“Oh, my friend told me about that new restaurant!”
“My friend works there—you should definitely meet her!”
“Let me connect you with my friend…”
I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I use the phrase “my friend” probably more than any other words in the English language. (Maybe I should switch to “mi amiga”?)
Now, I don’t think it’s because I’m name-dropping—although, maybe?—but usually, it’s because I’m surrounded by smart and interesting people and want to introduce them to each other.
Because of this, someone recently described me as a “people person.” Ha! I laughed. I’m actually not! In fact, I’m an introvert, and I’m usually perfectly content to spend time on my own—but if I can make a bunch of friends, then so can you.
Not gonna lie: It’s difficult to create and maintain friendships, especially when you’re no longer in school, huddled together in classrooms and dorms with people who are around your same age and have similar interests.
Going to events with a bunch of strangers—which is usually how people advise you to make friends—can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re super worried about first impressions.
And yet, there are so many others who feel the same way. They also want someone to text “Wanna see Crazy Rich Asians for the third time?” or swap workplace horror stories. You just need to know where to find them—and how to spark a quick friendship that lasts.
Here are some tactics that have worked for me:
1. Trust: People Like You More Than You Think
A new study published in the journal Psychological Science found that after a first impression, people often like you much more than you think.
As reported by TIME, the experiment put together two strangers who had a conversation—afterward, they rated each other and themselves about whether they were likable or enjoyable to talk to. Most people rated their conversation partners much higher than they did themselves. Bottom line: We tend to underestimate how much another person likes us when we first meet them, and researchers call this the “liking gap.”
“We don’t know what other people are thinking, and so we substitute our own thoughts about ourselves for what other people think,” said Gus Cooney, a social psychologist at Harvard University and co-author of the paper. “We’re basically projecting what we think of our own performance, and assume that’s what other people think of us.”
But so often that’s not true! And while you might walk away thinking “Why’d I share that pointless story? Now they never want to talk again,” the other person is probably, well, not too concerned about it.
“That little voice in your head turns on, and you start thinking about your conversation,” Cooney told TIME. “Be suspicious of this voice and its accuracy.”
Instead of focusing on how you think you’re doing in a conversation, put the focus on the other person—and remember that they’re having a better time than you might imagine.
2. Play to Your Strengths
If going to a crowded bar with a big group makes you cringe, don’t do it! Instead, think about situations where you feel like your best self. Maybe it’s sipping coffee during a one-on-one afternoon chat, or maybe it’s going for a jog around your local park.
Rather than putting yourself in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation and hoping you feel calm and cool, work on incorporating new friendships into activities you already do.
When I first started running, I always went solo. What if we don’t run at the same pace? What if they see what a sweaty monster I am? How can you even talk while running anyway? But after I signed up for a group running class, I had no choice. Turns out doing something you love—with other people who love it, too—is a fast way to cement a quick bond.
3. Loosen Your Definition of ‘Friend’
Not all friends are going to have known you for decades, or be able to remember that time when 13-year-old you laughed so hard Diet Dr. Pepper came out of your nose. (And that’s probably a good thing.)
That’s why I play really fast-and-loose with the word “friend.”
Did we share a great chat at a group dinner? Were we introduced over email by a mutual friend but never met in person? Do we comment on each others’ Instagrams all the time? Boom! We’re friends.
An acquaintance is so formal. If you like someone—and they seem to like you back then you’re already friends.
4. Talk About What Lights You Up
When you do meet someone out and about, consider the topics you choose to introduce to the conversation. Do you really want to lead with “the subway was a nightmare today” and “oh my gosh, why won’t this rain ever stop?”
Instead, focus on things that make you feel positive and happy and generous. It’s much easier to bond with someone if your meet-cute doesn’t start with complaints about work or your relationship.
And don’t forget to ask questions. One of my go-tos is to throw out, “What are you doing that’s exciting you right now?”
Maybe they’ll start talking about work or their new pottery class. Whatever it is, I assure you, they will be engaged.
5. Seek Out Your Kindred Spirits
Joining groups and taking classes are tried-and-true friendship creators. In the past year, I’ve made new friends in my running group, at a playwriting class, attending a theater workshop—and, perhaps most easily, online!
Even if you don’t live in a giant city teeming with opportunities to find like-minded people, you can still find those individuals through social media.
I once wrote a story about inspiring women runners on Instagram and followed all of their online accounts because of it. Now, having watched their journeys and races and “liked” countless posts, I feel like we’ve been friends forever.
The world doesn’t have to be a lonely place. You can make connections everywhere you look—whether it’s IRL or in the DMs—as long as you keep looking.