3 strategies to make friends IRL - even if you feel socially left behind

Making friends: Go somewhere where you can easily meet new people, make people comfortable and enjoy yourself, make plans for meeting up, have fun, repeat.

3 strategies to make friends IRL - even if you feel socially left behind

At the beginning of my college years, I was alone a lot, it sucked. I had this gaping hole but didn’t know what to do with it. So I wasted my time. Gaming, watching movies. Numbing myself. Feeling lonely. I just didn't know how to make friends in real life.

I was not making friends. Yeah, I knew a few people. My stoner roommates for example. Cool guys, but not the relief from social isolation I craved. No offense stoners, but you are not that talkative while on a semester-long smoking binge :).

So I felt lonely - and I know a lot of people do.

Maybe even you. It feels like everybody already has a great social life. But you are left behind somehow. Feeling like the only one without normal social skills?

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could have a group of cool friends? People to share and bond with. We'll focus on three strategies how to do just that:

  1. Where to meet new people
  2. How to have comfortable interactions
  3. How to make friends out of strangers

0. The Friend spectrum

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, some clarification. Being a friend is not a binary status. With on the one side stranger and on the other side best friend.

It is a spectrum. From; not knowing, to a stranger, to acquaintance, friend, good friends, best friends. And everything in between. Making friends is strengthening a bond between you and others. Shifting them from a stranger to the other side of the scale.

Sometimes it is easy to move up. Sometimes it is hard! People slide back on the scale or shoot forward through shared hardships. It is not an exact science, but a skill you get the hang of.

Making friends is hard to learn but easy to master. But after you acquired the basics it is easy to apply all the time. Know what you want or like, but also be open-minded when exploring these strategies.

So let’s get started, to make friends, you need people. Strangers. New people.

1. Where to meet new people

There are infinite places where people meet. Some will be better suited for you than others. Starting from scratch asks for some helpful circumstances.

These beneficial circumstances start with a low threshold to enter. So not an exclusive club, or a place with incomprehensible mores. But a place where it is easy to go, without any hurdles.

Preferably strangers are welcomed as part of the culture. A dynamic place where new people come and go all the time. In fact, it’s a place that looks for new people all the time.

Furthermore, it is centered around something you like. An activity, interest, or passion. Where you can learn or share a common interest. Another plus is a regular meetup. A small commitment to get together creates a healthy social atmosphere.

But one of the best features; it’s open-minded. Full of people open to getting to know new people, ideas, and passions. Where you can be yourself.

So important features a place where to make friends:

  • A low threshold to enter
  • Welcome to new people
  • Centered around something you like
  • Regular meetups
  • Open-minded culture

So where do you find places that have these conditions?

1.1 Digital networks

First the easiest option of all. There are some great digital ways to join (or even create) communities. You could look at your local Facebook/Reddit groups. Search what is happening around your interests. Probably there are some groups open to you joining. Especially if they have regular meetups this is a great way to start.

Or meetup.com is great for these kinds of groups as well. It takes a bit of digging. But using this tool, you can easily find new peers. Ideally, you search for a modest-sized get-together. Let’s say you are interested in Quidditch. You search for local groups that do just that. Ask to join – chat a bit online, things click you can hang out.

These are international examples, but there are local digital alternatives as well.

1.2 IRL hangouts

As for the analog world, the most obvious place to meet new people is at work, school, or college. A great opportunity. Here are loads of unknown people, with similar (professional) interests. There can be an open atmosphere for new people. Look out for people you haven’t met yet at the office/class.

You can also join clubs or associations. Think of sports, games, and culture. Join the newbie soccer team. Start going to philosophy meetings. Tag along with the theater guys. There are many societies that align with your interest.

But even cooler, try to do something new! Follow classes. Learn to paint, or farm, or drive stick (I’m looking at you Americans). Preferably something you do with a group. Where you and other rookies get the hang of a new skill. It is fun and interesting to bond over shared fuck ups! Failing and messing shit up together, but eventually learning something new, it’s fun!

Or better yet, try volunteering. Go to your local soup kitchen, or help at the local marathon. Give yourself to a community and help loads of strangers. People will appreciate your effort, and your fellow volunteers are happy you help them. A low threshold, enriching environment to meet and help people.

1.3 Lost friends

A last potential option is reacquainting yourself with lost friends or classmates. You kinda know each other already. Which makes reconnecting easier. It may feel a bit awkward, but if you used to have a good bond but you grew apart, there is no reason you can’t reconnect.

It is often easy to find them on social media and reach out. Just ask if they are up for hanging out. Rebuild your friendship from there.

As you see there are many options to find new potential friends. Find out what suits you best. Maybe you first try volunteering, but it doesn’t work for you. That’s cool. When you join the local fantasy book club, you might just fit in perfectly!

I don’t know what works for you, but you can find out! Not everything will work for you. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just be flexible till you find a place that suits you best!

These options are easy places to start. As you grow more skilled, you’ll see you can make new friends almost anywhere.

But first, try getting good. A big part of that is getting good at creating a relaxing atmosphere.

Make people comfortable AF

2. How to have comfortable interactions

To lay the foundation of friendship, you want to get to know each other in a pleasant way. So you need two things. A comfortable setting and friendly interaction.

There are different types of friendly interaction. Four basic and four complex ways.

As you get to know people, focus on the simple interaction first. As a way to get to know each other. As you move up on the friendship spectrum, more complex interaction will be more suitable. But start with simple gestures of friendship.

Besides friendly interaction, there are more types. Like romantic or  professional, but those are meant for different kinds of relationships.

2.1 Basic Friendly Interactions

  1. Simple companionship. By doing work together, acting out hobbies, or facing challenges.
  2. Do small favors to one another. You give so that I give. The basis of cooperative groups.
  3. Exchange of information, contacts, and communicating. Helping each other out by sharing what you know. Like recommending books, or referring them to your network.
  4. Relaxing together, hanging out, and having fun. Go watch a movie together or grab a coffee at your local caffeine dealer.

2.2 Complex Friendly Interactions

The more complex gestures of friendship are mostly used later on. But sometimes they just so happen at the beginning of a new friendship.

  1. Providing big favors. Like helping to paint a new apartment. Or picking people up from the hospital after surgery.
  2. Deep emotional support, in times of crisis, but also sharing their euphoria. As a way of showing your commitment, support, and integrity in a friendship.
  3. Sharing of personal information and stories. Showing vulnerability, while respecting and trying to understand that of the other. Telling about your frustration, how you feel about being dumped or how chickens scare you.
  4. Sharing an outlook on life. You can differ in many ways, but all friendships have (developed) a mutual view on at least a few subjects.
Sharing the most traumatic memory of my youth

Don’t think too binary about this. It’s not like; week 1-4 is for small gestures week, 5-6 for big, and we are done. Nope. Try to let it come more naturally. Find out what suits the moment best.

2.3 Creating a comfortable atmosphere

Moving on to comfort. You want to feel at ease when making new friends. But meeting new people is stressful.

I mean, you feel anxious meeting strangers right? It can feel like everything is at stake (spoiler: it isn’t). It would be great if you could feel comfortable. Well, most other people think so as well. They feel jittery when meeting new people, having a hard time taking the right stance.

That’s why you focus on the comfort of the other when you meet.

A lot of your discomfort stems from not knowing what others think right? (surprise, they feel that way as well.) If you can make them feel comfortable, that makes you more at ease.

To feel relaxed, make other people feel relaxed.

2.3.1 Take the initiative

This starts by initiating contact. When you meet new people, say hi and introduce yourself first. Don’t wait till someone else does this for you.

Whenever we have a new employee at our company, some immediately introduce themselves. Others wait for the interaction to somehow arise.

New colleagues who are assertive gain a lot of social credit. It makes it easier for us to talk to the new guy as well! In any social environment start by introducing yourself. It’s a big plus.


2.3.2 Be interested

After introductions, be genuinely interested. Cultivate a curiosity about other people. Ask questions about how they feel, what they do, how you can help them. Show interest in who the person in front of you is. And why they do what they do.

Ask about what interests them. Focus on getting to know them. Don’t worry too much about them getting to know you yet. People will ask eventually. No problem.

2.3.3 Be kind

Smile generously throughout your conversation. Introduction? Smile! Questions? Smile! Smiling makes YOU feel more at ease. As well as your counterparts. No need for a Joker grin all the time, but give them your gentle ‘opening up’ smile.

Be helpful and kind to people. Do small favors. People appreciate it. But don’t be a pushover. Especially amongst men-only groups, there can be some testing out. They look for how far you can be pushed. So do something nice when you want to do it. Not when you are constantly pressured to do it. But in most open communities this won’t be much of a problem.

2.3.4 Be honest and authentic

Show integrity when talking to people. Don’t use stories you hear, to one-up others. Just for some social credit. Neither lie to make yourself look better. Be honest, upright, and don’t gossip. It might win you a few points in the beginning. But it will come and bite you in the ass.

As you interact a while, share some stories of yourself. Show some emotional depth. A bit of vulnerability. Not too much when just meeting. It doesn’t have to be a heart-opening story. But displaying your humanity makes people relate to you better. It creates a bond.

2.3.5 Be positive

As you go out and meet people, pump yourself up. Be positive. Excited about life in general. Nobody is waiting for someone who is feeling blue. Or someone who brings drama to a group. Show you are a positive addition to a circle of friends. No whining, be grateful, but most of all, enjoy yourself!

If you do this, you will have a great and relaxed time meeting new people.

So what’s next? Aaah yes.

3. Making friends out of strangers

Time to escalate.

It’s so cool you have met new people. Which is already a victory. But we want to make friends :), not (only) meeting strangers.

Before you move to the next step, gauge what kind of friendship they might want. Maybe they need a new close friend, but maybe they want to be acquaintances. Not sure? If the place where you´ve met them has recurring events, meet them there a few times before moving on. (But  don’t postpone moving on indefinitely!)

3.1 Asking a friend to hang out

So you think someone wants to be friends? Then when the social event comes to a close, tell your new buddies you had a good time. Then just ask if they want to hang out again. If so, ask for their number/email so you guys can arrange to meet up.

Regular meetings at clubs can already form the basis of new friendships. Making it even easier to go out later.

3.2 Join the informal meetups

If you are doing group activities, and someone invites you to hang out afterward. Don’t turn it down! These are great opportunities. GO! The informal reflection and bonding afterward are friendship forging gold.

Drinks with colleagues, relaxing with sports mates, whatever. The cooldown is a time to reflect on shared experiences. Together you can whine, relive and laugh about what occurred.

3.3 Learn to handle potential rejection

If people don’t want to meet up. Don’t be offended or feel rejected. Some people don’t have the time or are not interested in making new friends. They might be busy with an active life. It probably has little to do with you. Be okay with it and someone else you meet will like to meet up.

Don’t be surprised if you are not besties all of a sudden either. It’s a scale remember. I have a few best friends. The ones I made as an adult, took years to get to that level. It is a long process. But that’s okay, doesn’t mean you can’t be good friends in the process.

3.4 Reaching out

So you got the contact information of a potential friend. One who is open to meeting up. Or a few guys, getting together in a small group can be easier and more effective.

Give a call a few days after the meeting. I know, this can be nerve-wracking! Remember, this is not dating, this is straightforward. It’s actually easy. Your potential friend already told you he wants to hang out. Besides you already had some fun or shared experience. If you’ve been asking questions a bit, you already know their interests.

So give them a call! Just a simple: “Hey, what’s up, want to hang out later this week? Thursday? Great, we will go [chilled out activity]. Great, see you then, I’ll text you where to meet up. Cool, Bye Bye.”

Easy as that. Calling too nerve-wracking? Try texting instead.

3.5 Do something fun

As for activities, really depends, but try to do something where you can be relaxed. Something you both like, or where you can get to know each other. Watch a movie, go gaming, have drinks, do some sports. Whatever fits.

Don’t be too serious about it. Friendships are mostly fun!

Again make people comfortable as discussed in the previous strategy. So both of you can enjoy yourself easily. If things go well, keep in touch.

Give a call again a few days later, have fun, create a comfortable atmosphere, and repeat infinitely. This way you grow from simple acquaintances to good friends!

Time to make friends

So this is how you make friends. Be persistent, it might take a bit of time. But your patience will pay off. Keep showing up at your people source of choice, your people skills will develop from that.

You might get rejected a few times, but hey, you are (re)learning a skill. Don’t take it too personally, dust yourself off. Keep on learning, keep on developing!

You can build on your foundation of knowing people. The great thing about making friends is, they have friends, that might become your friends as well. Before you know it, you might have a whole host of friends! Go out there, be positive be fun! You can do this!

Tl;dr: The three strategies to making new friends: Go somewhere where you can easily meet new people. Make people comfortable and enjoy yourself. Make plans for meeting up, have fun, repeat, repeat, repeat.

So tell me: Where are you gonna go to start meeting new people?