing. Think about building a social circle and have fun.
How much time does it take for an adult to make a new friend?
I've found from surveying women that it usually takes six to eight meaningful interactions before they feel comfortable calling someone a friend. In terms of a person you would confide in, it may take a year or two. To take a new relationship to the next level, move the friendship out of the context in which you met. In other words, work pals who go hiking or mom friends who go out for coffee, sans kids.
Any parting words of encouragement?
You're better off cultivating five relationships than zeroing in on one. The more people you let in, the greater the chance of making a close pal.