Ask a Therapist: How Do I Make Friends as an Adult?

Sketch of woman on computer video chatting with co-workers

Verywell / Catherine Song

In the “Ask a Therapist” series, I’ll be answering your questions about all things mental health and psychology. Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition, coping with anxiety about a life situation, or simply looking for a therapist's insight, submit a question. Look out for my answers to your questions every other Friday in the Healthy Mind newsletter.

Our Reader Asks

Since I started working remotely, I have been really lonely. My co-workers were the only people I really talked to, but now I only see them in the occasional Zoom meeting. How do I make friends as an adult?

—Erin, 29

Amy's Answer

As strange as it sounds, know you’re not alone in your loneliness. Many people are feeling lonely these days. However, it’s important to address this feeling as loneliness can take a serious toll on your health and well-being. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to ease your loneliness, and making new friends is a great strategy.

The Struggle to Make Friends

It was easier to make friends when you were in school. After all, you were surrounded by your peers all day and had plenty of opportunities to interact. 

And it wasn’t all that hard to ask a fellow third-grader if they wanted to play with you at recess. You had the time, the tools, and opportunities to have fun together—which is an easy way to establish natural friendships.

But, as an adult, you have to put in a lot more effort to find people to spend time with. And you might not have a lot in common with the people you encounter. Or, they might be in a different stage of life, which may make friendships a little more difficult. 

You might need to be a little more strategic about making friends these days. 

Reach Into Your Existing Network

When it comes to making friends, you might not necessarily need to start from scratch. There may be some people in your existing network that can go from acquaintance to friend fairly easily.

Would you like to talk to some of your co-workers outside of regular Zoom meetings? If there is someone that you could imagine being friends with, you might reach out to them. Let them know you’re feeling a little disconnected from the world now that you’re working remotely, and you’d love to see them face-to-face. Perhaps you could invite them for coffee.

You might find that your co-workers are feeling lonely as well. And they may appreciate some human interaction.

Press Play for Advice On Coping With Loneliness

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast offers tips for managing loneliness.

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Of course, meeting up with co-workers outside the office does have a few risks. Depending on your line of work, it’s also possible that friendships with your co-workers might cause some sticky situations. What if you have to evaluate your friend’s performance? Or what if your co-worker tells you they’ve been drinking on the job?

Being friends with your co-workers can lead to some sticky situations. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. After all, your colleagues are the only ones who really understand what you go through daily.

Sometimes, it’s also tough to cross over from “colleague” to “real friend.” You might find your co-workers want to stick to talking about work only—which is their choice. But, it’s a clear sign that they want to have a professional relationship only, not a real friendship. 

In addition to becoming friends with co-workers, you might also tap into your existing network by reaching out to an old friend or two. Perhaps you’ve lost contact with your college roommate, or you’ve drifted apart from a neighbor you used to talk to often.

Send a text message or contact them on social media to say hello. You may be able to strike up a conversation that inspires you to start talking more often again. Sometimes it’s easier to rekindle an old friendship rather than start a new one.

Get Out and Get Involved

Get out of the house and get involved in some activities that will allow you to meet people in your community.

You might join an organization, volunteer, attend religious services, or take a class. You might look for websites that create meetup opportunities for people with similar interests. Whether you enjoy playing board games or you want to join a book club, there are usually plenty of groups out there.

You might even do some fun things on your own. Go hiking, visit a museum, or explore a different part of your city. You might find getting out helps you feel better, and you never know who you might run into along the way.

Just Don’t Act Desperate

Sometimes, people who want to make friends become a little too aggressive in social situations. Consequently, their attempts to attract friends wind up repelling people.

So make sure you don’t come across as desperate. Telling someone how lonely and isolated you feel within two minutes of saying hello might send them running in the other direction.

Beware of the tendency to try and form an immediate bond with someone. Don’t force it.

Don’t act like someone you’re not, either. If you don’t like sushi, say so. And if you don’t love the beach, don’t go to the beach just to make someone happy. The goal is to create lasting friendships.

And even though making new friends can feel a little more complicated as an adult, the simple advice you likely heard as a kid can still apply. The best way to make a friend is to be a friend. So, smile at people, treat them with kindness and be generous. 

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.