If you find that it’s a struggle to make new friends in your 30s, you’re definitely not alone. “Once we leave school and are no longer surrounded by a sizable group of other individuals who are around a similar age and life stage, it can be difficult to meet and make new friends,” says Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship researcher. Instead of relying on a built-in social network to draw new connections from, you’re now in a position where you have to make your own.
If you feel frustrated with your efforts so far, that’s normal, too. “Meeting new friends takes patience and persistence. It can take a while to find someone you really connect with. And the older we get, the less time and patience we have for surface-level friendships,” Kirmayer says. Just like anything else, making friends is a skill, and it’s probably one you haven’t practiced in a while, she points out.
If you’re not the kind of person who usually walks up to a total stranger and starts a conversation, don’t feel like you have to do that in order to make new friends.
If you’re feeling a little rusty on your ability to expand your social circle, read up on friendship and networking experts’ top spots to meeting new friends in your 30s, plus their tips for starting a conversation with minimal awkwardness.
It might seem obvious, but it’s worth reconsidering your office as a place to make new friends, according to Jaclyn Johnson, co-founder of Create & Cultivate. Don’t just look within your own team, though: “Be proactive about introducing yourself to people outside of your department,” she suggests. You share a work culture with your co-workers, so you already have some common ground to start conversations around. If you work alone or in a co-working space, don’t count out the people you interact with on a daily basis or your officemates.
Talking Tip: Don’t Force It
“If you’re not the kind of person who usually walks up to a total stranger and starts a conversation, don’t feel like you have to do that in order to make new friends,” says Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, a licensed psychologist. “The less random the person is, the less likely it is to be awkward.” That’s why your work network is such a great place to start. “You can’t just go up to a woman with a cute outfit in Starbucks and try to strike up a conversation, but if you recognize her from your yoga class or you realize she’s there at the same time as you every morning, that gives you a place to start from.
Then you can make a comment about your favorite teacher at the studio and take it from there.” The same goes for your office environment. Instead of saying something random to a colleague you think you might click with, start with a comment about a meeting you were both in or a project you’re both involved with, and see where the conversation goes.
If you’re into working out in a group, you have a potential social network right in front of you. “There’s nothing that bonds you like getting through a hellacious CrossFit class,” Bradford says. The same goes for yoga, spin, barre, and other workout classes. “Having a shared sense of accomplishment combined with the rush of endorphins you get from exercise makes you want to celebrate making it through. It’s likely that seeing the same person in an environment like this will lead to grabbing lunch or drinks at some point.”
Talking Tip: Turn Acquaintances Into Friends
“We all have people in our lives who we sort of know: the neighbor you say hello to, the woman you see at yoga every week, or the woman you see every day in line at the coffee shop,” says Amy M. Gardner, a certified professional coach with Apochromatik. “You already have something in common with them, so rather than starting from scratch, focus on getting to know those friendly acquaintances better.” Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation about how tough a certain workout move was, your favorite workout gear, or the best nearby spot to grab a post-workout snack.
Be proactive about introducing yourself to people outside of your department.
“Volunteering can be a great outlet for meeting new people and friends. Not only does it say something about your shared interests and values, but it feels good to give back to a cause or a community you care about,” says Kirmayer. Plus, being in a place where you feel good emotionally can make you more comfortable approaching new people, she says. “It can also facilitate future interactions; asking someone to join you at another volunteering opportunity can be much easier than asking them to get together in a different context, at least initially.”
Talking Tip: Ask Questions
“The easiest way to overcome awkwardness is to meet people through activities where you have a built-in conversation starter,” Gardner explains. “If you’re volunteering for a charitable organization, you can ask why the person is interested in that organization.”
Friendships on Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks can translate into IRL friendships if you’re strategic about how you use them. “If you’re someone who spends a lot of time on social media and you are active in Facebook groups, you can get to know other people pretty well—particularly if the group is related to a shared profession or something you’re very passionate about,” Bradford says. “Friendship apps like Bumble BFF, Hey! Vina, and Peanut, or websites like Meetup, can be great places to ‘meet’ new people and expand your social network when it might not have been possible otherwise,” Kirmayer points out.
Talking Tip: Offer Help
The best way to take things offline? Be prosocial, suggests Kirmeyer. “Offering to partner up, help someone with a task, or share a limited resource is a strategy that can lead to future conversations,” she explains.
Common interests are clearly a theme here, so to take that to the next level, try going to some events that are in line with your hobbies. “For example, if you’re a fan of a particular podcast, attend a live show in your area where you’d be able to meet other fans of the show,” Bradford suggests. “If you’re a fan of brunch, search Twitter with the terms brunch and your city to see what comes up. Looking for connection and friendship is typically a central theme for women, so you can bet that you’re not the only one searching for a new friend.”
Talking Tip: When In Doubt, Go With F.O.R.M.
F.O.R.M. stands for “family or from, occupation, recreation, and motivation.” If you’re not sure what to say to someone or how to keep the conversation going when you’re getting to know them, this is a good strategy. “You can start up a conversation by asking where the woman is from, where she went to high school or college, whether she has kids, or whether she’s married,” Gardner explains. “Then you could ask about her occupation—what she does, what she likes about her job, how she picked that field.
From there, you can move to recreation—what she likes to do for fun or about her last vacation. For motivation, you can ask what drives her, what’s important to her outside of work, what would she do if she didn’t need to work.” Of course, you don’t want to move through the acronym like a robot, but it’s a good framework for those moments when you’re feeling self-conscious about what to say.
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This story was originally published on September 28, 2017, and has since been updated.