If You’re Looking For New Friends, Start With Your Acquaintances

Illustration: Abbey Lossing

Loneliness was on the rise even before Covid-19. Now, with social events canceled and many people working from home, the situation is more dire — and might seem intractable. After all, how can you safely meet new people during a pandemic?

Like many people, I’ve been looking for more connection these days. After many months of no work travel and canceled social events, it’s easy to feel isolated. My first thought was that I needed to challenge myself to meet new people — difficult in the middle of a pandemic. But it turns out you don’t have to meet anyone new to feel more connected. “We’re not lonely for more interaction. We’re lonely for more meaningfulness,” says Shasta Nelson, author of the books The Business of Friendship and Friendships Don’t Just Happen!

Friendships are built through consistency, positivity, and vulnerability (that is, being emotionally open), Nelson says. The first quality enables the other two.

With those qualities in mind, you can transform a friendship — or even an acquaintance — into a much more meaningful relationship.

See who you see

“The most likely potential friends will be the people you’re already seeing or could potentially see regularly without either of you having to do much about it,” Nelson says. So, where do you go often? The dog park? A house of worship? Your kids’ schools? Start paying attention to the people you interact with frequently.

Make a list

As you note the people you see, Nelson suggests asking yourself, “Who do I enjoy? Who am I more curious about? Am I excited when they reach out?” Then, make a list. “Start with a Post-it note,” she says. “Three to five names. You don’t have to overthink it. Who do you like and gravitate toward?”

Invest the time

A few years ago, Nelson made such a list of five casual acquaintances who intrigued her. She told them, “I’m giving you fair warning: You’re my priority this year.” That might seem a bit forward, but she said, “They all loved it,” because “people want to feel loved and liked.” Making someone a priority means making time for them.

Be prepared to share

No, the new acquaintance at the dog park probably doesn’t want your whole life story the first time you talk. But as you start getting together with someone frequently, you can take responsibility for figuring out what would make you feel seen. Nelson recommends asking yourself before any get-together, “What do I most want to share today? What would I like this person to know?” Of course, if you’re going to share, you also need to…

Be prepared to listen

Friendship requires reciprocity. Go into any get-together with a few open-ended questions that will elicit real answers, like “What are you most looking forward to right now?” Over time, you and your chosen new friends will open up to each other, and however many friends you wind up having, you’ll feel less lonely — and more connected and loved.

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.

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