My friend Debbie is a master at making friends. She has friends all over the world in every occupation imaginable. Debbie is outgoing but that’s not why she forms adult friendships so easily. I have watched Debbie in action and I’ve listened to her tell stories of how she became such good friends with the chef in the most popular restaurant in town or the women she met on an airplane.
Debbie, who is 52, has a simple trick or “secret” for making new friends.
When we are younger, under 40, it feels easier to make friends. Everyone in college is our age and eager for friends. When we are young parents, we meet people through our children at birthday parties and on the soccer sidelines. But as we get older, it’s easy to start feeling we have our set group of friends and we don’t really need to make new ones.
The truth is the opposite.
Friends are the key to living a long, happy life and the more we have of them, the better off we are. Indeed, ScienceofPeople.com found that friendship as we age is great for the body AND the mind. “Having good friends can actually benefit you more if you start on a mental decline as you age,” the website declares.
Debbie is proof of the benefits of making new friends at any age. Debbie’s friends offer her their homes around the world to stay in. They offer her hard-to-get show tickets and they come to her rescue when her son in college a few states away needs someone to take him to the doctor.
THE SECRET REVEALED
Debbie has a secret to making friends. As one of her friends and an observer, I have figured her secret out. If you click with Debbie, you definitely will hear from her again. Do you know how you have a great conversation with someone on an airplane, or at the gym, or at a networking event? Afterward you typically say, “It was nice meeting you.”
Well, Debbie goes a step further. She gets the person’s contact information and she follows up. Yes, “follow up” is the secret to making friends as we grow older. Going that next step may take us out of our comfort zone, but it is key to forming new friendships. Debbie will reach out to her new friend with an email, phone call, lunch or coffee invitation. She will make plans to meet them at an upcoming event or invite them to stay at her home if they are going to be in town.
THE FLIP SIDE
There is another side of that dynamic as well. If you are on the receiving end of the follow up, let down your guard and open yourself to a potential new friend. I admit that with the responsibilities of juggling work, family and existing friends, I became wary about making myself emotionally available to new people.
One evening, I met a woman at a networking event who was new to town. From our conversation, I learned she worked close to where I live. A few days later she invited me to lunch. I felt reluctant. I hate to take time out of my work day to socialize, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to invest in a new friendship. I have plenty of friends from college and the neighborhood and through my children. But I thought about Debbie and what she would say. So, I agreed to the lunch. The woman is now someone I call a close friend.
GET YOURSELF OUT THERE
Some people will tell you to join clubs, take up hobbies, go to meetups, or volunteer for charities as a way to make new friends. In other words, put yourself in places where you will meet people with common interests. That advice is good. But to truly make a new friend, you need to go the next step and follow up with some type of outreach or accept an overture when it comes your way.
You don’t have to be a social butterfly, or even flush with all of the coolest friends in town. Even if you have lots of friends, it never hurts to have more. As we grow older, we often discover some of our existing friendships are fleeting as we move in different directions. Sometimes, all it takes is that one new friend or BFF who “gets you” to add more happiness to your life. Maybe you’re the person who likes to have a cocktail friend, an exercise friend, a parenting friend, a neighbor friend and a walking buddy.
By following Debbie’s example, it is easier than you think to form adult friendships. It takes a little courage, but we all have it in us to bond with someone new at any age.