Making Friends as an Adult? Here’s How To Open Up to a New Pal

Two smiling guys out for a drink.I moved to Los Angeles from the Midwest during the early phase of the pandemic. Work was 100% remote, social distancing was still the norm, and my social life was non-existent. I felt lonely and disconnected in a way that was completely foreign to me. While at home on lockdown, I scrolled through articles about how to make friends virtually over Zoom coffee dates, but that just felt weird to me. I began to wonder if I would ever again have regular social experiences like laughing with friends at a local trivia night.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, the city started to come back to life and work transitioned from a fully remote experience to a hybrid schedule. In-person meetings made me painfully aware of how much I had missed social connections. So one night late before bed, when I figured I had nothing to lose, I opened my notes app on my phone and typed the names of three colleagues that I admired and had hit it off with through various work projects or conversations. 

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These were people I had a feeling I could develop friendships with outside of work. I challenged myself to ask them for coffee or lunch over the course of a few months. And to my grateful relief, they all said yes! 

But once they accepted my invitations to hang out, new questions formed in my mind: How could I break the ice and show more of myself to these new friends? How much was too much, too soon in terms of sharing and meetups? How vulnerable do I want to be?

Ultimately, here are some approaches that helped me deepen my new friendships:

1. Share your hobbies or interests

The next time you see your friend crush, try to squeeze in a quick backstory about your interests or hobbies. For example, when talking about what you did last weekend, offer a slightly extended version that invites them to share what they do in their spare time. Who knows? You might find out you both love kickboxing, which could lead to you taking a class together in the future. This actually happened on a coffee date with a colleague from my shortlist. I shared that I had been frequenting a local flea market, and she enthusiastically replied that she loves checking out flea markets in our city. We made plans to visit one together.Instead of simply sharing, “I went to the movies,” try, “I had some extra time and I saw one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time! Have you seen it yet?”

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2. Use your location to your advantage

A crowded restaurant might be great for a casual chat, but challenging for a conversation to go deeper. If you’re hoping to really get to know one another, choose a location, time, or activity that is on the calmer side. Instead of asking them to happy hour or dinner, try lunch at your favorite restaurant. And rather than checking out a new band together, go for a stroll in a trendy part of town.

3. Let them in on a goal or accomplishment

The next time you meet up with your new friend, try sharing one aspect of your life that you’re proud of (you don’t have to start with your traumas and hardships!) and let them know why you’re proud of yourself. For me, I shared how I was practicing boundaries with my family for the first time. Thankfully, this was something my new friend was experienced in, and they opened up about what that process had been like for them. Since then, we have checked in with each other regularly and offered encouragement when needed.

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Whether the victory is small or large, watch to see how your friend responds. If your words are met with kudos and encouragement, it’s a definite green flag! If your story is met with dismissiveness or contempt, do not pass go. 

You can also consider sharing a meaningful personal goal with them to see how they respond. Regardless of what you choose to open up about, remember that the real story is in how your friend affirms you. 

4. Be honest and intentional

Without gushing, thank your new friend for meeting up with you and let them know you value hanging out. This might sound something like, “I had so much fun hanging out with you. You always have such positive energy!” or “I really admire how you always speak your mind. Let’s do this again soon.” Whatever the genuine compliment, purposefully articulate what you appreciate about your new friend. And make sure to point to a future meetup to keep the momentum going.

As I learned, opening up to a new friend doesn’t have to be stressful. By allowing myself to take baby steps, I learned that I had much less to lose than I thought. Making thoughtful invitations to people who share my interests and discussing low-stakes aspects of my life with them allowed me to build friendships that add fun, depth, and adventure to my life in a new city. The people who started as potential friends on my shortlist are now part of my life in such a meaningful way.

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