How To Make Friends (And Keep ‘Em) Post-College

Annika’s post this week about the difficulty in making friends as a grown-up got such a huge response, I thought it warranted a reply here. Who knew so many of us had a friend shortage? Well, as someone who grew up on the move — I lived in 10 different homes in four different countries on three different continents before the age of 18 — my friend-making skills were constantly put to test. As a result, I learned some tips that have served me well as an adult well beyond college, when making friends was as easy as swinging a 6-pack within a 5-mile radius of campus. After reading through all 60+ comments (and counting) on yesterday’s post, I’ve compiled some of the best reader advice as well as some of my own favorite tips for making new friends, after the jump.Where To Meet Them:

The first step in making new friends is meeting them, of course. Here are seven ways how:

1. Host a clothing swap
Maybe you don’t have a TON of friends, but you probably have at least one chum or acquaintance … and if you’re lucky you have family in your area, too, and surely you have co-workers. That’s all you need to host a clothing swap (see my how-to tips for hosting here). Invite any or all the women you know and like to your clothing swap and ask them to invite their friends. Hopefully, you’ll get a little group together for an afternoon or evening of fashion, cocktails and snacks. Bonus: even if you don’t make a new friend, betcha you’ll score a great new outfit (and clean out your closets in the process!).

2. Befriend your hair stylist
The best way to make friends is to befriend someone who knows a lot people. And who knows more women than your hair stylist? If she’s a chick, invite her to your clothing swap and ask her to invite any of her friends or clients who might enjoy it. Schedule your next appointment so you’re her last client before closing and then ask if you can buy her a happy hour drink afterward. If she’s not interested in mixing business and pleasure, she’ll politely decline — no harm, no foul. Even if you feel too awkward about “asking her out,” you can still put the bug in her ear that you’re looking for new friends. Chances are she’s got another client who’s new to town, maybe going through a divorce or for whatever reason is also looking to expand her social circle. Maybe she’ll play match-maker for you.

3. Meetups, classes, or join/start a club
It’s been said a million times, but Meetup.com, classes of any sort, and clubs (think book club, not night club) are great ways to meet like-minded people. I recommend activities that allow for talking and interacting during their duration, but even a ballet lesson gives you an opportunity to invite classmates to join you for a quick snack afterward.

4. Volunteer
Not only will you expand your personal and perhaps professional network, you’ll be a do-gooder in the process. Win-win!

5. Use your kids and dogs
Kids and dogs like to go outside and play with other kids and dogs, right? And those other kids and dogs have parents/owners, don’t they? So the next time you’re out and about and your little one sniffs out someone else’s little one, make conversation with the adult in charge! Ask where they got little Jimmy’s cool coat or where they take Buffy to get groomed. If you’re new to the area, ask for shopping and dining recommendations. Even if you don’t score a new friend, you might get the name of a great babysitter or dog-walker.

6. Blogs/Twitter
When I first moved to New York a couple years ago, I knew my boyfriend and a handful of old college acquaintances who’d moved here years before and that was it. Luckily, I had one secret weapon for making new friends: my personal blog. I wrote about how I needed new friends in my new city and within a month several readers had emailed me very nice notes inviting me to join them at book readings, happy hour, and dinners out with other bloggers. Most of these readers were also new to the city and looking to expand their circle and I guess they felt they knew me well enough through my blog that spending an hour or so in my company wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. To my credit, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone enough to go out and meet total strangers (in public places!), and it paid off. I have several friends I met through my blog that I continue to hang out with regularly, two of whom I think I’ll be friends with for a very long time. If you don’t have your own blog you can pimp yourself out on, consider sending a friendly email to your favorite local blogger. Once you’ve established an online friendship, make a date to meet in person some time. This could work on Twitter, too. I know someone who hosts “Tweetups” with people she tweets with regularly. It is a social networking site, after all.

7. Work
I’m definitely not opposed to making friends with people I work with (hey, you wouldn’t be either if you worked with Simcha!). If we have a lot in common and enjoy each other’s company, why not? But, I also work from home 75% of the time, so I don’t tire of my co-workers the way people in more traditional settings might. Hitting happy hour together after work is a great way to not only relieve work-related stress, but get to know each other a little better outside the office environment, too. I also recommend lunch dates and carpooling.

Other Tips To Remember:

Now that you’ve met your new friends, you’ve got to put some work into keeping them. Here are a few things to consider:

Mix things up. One-on-one outings are great for bonding, but group “dates” and even double dates with significant others offer opportunities to expand your circle and bond on a different level. Invite your new friend to bring her roommate the next time you meet for brunch, or invite your work buddy and her husband for dinner with you and your boyfriend. It takes a little pressure off you to fill those occasional lulls in conversation and gives you a chance to maybe see your friend in a different light.

Bring other activities to the table besides dinner and drinks. It’s easy to suggest meeting up for a drink or a bite to eat, but it shows a little more initiative — and a bit more of your personality — if you stay up on cool events to check out. If you’re the person who always knows when hot bands are coming to town, when a cool art exhibit is opening, or when there’s a free night at your local museum, you have a little more value as a friend than someone who’s just up for boozing.

Keep in touch between get-togethers. Most of us are so busy these days we’re lucky if we can spare one evening a week or a weekend afternoon for budding friendships. So keep lines of communication open with quick text messages and short emails. Just like with dating, little notes that let the other person know she’s on your radar, even if she’s not penciled into your schedule, this week go a long way.

Be a good listener and remember what you hear. Being a good listener is one of the best ways to seal a friendship, but being a good listener who actually remembers what she hears and then follows up later is key. If your friend confides that she’s worried about her job, upset with her boyfriend about something, or concerned about her mother’s health, for example, be sure to ask her about those things the next time you see or speak to her. Likewise, asking the same questions over and over (“Do you have any sisters or brothers?”) shows you aren’t really listening to her when she answers. If you know you have a terrible memory, write notes! It sounds silly, but it helps. Keep a little “friendship file” with bits of info you gather about your new friend, from where she grew up to what her dog’s name is and skim through it before you meet up with her.

Remember birthdays. Whether you send an email, make a call, or give a gift, remembering a friend’s birthday goes such a long way in showing you’re invested and that you care. Just think about how good you feel when people remember your birthday (or, conversely, how crappy you feel when they don’t).

Don’t take it personally if someone resists your attempts at friendship. In all likelihood it has nothing to do with you — her schedule may be too busy and her emotional reserve too limited to invest in a new friendship at the moment. Be graceful about it and move on to the next person.

Friendship is a two-way street. If you find yourself doing all the reaching out, evaluate whether this is a person you really want to continue investing in.

Don’t force it. Making friends is like dating — sometimes you meet someone who’s perfectly nice, but for whatever reason there just isn’t chemistry. Cut your losses and move on. The only thing worse than not having any friends at all is having a friend you’re bored by.

One more thing: If any of you want to take the initiative and organize a Frisky meet-up with other Frisky readers in your area, we’d be happy to publicize the details. Just send us a date and location and we’ll get the word out. If there’s enough interest, we may even organize one here in NYC to get the ball rolling. Let us know if you’d be up for it.

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