Making friends as an adult can be challenging, especially after living through a pandemic for over a year. As we return to a more traditional school year, it’s important to remember that the way we connect with people and make friends may feel different now than it did before the pandemic started. If you’re struggling to cultivate new friendships or are feeling isolated on campus, you’re not alone. Humans are social creatures. Our desire to connect, make friends and socialize with others is a shared experience.
Why connection matters for our mental health
While it may feel challenging, finding meaningful connections is important for our mental health. Socializing with our peers, mentors, friends, family and community can improve a number of areas of mental health. In fact, those who are closely connected to their friends and family tend to have lower rates of depression and suicide (including suicidal thoughts), higher self-esteem, more empathy and more trust in others. Additionally, feeling connected gives us a sense of belonging, support and purpose throughout our lives.
Here are some tips that can help you make meaningful connections now, throughout college and into the future.
1. Ease your expectations
Sometimes when we are in search of new friends, we tend to expect one person to have it all. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not always realistic to expect a single person to meet all of our needs. For example, you may have a friend who is great to study with or watch sports with, while another may be better as a confidant. Managing expectations around what people are able to bring to a friendship (or relationship in general) can help us create a more robust social network that we can rely on for different things.
It’s also important to ease your expectations with yourself. Many of us may feel pressured to make as many friends as quickly as we possibly can, and that may not always be possible. Instead, remember that it’s okay if it takes time to build relationships or find the right friend group. Show yourself compassion throughout the process, and know that relationships can take practice to develop.
These practices apply in real life and on social media, too. In most cases, our social feeds only capture the highlights of someone’s life and what you see online doesn’t always show the full picture. As you scroll through your social accounts, it’s important to avoid making comparisons between yourself and the people you follow. Consider hiding or unfollowing content that impacts your mood, self-image, confidence or mental health.
2. Take advantage of opportunities for small talk
There are plenty of reasons to not like small talk. For one, it can be uncomfortable or awkward, especially if you’re on the shyer side or don’t know someone that well. However, it also offers a surprising number of benefits when it comes to forming friendships. In fact, small talk plays a significant role in paving the way for more meaningful connections.
Whether we’re talking to a casual acquaintance or someone new, small talk can help us build up to more meaningful conversations and connections. For instance, asking someone about their weekend plans may help inform us about their hobbies or interests. These insights can be helpful in moving the conversation forward. Take advantage of these moments to bond over common interests or learn more about someone by asking follow-up questions.
Small talk can also be beneficial for those of us who may feel out of practice. In many ways, it’s the perfect opportunity to practice conversation skills. Most people expect small talk to be awkward or challenging, so it’s the perfect time to test out subjects, questions and other strategies to get to know someone without the pressure of a formal conversation.
3. Work with discomfort
When we meet new people, it’s normal to feel nervous, awkward or anxious. Learning to work with and overcome those feelings is key to allowing ourselves to meet new people and develop relationships.
- Physical tension: If you experience physical discomfort, practice grounding techniques such as reporting factual information about the present moment. In your head, state your name, age, today’s date, your location and other details to bring you back to the present moment.
- Nervous thoughts: If you struggle with nervous or worried thoughts, consider ways that you can acknowledge and recognize these thoughts without acting on them. One way to do this is to separate yourself from your thoughts through labeling. For instance, if you are feeling concerned that the other person may not like you, try labeling it as, “I am having the thought that this person may not like me.” Separating yourself from your thoughts can be a good reminder that just because you’re having the thought doesn’t make it true. It’s okay to be yourself and let others get to know the real you.
Additionally, if you’re still experiencing stressful thoughts related to COVID-19, it can be helpful to plan meet-ups in a way that makes you feel safe and comfortable. For example, you may feel better hanging out outside or limiting your group size. Creating an environment that helps you feel more at ease is key, as it allows you to focus more energy on getting to know the people you’re with instead of focusing on those thoughts.
4. Schedule time to be social
Balancing school, work and social activities can be difficult. Setting clear boundaries for yourself can help you have a meaningful social life alongside your other responsibilities.
Scheduling time throughout the week to do something social can be helpful, especially if it feels like you have limited time or there is a lot on your plate. Whether you’re interested in joining a fitness class, book club or student organization, getting involved on campus and becoming a regular is a great way to meet new people and form friendships. In fact, the more you show up, the easier it may be to connect with other people who are regulars as well.
It’s also important to remember that it’s okay to seek out social opportunities without feeling pressured to create deep connections. Sometimes, it’s just as nice to attend an event or hang out with others for an hour before returning to your normal routine. Thinking about activities and events this way can also help alleviate the pressure that comes with trying to make friends as quickly as possible.
5. Try something new
There is no “right” way to make friends. Trying out different approaches to meet people can help you find what works best for you. Here are a few ideas to try:
While it would be nice to get to get to know people individually, group activities can be a great alternative. For example, inviting someone to a group chat may feel less intimidating than directly asking for their number. Additionally, socializing in small groups can help reduce the pressure to engage with someone one-on-one.
Practice conversation skills during everyday interactions. This can help you feel more comfortable making conversation (and keeping the conversation going). For instance, it may be helpful to practice with a cashier or customer service representative. Ask them questions about their day and allow yourself to briefly connect.
Think through some things to talk about or bring up in conversation. It may be helpful to watch others, read or increase your range of activities and experiences. Having a few go-to conversation starters can help you learn more about people and connect with them.
As we begin to develop new relationships, it may be better to keep our stories and answers short. It can be tempting to give details about ourselves and go in-depth when answering questions. However, it’s important to remember that giving too much information too soon can be overwhelming for some people. Keep in mind how much the other person is sharing with you and what kind of relationship you have.
Apps can be a great tool to help you talk and get to know people in a low-pressure setting. Bumble BFF can help you find platonic connections, whether you’re looking for a workout buddy, roommate or new best friend. Patook allows you to make platonic connections with people nearby who share common interests (no flirting allowed). Finally, MeetUp is a free service that organizes online groups that host in-person events for people based on location, hobbies, causes and more. They also allow you to start groups of your own!
Connect with other Buffs and resources
There are a number of resources available at CU Boulder that can help you feel more connected, whether you’re looking to join a student group, attend social events and activities or find additional support.
Explore student groups and communities on campus that can connect you with people who have similar majors, interests and hobbies.
Explore campus events to meet new people, make friends or just hang out for a few hours.