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Finding Friendship: How to make friends as an adult in the DC area

“People like people that they think like them. The secret to being likable is to like people," said Marisa G. Franco, author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make and Keep Friends"

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With “loneliness epidemic” splashed across headlines and a steady stream of social media posts asking people how to find connection in the D.C. area, we decided to dive into a stubborn issue that many of us have struggled with.

How do you make friends as an adult?

It’s not an easy task, but know this: you are not alone. When we asked our viewers about finding new friends since the pandemic, nearly 40% said they’re looking but struggling.

We asked experts and neighbors who’ve built meaningful connections to share their best advice for finding friendship.

Build yourself up

Marisa G. Franco, author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make and Keep Friends,” shared some of her best advice for making new friends. Taking care of yourself is an important step.

It’s okay if you feel scared or afraid, Franco said.

To combat nerves, remind yourself of your strengths. People will probably like you more than you think, she said.

“That’s all part of the process of connection,” she said.

It’s normal to feel some worry when branching out. Before you send that text message or head to an event, give yourself a pep talk to calm your nerves and boost your confidence.

“Take a moment before you’re about to go into an interaction,” Franco said.

Jessica Lewis, who founded PlayPlay DC, a community of LGBTQIA+ people who come together to find friends through play, says you can take inspiration from kids, who often seem to have an easier time making friends.

“What are they doing right? They are not in their head. They are being themselves,” Lewis said.

Meeting new friends can be hard, especially for adults, but your approach could make all the difference. News4’s Tommy McFly explains some experts recommend you treat making friends like dating.

You can treat making friends like dating

We often feel that strong attraction to new friends (we like to call it a friend crush!).

“Romantic attraction can crop up without sexual attraction,” Franco said. “Romantic attraction as in, I’m thrilled by you, I’m excited by you. I’m passionate about you. I want to spend all my time with you!”

Many people compartmentalize friendships and relationships – but that could stop you from flexing social skills that are useful in both kinds of interactions.

So, why not think of making new friends like dating? You can get to know people and see who you click with.

Dr. Imani Cheers, an associate professor at George Washington University, shared a pro tip for a friendly pick-up line.

“Go in with a compliment,” Cheers said. “Just make sure it’s genuine. Be open to the person either saying thank you and walking away, or pause and have a conversation.”

And just like with dating, you can look for new friends online! Online friendships can be very meaningful, and there are a lot of active communities in D.C. Local Dischord servers, Reddit channels and Facebook groups like Welcome2DC can yield in-person meetups (take the same safety precations you would with an online date).

Rekindle relationships

Rekindling old friendships could be a good way to boost your social life.

“The first thing that I say is reconnect with people. Because those are people you already have trust with. The relationship will move a lot more quickly.”

Her “low-stakes baby step”?

Pick up your phone, go through your messages and see who you haven’t spoken to since this time last year.

“Say, ‘Oh, I was just thinking about you, just remembered this memory we had together and I wanted to check in,’” Franco said.

If they seem responsive, ask if they’re open to reconnecting sometime.

Worried you’ll come off as clingy or weird? According to Franco, the research suggests you won't – in fact, if things just fizzled out without a good reason, showing your interest will likely spark good feelings.

“The research finds there’s this theory called the theory of inferred attraction,” Franco said. “People like people that they think like them. The secret to being likable is to like people.”

Carving out time to make friends can seem hard, but it may be easier than you think. News4’s Tommy McFly explains how the friendships you build online can be just as meaningful as those in person.

Finding your tribe

Franco’s next piece of advice is to join a group that has repeated meetings. Regular encounters make finding your tribe easier.

“You capitalize on something called the mere exposure effect, our unconscious tendency to like people when they are familiar,” Franco said.

City Girls Who Walk DC is the kind of group that offers a step-by-step path to friendship. They host weekly walks, happy hours and events, and even have subgroups including book clubs and a grief group.

Do you like sports, gaming, music or animals? Here are some specific ideas:

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