It comes naturally when we're younger, but the truth is we can make meaningful friendships at any age.
When we’re children, making friends seems to come naturally — at the playground, in kindergarten, at school, in our neighborhood. Everything is organized to help us meet kids who live near us, go to the same school, and so forth. Almost spontaneously, we form bonds with other boys and girls around us through shared experiences, games, conversations, and dreams. As adolescents, it’s harder for us to take the first step, because we tend to doubt ourselves and what other people will think about us. We’re afraid of embarrassing ourselves and looking bad, but even so, there’s a spark that helps us get over all of that and make friends in classes, sports, and extracurricular activities.
In this way, we accumulate friendships that sometimes last a lifetime. This category of friends can include family members, particularly cousins, who don’t necessarily live nearby, but with whom we forge strong, lasting bonds.
However, what can we do when we reach adulthood and see that it’s become difficult to make new friends? It might not be that we have a difficult character, but our circumstances are unfavorable for friendship … we have less free time, spend more time at work, and have more responsibilities in general.
So where can we start if we want to make new friends? Here we offer some suggestions that might help. First, though, it’s important to emphasize that it is possible to make new friends at any age. Do not let yourself be discouraged by challenges.
1Create opportunities to meet people
We may not have a lot of free time, but we can renew the way we interact with people at work and with our neighbors. In our daily routine, unless we’re hermits, we almost inevitably interact with other people. It doesn’t matter whether we deal with many people or just a few; friendship is about quality, not quantity. We need to start by looking at the people we are in contact with on a daily basis.
If we have enough free time, we can think about starting a group or organization with people who share our values and interests; it could be centered on a sport, a hobby, or volunteer work. This will make it easier to spend time with people who have things in common with us.
2Show a real interest in other people and their interests
We should try to get to know other people before expecting anything in exchange. That means dedicating time to conversation—especially to listening. Pay attention to what what they say to you, and express your appreciation of their presence. Ask them about the people and things that matter to them.
3Remember there is life beyond Instagram and Facebook
“Likes” aren’t enough to forge a friendship. We need to take the next step and get to know people more in depth, bit by bit. Sometimes all we need is one conversation to end up connecting on a deeper level; other times, a friendship can require more time and care to really come together. Each person is different, with a unique temperament, character, and personal history. True friendship requires mutual listening, sharing, and accepting.
4Don't let prejudice raise barriers
Don’t reject people or hesitate to befriend them based on stereotypes and differences of race or religion. True friendship transcends those things. If we let irrational fears and prejudices get in the way, we can miss out on great friendships with people who have more in common with us than we might guess.
5Don't seek exclusively your own benefit
True friendship isn’t based on the social or economic benefit that one friend can get from another. It’s painful to discover that someone had us in their circle of friends merely out of convenience. It’s better to get to know other people selflessly, showing our sincerity by being generous with our time and not seeking the spotlight or favors.
6Look for friends who are good people
Friends should help each other to grow in virtue. That means we should try to relate with people who are more virtuous than we are in one way or another; it also means we should be patient and understanding with our friends’ defects, because each person has different strengths and weaknesses, and we all need to build each other up and support each other.
7Be able to admire others
Perhaps as adults we’ve come to grow a protective layer of skepticism. Sometimes bad experiences have brutally taken away our innocence and ingenuousness, and we never want to fall into that trap again. We have to be careful to grow in prudence without losing our generosity of spirit, appreciating people without idealizing them or putting them on a pedestal.
Something that can help us in this regard is to try to discover and value other people’s strengths, and talk about them with other people. It’s not a matter of flattering someone or lying in order to make new friends, but about talking openly about the good we see and learn from others.
Whether we are young or old, working on these points can help us form better, stronger friendships that can last for the rest of our lives, and can provide both us and our friends with a support network that is as vital for adults as it is for children.
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