Relationship Tips

How To Make Friends in a Digital-Only World, According to a Friendship Expert

Mary Grace Garis

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Photo: Getty Images/Carlina Teteris

Consider this a friendly reminder that if your social calendar is straight-up blank right now, you are not, by any means, alone. We are living through a pandemic that has led to canceled events, vacations, dates, and even going into an office—basically, all the reasons to experience human contact. You might feel, especially if you’ve moved during said pandemic, lonely and unsure what to do about your desire to connect. After all, it’s hard enough making friends as an adult, but nobody teaches you how to make friends during quarantine.

Well, until now, that is. Marisa G. Franco, PhD, psychologist and friendship expert, is here to explain the factors that form friendships and how to parlay them into the current pandemic landscape. Consider it your quick guide on how to make friends during quarantine…and, later, in a world where brunch can be enjoyed without face masks and the lingering aura of doom. Cheers!

The 3 factors that explain how to make friends during quarantine (or any other time).

1. Superficial similarity

In this sense, “superficial” points to the easy, surface level connections you might share with someone. Similar demographic backgrounds, similar clothing, similar ages—all of these are signifiers that this person could be a viable companion to you. On the flip side, “disregard criteria” is an unconscious bias we all have that discounts others who don’t share outward commonalities (again, someone of a different age range, different gender, whatever it may be). So, just because you don’t share the superficial similarity of age with someone doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t be a viable friend to you (in fact, the opposite may be true).

“The more similar we are to people, the more we feel understood, the more we feel ‘gotten’. So similarity tends to be a significant glue.” —Marisa G. Franco, PhD, friendship expert

“Similarity really builds connection,” says Dr. Franco. “The more similar we are to people, the more we feel understood, the more we feel ‘gotten’. So similarity tends to be a significant glue.”

2. Proximity

This is a little tricky, right now, because it depends on your state’s current social-distancing guidelines. But in my local New York City, for example, I feel comfortable and compliant eating outside and being socially distant with friends in parks. So, I’ve been seeing friends in my neighborhood relatively often.

3. Chemistry

“There’s also an ineffable spark or chemistry that you might feel with someone that’s kind of hard to define. But the research does find that after a first interaction, people can sort of predict who they’ll become friends with and who they won’t, and, to an extent, that that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Dr. Franco. “There’s a bit of, ‘I just feel comfortable around you’ or ‘I feel like I can be myself around you’ off the bat that drives people together.”

Here’s how to make friends during quarantine, according to a friendship expert.

1. Wake up your sleepy friendships

The first thing Dr. Franco advises when you’re thinking about how to make friends is to wake up your “sleepy friendships” and try to reconnect with people from your past.

“When we are reconnecting with people, we already have a degree of trust, a trust that sort of catapults our friendships forward compared to someone that we’re just meeting,” says Dr. Franco. “So I think a lot of people have been doing this. It’s a really excellent time to just be like, ‘who have I fallen out of touch with that I wish I didn’t?'”

And you can tread carefully—if there’s someone you had a big fight with or some sort of catastrophic friend breakup, that might be a relationship to keep shelved during this stressful time. But many friendships end simply because people fall out of touch or get busy. Reviving them might be a little bit easier than starting fresh with someone new.

“I think it can be a really good idea to thumb through your phone and go through all your text messages—the texts you sent a year ago—and see who you were texting then,” says Dr. Franco. “See if there’s anybody that you really want to reconnect with.”

2. Promote people up from “acquaintance” status

“Consider people in your network that are maybe already acquaintances, and see how you can turn them into friends,” says Dr. Franco. “Who’s someone at work that maybe you’ve always wanted to go out to coffee with, but haven’t gotten a chance to get to know? Be very intentional about initiating with people in your network.”

You can wait this out indefinitely and see if someone reaches out to you, or you can just, for example, message that cool chick in the design department over Slack. Initiation, Dr. Franco stresses, is really important when it comes to making this happen.

“People assume, when it comes to friendship, [that] it happens organically,” Dr. Franco says. “But what the research finds is that the more you think friendship happens organically, the more lonely you’re going to end up being. So what I really suggest is to make an effort and take a lot of initiative [with] people that are in your network already.”

3. Join a recurring, digital group

If you’ve exhausted all your options and are really finding yourself in a sort of friendship desert, sign yourself up for some kind of virtual club or recurring meetings. Social-justice clubs, book clubs, anything.

“In order to be strategic about it, you want to think about joining something virtual that’s continuous,” says Dr. Franco. “And the reason is because there’s this effect called the mere exposure effect, which is basically that the more we are exposed to people, the more we like them. So, I always say, don’t go to a single happy hour with people, or don’t go to a one-off event—join something that’s more continuous, so that you connect with people.”

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