How to Make Friends: Your Simple Strategy

Three friends at the beach.

Never forget that time is the most important variable.

We have talked about how you can meet new people, but it is time to take the next step: we are going to learn how to make friends. The friendship formation process is complex, and there isn't one level of friendship; I am sure you are familiar with the differences between casual acquaintances and best friends.

And I would bet that you agree having only shallow, surface level friendships is not healthy. That is why you want to learn how you can strengthen your relationships with the acquaintances you already have.

How do you make established connections deeper and more meaningful? In the next few paragraphs, we will talk about some strategies you can use to strengthen your friendships.

Time is the Most Important Variable When Making Friends

An alarm clock representing time.

But before we start to dissect those actionable tips, we should talk about the foundation for strong friendships: time. As Aristotle once said, "Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit."

This statement seems obvious. But there is a lot of wisdom in that advice. There was a study done in the University of Kansas that shed light on how long it takes to move through the different stages of friendship. Researchers discovered, from the responses they collected, that it takes somewhere between 40 and 60 hours of interaction to go from mere acquaintances to casual friends. It takes between 80 and 100 hours for actual friendship to develop. And you will have to invest over 200 hours before you can consider a person a close friend. Remember that these ranges represent the average and a fairly wide uncertainty interval.

This time requirement is the biggest reason busy college students and adults find it difficult to build meaningful relationships with people who they have not already known for a long time.

We are all way too busy, right? We have packed our schedules and we are running all over the place.  It’s not surprisingly that we find it difficult to spend a decent amount of time with any one person. But it was a different story when we were kids.

I remember when I was your average, friendly neighborhood kid, I would go and knock on the doors of all my friends in the neighborhood every day to see if they were available to play. I would spend six to eight hours every single day with my friends.

Throughout high school, if I didn't to go to soccer practice or I was not working at the lumber yard, I would hang out at a friend's place whenever I could. I used to spend 4-5 hours a day, several times a week, at one guy’s house. You can imagine how much time I racked up with my best friends.

Before we get into the tips, keep in mind that you must put in the time. Ask yourself, how does your experience match up to your friendships in high school? You may find that it's a very different story. Is your schedule's so packed with a hundred responsibilities that the only time you will spend with someone you want to befriend is next weekend for a two-hour bowling session, and then not again until April? I promise you will not become great friends with that person.

You need to make time to see your friends regularly. How do you do that?

Take the Lead

A leader leading his friends down a hill at sunset.

Become the organizer, the leader of your friend group. This is my first and most important actionable tip for people learning how to make friends: Be the person that puts activities together. You might think this is unfair. You might be worried that you are building one-way friendships. Why aren’t my friends reaching out to me? Why aren't they organizing events?

Listen, everybody is thinking what you are thinking. The thoughts running through your friend’s heads go something like, "Why haven't my friends reached out to me in a long time?", "Why haven't they invited me to do something cool?", and "Why haven't they invited me to bungee jump out of a helicopter?"

Will Smith posted the helicopter video on Instagram awhile back, but I bet you and your friends have not done anything remotely that interesting. As people get older they fall into their comfort zone. Routines begin to dominate their life. They have a million responsibilities and worries. They must meet the demands of their job, and the demands of their relationships.  And these demands are eating up their time.

Most people stop reaching out because they are afraid to disrupt their crazy schedule. They do not organize. They certainly are not the leader who acts. You need to become that person. There's a saying in the blogging community that goes something like, "Only five percent of people are creators, the other 95 percent are consumers." That adage applies to friendships and relationships.

Only five percent of people are organizers. Only five percent of people are action takers, people who will plan activities.

What about the other 95%? They are willing to do things, and they will show up when asked. But they want you to tell them when and where to be.

If you want to fill your hours with meaningful interactions with good friends, it’s time to be the person who sends out the invitations. Be the organizer.  Let people show up; it is okay for you to lead.

Choose Activities that Build Memories With Your Friends

A collage of memories.

Be deliberate when you choose activities. Yes, the time you and your friends spend together is the most important factor as that study showed. But what you do with those hours, the quality of that time, matters a lot.

You don’t form friendships through proximity; you form friendships through experience. And there's a big difference between having somebody come over to watch a movie where you're both stare at a screen, not talking to each other, and inviting them to go climb a mountain where you're out in nature and talking the entire time. Side note: This is why movies are horrible first dates.

A big part of learning how to make friends is learning how to put yourself in situations that build memories.

Know the Difference Between Group and Individual Activities

A group of friends sitting around an outdoor fire.

It is important that you understand the difference between group interactions and one-on-one interactions. Many people who are trying to figure out how to make friends, seem to prefer group interactions. And that makes sense. Most of the time, you probably invite several people to an activity. These group outings can be a lot of fun. You can develop a bunch of inside jokes and share memories with a lot more people; in that sense it is a more efficient way to build friendships. In addition, there is less pressure on you to contribute to the conversation all the time.

But group interactions have one primary weakness: There is not much room for deep, meaningful conversations with a specific person. Since you must include everyone, it is polite to make sure the activities you choose and the topics you discuss are palatable to everyone present.

As you add more people into the mix, conversations become more general and surface level. If I want to talk the book I just read, Crime and Punishment, I want to do that with a specific person who has also read the book.

Imagine I brought together every single person who will read this article.  We probably couldn’t even pick a Marvel movie without people growing bored.

Last year I went to a steak house with six or seven of my friends, including my best friend Jeremy. There was a new guy that came who I didn't know super well. But I did know he was super into history.

Jeremy is also a history buff. In the middle of dinner they got into this deep conversation about Ancient Rome. After 30 seconds, it became clear that everyone else at the table did not understand what they were talking about.

After a few minutes, their conversation made everyone feel awkward because we were all quiet and could not contribute. Jeremy said afterwards that he wished he could have had a longer conversation about history, but that he felt like he needed to cut the conversation off because it wasn't relevant to the whole group.

On top of your group interactions, your flag football games, your Fortnite matches, or whatever else floats your boat, make sure you make time for one-on-one activities with specific people.

People tend to open up about the things they care about in these personal conversations. You can discuss the passions you share without stepping on other people’s toes. Unlike your group interactions which comprises fluffy conversations, a few shared inside jokes, and maybe some sports talk, one-on-one time allows you to be vulnerable. The hours spent opening up will lead to closer friendships.

The Most Important Part of Learning How to Make Friends: Be Supportive

A carpenter working on a project with a friend.

Friendship is not having fun together every time you see each other. Sometimes, you need to go beyond hanging out. At some point you will need to be there to support your friend (and here are some ways you can do that). If you want to build closer friendships make sure you are ready to serve. Make sure you are available to help.

This applies to emotional suffering. When somebody is hurting, you should be present to support them. But it also applies to more pragmatic concerns. And yes, you should help your friend move when they ask you. If one of your friends has a big chore they need to finish next weekend, show up and give them an extra pair of hands.

They will appreciate that you care enough to help. And you may find that you enjoy the time despite the work because you get to be around somebody you like.

If you are a college student moving into a dorm or an apartment and you finished arranging your belongings, offer to help somebody who is still moving in. If you have got time and the generosity, you will make yourself a new friend.

Use Your Phone if You Cannot Hang Out in Person

A girl keeping in touch with her friends via her phone.

If you cannot set aside the time to see your friends regularly, let them know you are thinking about them. My friend Jeremy does this by texting his friends nonsense. I have received a text that was just the word "puppers" and nothing else. But he still put himself on my radar.

 You should occasionally pop up on your friends phone to let them know you are thinking about them. In doing so, you are saying, “I care about you enough to text you the word puppers. I'm not racing through my life forgetting about you.”

The process of reaching out is integral to maintaining friendships. If you cannot see your friends all the time, if you cannot enjoy face-to-face interactions every single week, you need to put in effort to maintain your relationship.

Your goal should be that when you see the person again, there is not much catching up to do; you can pick up where you left off. I text college friends that live a thousand miles away twice a week with interesting updates about my life. And, they return the favor. By staying in contact, the distance does not become a relationship breaking hurdle.

And now you know how to make friends! It is not as difficult as you thought, right?