Main content

Get in the friend zone: how you can make mates

In Bringing up Britain, Mariella Frostrup and guests discuss The Fiendish World of Friendship: the skills children need to make friends and how a parent can help along a child’s faltering friendships.

But what about making mates as an adult? It isn’t as simple as asking, “will you be my friend?” Loneliness is becoming an epidemic in Britain: according to the Office for National Statistics, 2.4 million of us suffer from chronic loneliness.

Here are some simple steps for how to form fulfilling friendships.

1. Join a club

Joining a group, club or class based on something you love doing can be a really great way to meet new people and potential friends. You already share one passion or interest with your fellow attendees – and the chances are you’ll have other things in common too. Don’t be afraid to try out something new either! Take up taekwondo or life drawing and you might find you have a talent for it, as well as picking up a kindred spirit or two along the way.

Friend fact: Having no friends is as bad for your health as smoking.

2. Volunteer

Volunteering for a cause you care about, either in your local community or further afield, is another useful way to meet people that you otherwise wouldn’t cross paths with. You already know they’re kind and giving – top qualities to look for in a friend!

3. Swap digits

When you meet someone that you click with, whether at a mutual friend’s wedding or the gym, bite the bullet and ask for their phone number or email address. You can never just assume you're going to bump into them again. It might feel forward, but drop them a line the next day and tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. Suggest hooking up for a drink, a walk or a trip to a gallery. The friendship might just fizzle out but there’s a chance you’ve just taken the first step to making a life-long pal.

4. Say yes

Conversely, if a new acquaintance invites you round for dinner or offers you a theatre ticket, say yes. It might be nerve-wracking – like you’re on a one-way street out of your comfort zone – but nothing ventured, nothing gained! If you genuinely can’t make it, or can think of nothing worse than paintballing on a Sunday afternoon, then politely decline – but make it clear that you’d love to be invited to something again in the future.

Friend fact: Cows can have best friends!

5. Don’t be scared of rejection

Not every relationship you put effort into is going to work out. But if you worry about being rejected you’ll never get anywhere. Be brave and take a leap of faith! If you suggest meeting up with someone new and they turn you down – it isn’t the end of the world. Perhaps they weren’t the one for you after all! There are plenty more potential pals waiting in the wings.

6. Turn colleagues into friends

Most of us spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our own family, so it makes sense to try and make friends with them. Sometimes it’s hard to get past “office chat” but try opening up to a colleague – they’ll probably reciprocate. Say yes to after-work drinks (even if you’re tired), or ask someone in your team to stroll down to the local sandwich establishment with you on their lunch break. Getting away from your desks will make it easier to talk about things outside of work and help you make the transition from workmates to actual mates.

7. Be inquisitive

If you’re shy or stuck for things to say, ask people about themselves. Most of us enjoy talking about our own lives! If you genuinely listen, and refer back to things in the future, you’re on a fast track to friendship.

8. Step up when it matters

Little things, like remembering birthdays or buying a round, are important building blocks for a friendship. But sometimes it’s when the chips are down that you can really prove your worth. If someone is going through a tough time then step up to the plate. By delivering a homemade lasagne when someone is unwell, or offering him or her a lift to the hospital, you can show what a great friend you really are.

Friend fact: Babies as young as 9 months can recognise friendship.

9. Be open-minded

A new friend can come in all shapes and sizes. They might be seventeen or seventy; a dog man or a cat fan; a metal-head or a musical theatre lover. Remember that opposites do attract and you shouldn’t judge someone on first impressions. Give everyone a chance! Think of all the people who you thought were terrible when you first met them but who turned out to be terrific.

10. Give it time

It’s rare that you become best buddies with someone overnight. Give a new friendship room to grow and keep investing. Trust is built over time. The most important part of making new friends is to believe in what you have to offer. Work on feeling positive about you and putting time into caring for yourself.

More from Radio 4