Ellen, a fellow introvert who responded to my survey last week, asked, “How do I make friends when I love being alone?” I can relate to that question, and I imagine you may too. First, I want to point out that introverts make great friends and while we may not want to go to parties every night, we usually love being with our people. The trick is balancing our desire for meaningful connection with the time alone we also crave.
A helpful starting place can be shifting our thinking about relationships from quantity to quality. We live in a culture that pressures us to have more people in our lives—more likes, more follows, more events on our calendars. But studies have found people with even one close relationship are often more satisfied with their social lives than those who have a wide circle of acquaintances. This is especially true as we get older.
So instead of just deciding to “put ourselves out there more,” we can start by thinking of one person we want to get to know better. As we reach out, we can include these three factors that research shows contribute to friendship…
Intentionality – We often think friendship will just happen on its own. That may have been true when we were younger and in school with our peers every day. But as adults, friendship usually takes setting aside specific time to connect, like going for a walk, having coffee, or whatever is doable in this season of our lives.
Authenticity – We need the guts to show up as our true selves. It’s tempting to try to be someone we’re not to impress others, but this only increases loneliness. As bestselling author and researcher Brené Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Repetition – One of the most essential parts of friendship is simply being together over and over. It takes an average of 8 interactions to form a strong friendship. Scheduling a regular time to get together can be helpful, whether that’s once a year or once a week, in person or through FaceTime.
Once we establish friendship with one person, we can consider reaching out to someone else until our friendship circle is the size that feels best to us. There is no right or wrong amount of friends.
(Note: As introverts we need to include ourselves in our friendship circle too. That means spending intentional time alone, doing so in ways that feel authentic to who we are, and making solitude a repetitive part of our lives.)
Will making friends feel awkward sometimes? Absolutely. Will it work out with every person we try to befriend? Nope. Will we sometimes get hurt? Unfortunately. But will it be worth it in the end? Yes.
We all get nervous about connecting with people—even extroverts. When we feel fear as we’re trying to make friends, it simply means people matter to us.
Making friends takes courage. So does making time for solitude. Let’s keep daring to do both.
Cheering you on,
p.s. You can learn more about the brain science behind how much time with people vs. alone we each need, the strengths introverts bring to relationships, and more practical tips for friendships in Chapter 4: Meaningful Connection from The Powerful Purpose of Introverts.