Illustration by Maxine Crump.

Illustration by Maxine Crump.

Hi, Rookie. It feels like there’s this step in making friends that everyone knows except for me. I’m a nice, normal person, but I don’t know how to turn someone from “friendly acquaintance” to “actual friend.” In part, this is because I’m so worried about theoretically annoying a person that I’m scared of approaching people. The only friends I ever seem to have are people I’m forced to hang with, through seating charts or extracurriculars, and even then it’s not like we speak outside of that. Any advice on how to make friends/care less? Thank you! —Anonymous, 14, USA

Hi! I love this question, and DO I EVER FEEL YOU. I spent a great deal of my teenage years (and beyond! wheee!) looking at knotted clusters of people at lunch tables and parties, yell-thinking, How are you all friends? How did you…do this? How do you all know what to do all of the time?

Even now—especially when I travel alone or am in a new city—I’m continually struck by how simple and how complex having friends is. Alone, I’ll walk past yellow-lit restaurants with steamy windows, looking in at groups of laughing people, and wonder about how they met one another, how long they’ve known other people in the group, and what circumstances led them to this exact moment, where they’re kissing someone’s cheek hello or playfully punching someone’s shoulder. Who are they to one another? How did they become more than just strangers on the train, people who sit next to one another at school and work? It seems so mysterious, and yet…friends. Having friends also feels elemental, basic, something we “should” all know how to do. So why is making friends so weird and hard sometimes?

When we were little kids, it was easy. Our friends were other kids from our classrooms, or children who lived nearby, or kids from church/karate/daycare/swim club. We didn’t think about how to make friends, really—it mostly just…happened. But after puberty, usually, things get a little trickier. Cliques form, suddenly there are totally arbitrary “cool” people and “not-cool” people, and out of nowhere, we’re all a bit more self-conscious and thinking more about how things work. The word awkward sometimes comes into play, when we realize we’ve made a social gaffe, or when conversations feel forced, or just when we’re feeling less than included but still want to be accepted into groups. It didn’t used to be this way! We used to invite everyone in Ms. Dretzka’s second grade class to our birthdays!

What I’m getting at is: You’re not alone in this struggle! And you are not “missing a step” on how to make friends. Making friends as an almost-grown or grown person is often just harder than it was when we were kids. And nooooo! you are not annoying, or about to annoy anyone by attempting to become more than just acquaintances. In fact, you’re really brave for wanting to approach people and make friends—so many folks (like you!) are hoping someone will reach out!

In general, when trying to turn someone I kind-of know (and have regular contact with) into someone who Is My Friend, I find it’s easiest when we seem to have a few things in common (say, we both enjoy coffee, rolling our eyes when being assigned busywork, and secretly watching puppy montage videos on our phones). Keeping one of these basic interests in mind, I will then invite my Potential Friend to do something small with me, like this: “OMG look at this video I found of people getting puppies as presents,” or, “When we have our next break, I’m gonna go get a coffee, do you want to come?” Make your intro to friendship casual, and things can go from We’re walking to get coffees together during a 10-minute break to slightly bigger invites, like “Hey, did you bring your lunch today? Want to go eat under that big tree?”

Friendships take time. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s really, really true. Most don’t jump from We sit together for lab to We’re going thrifting on Saturday afternoon in one step. Baby steps. Everyone needs to feel each other out, see how things mesh, whether y’alls sense of humor aligns, et cetera. And if you extend small invitations to a potential pal and are turned down, no worries! This person is simply not ready to be closer friends right now. Too bad for them! If you and a potential new friend are meant to be, it won’t be massively difficult to arrange schedules and pick activities. Friendships come with time, and often when you’re not directly thinking about it. When you have a natural, easy flow with someone, friendships follow. Don’t worry, Anonymous. You are the opposite of annoying, and you are gonna find people who love to hang with you! ♦

Need advice about…anything? We’re listening! Email us about what’s troubling you at [email protected], and please include your AGE, FIRST NAME/INITIAL/NICKNAME, and CITY.