Building Friendships


Friendships are invaluable and necessary to live well.

Friendships build on shared contexts.

For many reasons, not everyone can be your friend.

Making friends requires prior experience in friendship-making.

Good friends are difficult to find.

To make friends, be a likeable friend and make people important.

Look all over for friends, especially in places you hadn’t looked before, and find creative ways to attract people.

Watch for warning signs of toxic friendships.

Having dysfunctional friendships will destroy your chances of making other friends elsewhere.

Learn to cut off friendships easily.

If you find good friends, work unceasingly to keep them.

Why have friends?

You only know 2% of a person from the outside, and the rest is waiting to be found:
  • If you dig deep enough, each person is deeply interesting and unique.
  • Everyone is an expert on something, and it’s your job to discover it.

Friendships are a necessary part of living well:
  • They ground us in reality.
  • By being vulnerable, we understand ourselves more.
  • We need friends to be happy.
  • Different lifestyles from our friends help challenge our views of the world.
  • They give us resources and connections to others to help us succeed.
  • They encourage us when we lose faith in ourselves.
  • By sharing experiences and time with each other, both friends benefit at the same time.
  • Anything you can do with money, you can do better with friends.

If you make friends well, you can even turn enemies into your friends.

Friendships build on shared interest

We find friends over shared contexts we have in common with others:
  • Our shared experiences aren’t as relevant as sharing contexts with them:
    • Similar experiences (like military or school)
    • Same taste in media (like music, movies, books or games)
    • Similar preferences (like with food or work)
    • Same hobbies or pastimes
    • Similar philosophical, religious or group affiliation
    • Shared hatred of a common enemy or threat
    • Opportunity for mutual business or shared benefit
  • Thankfully, we can still relate over shared feelings, even if we have nothing else in common.

Good friendships are fun:
  • Your time with friends should be comfortable, dynamic, entertaining, and stimulating.
  • You should look forward to spending time with that person.
  • Both people ought to feel optimism, trust, acceptance, importance, and support from each other.
  • Both friends should act out of love for each other.
  • Friends share an equal power dynamic.

Friendships have several levels of depth:
  1. Close Friends:
    • They are the most important people in your life.
    • Close friends come with high risks and yield tremendous rewards.
    • Because of how much we must invest into them, we can only have 2-3 of them at a time.
  2. Good Friends:
    • While they’re essential, they’re not part of our daily life.
    • They they may help you move or attend your wedding, but they have their own lives.
    • While they give little risk or reward and are safe to spend time with, you can’t fully rely on them for most of your needs.
  3. Peers:
    • Peers usually share a portion of your lifestyle or are friends on a social network.
    • Even if you talk about intensifying the friendship, you probably only keep a public routine with them.
    • For many people, peers are their only friends.
  4. Acquaintances:
    • Peers and acquaintances often blur together.
    • You know acquaintances by name only, but might see them routinely.
  • The healthy ideal is 2-3 close friends, about a dozen good friends, and many peers and acquaintances.

Interests and circumstances change, so friendships typically run through a cycle:
  1. Coming Together:
    1. Initiating – opening a dialogue
    2. Experimenting – testing the kind of friend that person could be
    3. Intensifying – finding a role for that person
    4. Integrating – adapting lifestyles to fit that person
  2. Relational Maintenance:
    1. Bonding – spending quality time together
    2. Differentiating – identifying with differences instead of similarities
    3. Circumscribing – finding unrelated things to do
  3. Coming Apart:
    1. Stagnating – distance from little to no continued contact
    2. Avoiding – cutting off contact, which may include lifestyle changes
    3. Ending – officially closing the friendship with a tense conversation

Because we change as people, we need frequent involvement in various events and activities to cycle new friends in as old ones phase out.

Not everyone can be your friend

Friendships need more than a shared background:
  • Both people need free time to share.
  • The power dynamics will adapt to each person’s maturity.
  • Outside opinions of the friendship often affect whether it’s viable.
  • We all have quirks that may irritate people in specific and unforeseen ways.

Many people have reasons to distrust:
  • Some people had previous friends who manipulated, exploited or deceived.
  • People can attribute certain traits with untrustworthiness.
  • Some people have prejudices about uncontrollable factors like race or ethnicity.
  • Most people create a bias from first impressions.
  • Even nonjudgmental people who accept you may have to maintain other friendships at the same time.

Sometimes, our personalities simply don’t mesh well.

Making friends requires experience making friends

Very often, most new friends are friends of current friends:
  • If you have enough friends, secondary associates are the best way to make new friends.
  • Because we like to associate with people who are like us, having lousy friends will mean your easiest secondary connections will likely be lousy friends.

If you feel you need friends, you have unfulfilled needs:
  • Clinging too much to few friends or a new friend is normal, but drives most mentally well people away.
  • It’s much easier to make a second friend after making the first one.
  • To avoid over-depending on any one friend, make multiple new friends at once.
  • A great romantic relationship requires much more investment and time than a great friendship, so never expect any new friend to become one.

When you have very few friends, it’s much harder to make new ones:
  1. Like any other skill, social skills are frustrating at first.
  2. Both preventing and managing awkward situations requires experience, which comes from experience.
  3. Without the support network to handle social failures, antisocial people don’t easily learn from experience.
  4. Successfully finding friends requires sifting through dozens of people until you find a good fit, which requires shallow connection to many people.
  5. Also, people from dysfunctional homes often have additional trouble from lies about making friends:
    • We’ll often repeat the mistakes of our family of origin and reinforce those lies.
    • Many dysfunctional people stay with their family instead of persevering for better friends.

Knowing how much to engage is an art form:
  • As we mature, we learn to avoid continual engagement with one friend and broaden our lives a bit.
  • Observe the portions of their lifestyle they’re sacrificing for your friendship.

Good friends are hard to find

Every healthy friendship has the same universals:
  • Both friends benefit from hearing both good and bad news from each other.
  • After spending time together, they both feel energized and encouraged.
  • They trust and respect each others’ talents and abilities.
  • They take personal responsibility for their words and actions with each other.
  • They both consider their differences in opinion and thought as healthy forms of expression.
  • Communication is open and honest.
  • Both interpret the friendship as an opportunity for personal goals alongside the other’s interests.

Good friends generally give more than they take:
  • Selflessly giving makes more friends than generating pity.
  • Constantly find ways to affirm to others that they’re important.
  • Observe how others behave toward you when you’re sick or in need, since that’s how they wish others to treat them.

Good friends share values:
  • We all wish for others to like us, but good friends live by strong values they share with other people.
  • Without values, two people are following each other, which creates a strange unhealthy codependency of two followers.

To avoid feeling (and looking) desperate, learn to enjoy life alone:
  • If you can find benefits in solitude, people won’t feel like you’re over-attached.
  • You can enjoy your favorite media anytime you want.
  • You can can take your time with chores and stay undressed in your house.
  • Your free time and vacations are filled with anything you want.
  • Without peer pressure, you save money when shopping.
  • Without others distracting you, you can focus on work more easily.
  • If you want to change habits, you don’t risk others’ poor habits interfering.

If you have no friends around, set low expectations:
  • The circumstances of the situation often make connecting difficult, even when both people want to!
  • Sometimes, someone is too busy for an additional friendship.
  • Other times, the venue doesn’t allow much room to connect.
  • Often, people have trouble with an impassable language or culture barrier.

How to make friends

The art of making friends is to become likeable and make others important:
  • How you’re known is far more important than who or what you know (i.e., you’re creating meaningful connections).
  • Most people hate making friends because they must change themselves to become a better friend.
  • Learn to be more tactful and a better listener.
  • You’ll attract people similar to you, so treat everything you want in others as standards for yourself.
  • How much you like yourself is the limit to how much anyone can like you.

Learn to be happy:
  • Happiness is critical to withstand the inevitable conflicts from human connection.
  • People naturally associate with enthusiastic, optimistic people and shy away from unhappy, cynical ones.
  • The only people who enjoy time with miserable people are other miserable people.
  • Learn how to safely and openly express your unhappiness with your friends.

Learn tempered authenticity:
  • Express openness, then ask open questions about their life.
  • Tempered authenticity is mixing your sincerely honest views with respect for the listener.
  • Most people either want to please others and won’t speak openly, or don’t pay attention to others’ feelings.
  • Sometimes, your contempt for something is far more valuable than your pity or approval.
  • True friendship requires your personally shared experience, not just swapping anecdotes.

Communicate how much you value them:
  • Celebrate differences you have with them.
  • Pay attention to them, especially when they’re speaking.
  • Express appropriate affection and sympathy for what they’re communicating.
  • More frequently than not, express how much they mean to you in your own personal way (speaking, making things, hugging, etc.).
  • If they have the time, treat them to a meal.
  • Give generously to the people around you, and don’t ever treat it as a loan.
  • When offering something that’s valuable, imply they don’t need to take it or they’ll interpret it as requiring a contractual response (e.g., “I’m going on vacation to the Bahamas and have an extra ticket, wanna come?”).
  • If you borrow something, give it back in better condition.

Great friends know how and when to express love:

Each person has a preferred mix of certain expressions of love.

  1. Kind words – compliments or verbal care:
    • Give genuine affirmations without criticism.
    • Send likes or comment on social media.
  2. Quality time: focused, uninterrupted time together
    • Avoid any distractions from media or mobile devices.
    • Learn to listen more than talk.
  3. Gifts – meaningful physical expressions:
    • These gifts don’t have to have a minimum cost, but must have relational meaning (e.g., merchandise from their favorite brand).
    • To avoid awkward feelings, the depth of the friendship should determine how much to pay.
    • If you can’t find the right one, give three smaller gifts that are serious, humorous and homemade.
  4. Acts of service – actions that make life less stressful or more enjoyable:
    • Acts of service can be anything including chores, planning, professional services or unpleasant tasks.
    • Since people have to sacrifice control for you to help, respect others saying “no”.
  5. Physical affection – showing connection through touch:
    • Touch can include grazing contact, holding hands, hugging, and anything physical intimate.
    • Affection varies wildly by culture, so observe that person’s context and background.
    • Be careful in a work environment and in public because people often misconstrue affection in those contexts as sexual harassment.

Remember details about them:
  • Consider what’s important to that person more than yourself.
  • Each person’s first name is the most memorable word they know, so remember everyone’s name!
  • Keep track of a person’s birthdays, major life events, status, family associations, professional accomplishments, and background.
  • Set recurring events in your calendar to congratulate them.
  • If you need ideas for a present for them, say you’re giving them a present and give them three guesses to figure out what it is.

Broaden communication with them when possible:
  • If a new person joins a group, call out the other people by name to give them a chance to memorize them.
  • Text more than social media, call more than text.

Where to find friends

Often, if you can’t find a friend, you’re simply not going to places you’d find someone with one of your shared interests:
  • Most people who advance their career and start having children simply don’t have time to find friends compared to when they were schoolchildren or in college.
  • While most people don’t change their situation, anyone can change their situation within 6 months:
    • Sit outside your home and make small talk with every single person who comes by.
    • Throw a block party and invite all your neighbors.
    • Volunteer at something you like (e.g., a club or hobby group).
    • Get involved in a fitness, sports or martial arts community.
    • Get involved in a church.

Most people passively look for friends and wait for others to make the first move:
  • Actively look for friends that you can break the ice with.
  • If you want to talk to someone, take the risk and do it!
  • The worst thing they can do is reject you, which isn’t as scary as you’re imagining because most people are polite about it.
  • If you like them, ask for their number or connect on social media.
  • If you want to be creative, take their photo and ask to send it to them, then ask for their number.

Do new, uncomfortable things to find new places to meet people:
  • Making friends is trial-and-error experimentation, so more results come from more tests.
  • Instead of making a few deep connections, make many small and light connections to find people worth building relationships with.

Become a better participant on social media:
  • When you write, you must benefit the reader:
    • Is it interesting or informative?
    • Is it amusing, entertaining or funny?
    • Will it add value to anyone’s life?
  • Try to find social media that is positive and inspiring where there are plenty of other people in it.
  • Spend more time messaging people personally and less time on message boards.
  • Routinely remove friends from social media who aren’t part of your life anymore.

While social media feels like socializing, it doesn’t fully replace in-person connection.

Find ways to start conversations:
  • Talk with your coworkers more.
  • Bring gum to offer or a lighter/cigarettes for smokers.
  • Start conversations by wearing a funny T-shirt.
  • If you live in a dorm or apartment, keep your door open.
  • Pull out your headphones or earbuds and put away your mobile device.
  • When it rains, bring a large umbrella that you can invite others to walk with you under.
  • Instead of driving or biking, use mass transit or a rideshare and chat with strangers.
  • Instead of asking what their favorite book/movie/band is, ask what book/movie/band they’re currently enjoying the most.
  • Visit the same businesses consistently to acquaint yourself with the owners and employees.
  • Talk to people you don’t know at parties and social events.
  • Bring a power strip to a coffee shop, cafeteria or airport.

Explore places you can find others with a common interest:
  • Dine out and have coffee with others.
  • Go to public events like concerts and clubs.
  • Unless you’ve been to it before, never decline an invitation to an event.
  • Connect with a church or volunteer organization.
  • Explore hobbies with others through Meetup or Craigslist.
  • Connect with your friends’ friends.
  • Connect with social media friends in person.
  • Get involved in social events like city fundraisers, festivals, shows, and concerts.
  • Invite someone to try something unfamiliar to both of you.
  • Choose exciting and fun places to go with friends for them to associate you with having fun.

Learn how to behave at social events:
  • Try to find cultures where their normal behavior is how you want to behave.
  • Take an interest in the event and its culture.
  • Before the event, learn at least some trivia about the event and its related topics.
  • Contribute meaningful ideas to the group conversation or find someone you share opinions with.
  • Stay open to trying something potentially embarrassing, but resist peer pressure about something unless you want to do it.
  • If everyone else is doing it, either do it as well or leave the group.
  • If you have trouble engaging with another person in a group, try to dig into possible interests you share with that person.
  • While eating with friends, make everyone place their phone face down, then whoever checks it first pays the bill.

Learn to be likable at your workplace:
  • Temper your topics to only business.
  • Get to know your coworkers’ personal lives, if they’re comfortable sharing.
  • In many workplace cultures, nobody implies anything personally
  • Go above and beyond what others expect.
  • While tact is important, professionalism requires it!

Get involved in group events:

Be cautious with friends who are family:
  • The closest people you know will be family, but they often won’t respect your lifestyle changes.
  • Breaking ties with family can cost you dearly, so treat them all as important.
  • Your family is a miniature community through culture and genetics, so every relationship creates dramatic consequences with everyone else.
  • Watch for members that circulate negative remarks and slander with the rest of the family.
  • Some members will overstep boundaries and and try to bring family members together.
  • Many times, members will choose to disassociate without any explanation.
  • Only sever family ties if you have the skills to build friends elsewhere!

Warning signs

Friendships are a story that starts from how you met:
  • The future of your present friendships connects to your past relationship with those people.
  • If you formed a friendship through a social group or workplace, leaving that group usually ends that friendship.

You can usually get a decent first impression by observing a few specific contexts:
  • Often, you won’t know who your friends really are until you see them in a variety of social contexts.
  • It takes months, and sometimes years, to experience many environments and build trust and intimacy with someone.
  • Your ability to judge impressions can save lots of time.

To see friendships transition, observe how those people behave:
  1. How they treat small children or animals.
  2. How they handle practical inconveniences like a slow internet connection or car trouble.
  3. How they behave in a group of strangers.
  4. How they manage conflicts with others.
  5. The way they explain a technical matter to someone with a non-technical background.
  6. Who their five closest friends are.
  7. How they handle hardships and unpleasant surprises.

A. Capture your impression from meeting them in public:
  • How comfortable they make their acquaintance with others
  • How kind or friendly they appear to be, especially toward strangers
  • Their overall disposition at first glance

B. After you’ve found a baseline with them, observe their authentic behavior:
  • How much they gossip about others versus directly approaching them
  • How much they stand against an injustice
  • The amount of time they talk about themselves
  • How petty or judgmental they are
  • Their ability to keep a secret
  • Their ability to tell the truth versus exaggerating or lying
  • Whether they return borrowed items or pay others back quickly

C. Pay close attention to discover their motivations and values:
  • Their philosophical ideas about absolutely everything.
  • Their willingness to let strangers suffer or die for personal gain
  • Their capacity to be mean, selfish or cruel
  • What they want in life, and what they would sacrifice to get it

Carefully consider who you want in your life:
  • If you don’t feel good about yourself after interacting with that friend, don’t keep them close.
  • Many pleasant surface-level people have evil motives, and are still fine as casual friends even when you can’t trust them.
  • If you care about your reputation, limit your time with people who have a heart of gold with an unpleasant image.
  • If you ever find a high-quality person on all levels, that person is always worth knowing!

Dysfunctional friendships

A good friendship has two strong people:
  • If one person is much weaker than the other, the stronger one unintentionally overpowers them.
  • If both people are generally weak, it becomes two people empowering each other toward less-than-valuable goals.

Other potential friends judge your character and identity by the company you keep:
  • The younger someone is, the more heavily they’re influenced by their friends.
  • Meeting dysfunctional people is always worth the experience, but staying friends with them will destroy your reputation happiness.
  • Therefore, avoid or break ties with dysfunctional friendships immediately.

Some people will lead you on:
  • They’ll make promises and give attention, but never seem to follow through when you need them.
  • Their efforts are to gain power and control, not genuine interest.

Avoid unhappy people:
  • Unhappy people will drain and discourage you over time.
  • Try to cheer them up and motivate them, but don’t stay with them if they persist in their misery.
  • The most deceptive of these are either perpetually angry or perpetually offended.

Don’t associate with friends who don’t change:
  • Many people prefer to stay unchanging, even when they hurt others in the process.
  • If your friend hurts you, then apologizes, then doesn’t change, plan ahead for when you will stop your friendship with them.
  • Some people prefer to stay victims their entire life.

Don’t trust friends who talk poorly about others:
  • If they share negative things about others, they’ll do the same about you elsewhere.
  • Most of the time, they do it habitually, so they’re not worth trusting.

Never make friends with people who don’t like you:
  • You’re worth more than any single person’s opinion of you.
  • Nobody is worth your efforts to “win” their affections, and good friends don’t have those expectations.
  • Avoid people who maintain a facade to watch you fail (also known as “frenemies”)

Avoid anyone with questionable morals:
  • These people may be foolish or extremely insensitive to others.
  • They might be violent or constantly angry.
  • They might abuse a substance like alcohol, drugs, a certain type of media or food.
  • They might lie, steal or cheat.
  • If someone borrows money and you never see them again, it was worth the expense.
  • Avoid them at all costs!

Don’t expect much from former friends who hadn’t met your expectations before:
  • Very often, your expectations are higher now because you’ve grown.
  • That friend may not be the same person, but many people stay the same across decades.
  • If that person has changed, you’re engaging with an entirely different person, so treat it as a completely new friendship.

Watch for friends who always try to “fix” you:
  • Instead of listening to you, they’ll tell you to calm down or relax when you’re upset.
  • They’ll usually make a quick judgment and advise before hearing the entire story.
  • Sometimes, they’ll try to do things that don’t solve your problem or disrespect your feelings.

Watch for unusually trusting people:
  • Some people make each of their friends almost immediately into an intimate relationship.
  • This person fears solitude and desires acceptance.
  • While they’re trying to please everyone, they fail at setting healthy boundaries.
  • They’re often clingy or will overly identify with something.
  • They’ll frequently become very possessive and jealous of their healthier friends.
  • Since they must understand that not all friends are perfect companions, give distance with kindness and communicate distinctions between your beliefs and theirs.

Watch for distrusting people:
  • Even with many good friends, people with trust issues have no close friends.
  • They’re typically afraid of connection or authenticity until those people meet an impossible standard.
  • While they tend to care about others, they’ll often give more than they should, but won’t receive to the same level.
  • Sometimes, if someone doesn’t trust anyone, they may be trying to hide something as well.

Avoid inauthentic people:
  • Some people are terrified of an intimate, genuine interaction.
  • The relationship is usually tense because that person is using pre-recorded social skits, and a slight disagreement will sever ties.
  • Many times, it will show through downgraded communication channels (emailing as a response to talking, texting as a response to a phone call, etc.)
  • If you try breaking the barrier with bold and genuine dialogue, they will either respond back authentically or hate you for it.
  • Do this as soon as possible because persisting with them for long is unhealthy.

Avoid people who generate anxiety and promise a solution:
  • These people include politicians and marketers, but can be anyone who seems authentic but gives you a strange feeling of unease.
  • Very often, these people are morally bankrupt, so avoid them at all costs unless you’re simply exploiting them yourself.

Avoid lopsided friendships:
  • A lopsided friendship is when you and your friend regard each other unevenly.
  • They may desire to spend far more (or less) time with you.
  • Listen to your instincts and analyze where they’re coming from.
    • When people laugh, they instinctively turn to the person they are most comfortable with.
    • People point their feet to what they’re focusing on.
  • Watch for some clear indicators:
    • One person will spend much more time listening than the other.
    • They have their mobile device on them all the time, but still take hours to text you back.
    • They always seem to have a full schedule or consistently cancel at the last minute.
    • Your goals and theirs don’t seem to line up anymore.
    • They seem busy with everything but you.

Some people will rapidly shift subjects to not talk about your life:
  • If they’re obsessed with themselves, disengage immediately.
  • When they have intimacy issues, keep them as a friend but avoid making them a close friend.
  • If they’re suspecting you’re self-absorbed, then learn to be more tactful.

Cut off bad friends

Learn how to avoid unhealthy people:
  • Try to behave as boring and dull as possible with someone you don’t want to be around.
  • Express that you’re frequently busy, and find something you can be busy with.
  • You never need to say “this friendship is over”, since life’s events will often make that readily apparent.

Sometimes, you can simply lose your friendship with them by not putting up with their unhealthy behaviors:
  • Every time they complain, positively disagree with them about how things aren’t that bad.
  • Each time they use an excuse to not do something good, go ahead and do it yourself.

Don’t worry too much about how to get rid of friends:
  • If you keep succeeding, you’ll alienate your lousy friends quickly.
  • Anytime you change jobs, move, or succeed, you’re putting distance between your weakest friendships.

Work to keep good friends

12 great friends are worth more than hundreds of fair-weather friends:
  • Ideally, you want 3 dependable friends at any time.

Do what you can to preserve the friendship:
  • Perform small acts of kindness whenever you see them.
  • Give them small gifts that remind you of them.
  • If you work with them, notify their supervisor about how well they’ve done if they’re okay with it.

Keep assessing whether that friend is worth your time:
  • That friendship represents an event or stage of your life, in both good and bad ways.
  • You can’t have the virtues of your friend without their vices as well.
  • Look at your five closest friends to see where you’ll be in five years.
  • You should still both cherish the time you spend together and both admire each other.
  • If you’re feeling rejection at all, accept it and move on to new friends.
  • Good friends won’t endure bad behavior on your end, so they might be making a good decision by dropping you.

Keep a diverse group of friends to maintain a healthy view of the world:
  • You should be able to share your strangest and most controversial ideas with them.
  • Have a friend who is highly analytical and one who has lots of fun.
  • Stay legally safe by making friends with a police officer or law student.
  • Stay in touch with friends who have computer skills, mechanical skills, or grew up in a bad neighborhood.
  • Always have friends who are older than you and friends that are younger.

Don’t let anything get in the way of a great friendship:
  • The love of two friends shifts from “you” or “me” to “us”.
  • Share how much they mean to you before you lose touch with them.
  • Prioritize your friend’s needs above your own, and be supportive and helpful whenever they need it.
  • If a friend hurt you, forgive them and move on if they’ve changed.
  • When you borrow anything from them, promptly give it back.
  • If you wish to date someone your friend has dated, ask permission first.
  • If they live with you, openly communicate household responsibilities and keep the common areas clean without them asking.
  • Find new experiences and routines you can share with them.

Even when they move or change lifestyles, stay in touch with them:
  • Keep track of all your contacts with a management system.
  • Maintain four lists on your calendar:
    1. Best friends (3 weeks)
    2. Close friends (2 months)
    3. General friends (6 months)
    4. Stay in touch (1 year)
    • With the four lists, you can keep in touch with hundreds of people at once.

Social skills are ongoing

Friendships are always worth the experience, even though they all eventually end.

We must constantly learn how to improve our writing and speaking skills if we want to make friends that match our maturity.

This page is Part 3 of People Skills. Part 1 was Why People Skills Matter, Part 2 was Making Yourself Presentable, and Part 3 was Respecting People.