Here’s a simple, sometimes surprising truth: making friends as an adult requires initiative. We have to put ourselves out there and try. Simply put, it’s a process of reaching out over and over again. It’s meeting someone we like and, instead of letting the moment pass, hoping they might ask for our phone number, seizing the moment and asking them for theirs.
In Kat Vellos’s book We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships, she describes how she changed the course of her friendships through a continual process of initiating. As she puts it, “A basic but critical part of nurturing relationships is the act of following up and checking in with people. I scheduled repeating reminders in my phone to reach out both to my old friends and new friends.”
Those who believed that friendship takes effort were less lonely
In fact, believing that friendships happen organically—that the cosmic energies will bestow a friend upon you—actually hinders people from making friends, because it stops them from being intentional about doing so.
Nancy E, Newall, an associate professor in psychology at Canada’s Brandon University, and her colleagues, surveyed older adults to determine differences in the social worlds of people who believed that friends were made based on effort and those who believed they were made based on luck. They found that those who believed that making friends was a matter of luck were lonelier five years later, whereas those who believed that friendship takes effort were less lonely.
The reason? Believing it takes effort was related to engaging in more social activities, such as visiting friends and family or going to church. And it was engagement in these social activities that made people friends.
One introvert-friendly strategy is reaching out to old friends
You have to initiate to make friends, but the good news is that you get to choose how you initiate. It may not be your style to show up to that networking event for urban farmers or that five-mile ride with the cycling club. But initiative doesn’t just mean going to meetups and networking events. One introvert-friendly strategy is reaching out to old friends to reconnect.
Another is getting in touch with an acquaintance you’ve been wanting to get to know better. I especially like these options because the friend is pre-vetted, and you know you have solid evidence of a connection with an acquaintance. Tara and Mika are friends who met just briefly at work before Mika quit, but they then followed each other on Instagram. They would comment on each other’s stories, building up a rapport, until Tara asked if Mika wanted to get lunch sometime. With technology as a buffer, taking initiative can be even easier.
It pushes us to challenge the passive approach
Initiative can even look like asking that co-worker for coffee, the one whose company you enjoy but whom you haven’t yet seen outside of the workplace. It could mean taking the initiative to join a recreational sports league, enroll in a course or get involved in an organization that you are passionate about so you can consistently place yourself in an environment wherein you can develop friendships.
Newall’s research pushes us to challenge the passive approach to making friends that most of us would admit to taking. It asks us to embrace what I call “unapologetic initiative.” It forces us to recognize that even if the social landscape doesn’t make friendship easy, we still have agency.
Someone with an internal locus might join a hiking group
To ward off passivity and hopelessness, it’s important to cultivate what’s called an “internal locus of control,” which is research jargon for taking responsibility for achieving your goals. People with an external locus of control, by contrast, believe their life is determined by forces outside of their control and thus have trouble taking initiative toward reaching their goals.
Who do you think is the pilot of your airplane? People with an internal locus of control would say themselves, whereas people with an external locus would say something else—their horoscope, boss, spouse, or mercury being in retrograde. Someone with an internal locus who wants to make friends might join a hiking group and introduce themselves to their fellow hikers, whereas someone with an external locus will sit on the couch watching fabulous hiking destinations on TV.
People think tiny acts can’t have colossal consequences
One of my previous romantic partners reminded me of all my advice on initiative when we were walking in the hallway of our apartment building. A couple of other neighbors congregated there too. He knew that I wanted to befriend my neighbors, but as I saw them talking, I was too intimidated to say hello. As we entered our apartment, he asked me, “What advice would you give yourself?”
“Take initiative; introduce yourself,” I muttered.
“Perfect,” he responded as he pushed me back into the hallway. As awkward as I felt, I knew the responsibility to say hello, the locus of control, was in my hands. “Hey, I moved in here recently. I just wanted to introduce myself’.” The neighbors were open and friendly, and we ended that interaction by exchanging numbers and chatting on a WhatsApp group. We also started a weekly outdoor picnic. People think tiny acts, like saying hello, can’t have colossal consequences for their life. But they can. One hello can be the difference between being lonely and finding your best friend.
We do the choosing
Keeping your internal locus will benefit you not just at the initial stage but at all stages of friendship. We can develop an internal locus of control by shifting our mindset to see friendship as something that happens when we make it happen. We can believe that we can get closer to people if we try. We can stop assuming that friendship should happen without any effort or that making friends requires us to wait until someone chooses us.
We do the choosing. We show up. We follow up. We ask to hang out when we want to hang out. We take ownership of the process.
Extracted from Platonic: How Understanding Your Attachment Style Can Help You Make and Keep Friends by Marisa G. Franco, PhD. Out now in hardback, RRP £16.99 (Bluebird)
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