Most 20-year-olds are busy navigating the transition from youth to adulthood. One thing that’s not on their to-do list? Learning the principles behind making friends. It seems to come so naturally in childhood that they don’t give it a second thought.

What they don’t know is that the way we make friends changes as we grow older. Suddenly, growing a social circle isn’t something that happens organically. It takes effort, just the same way romantic relationships and career developments do.

The good news is that making friends is a skill that can be learned and nurtured like any other. Here are five things any soon-to-be-grownup needs to understand to develop a rewarding and active social life.

1. Small Talk Pays Big Dividends

Young adults who are used to earnest, soul-baring, all-night discussions in dorm rooms often believe small talk is a superficial means of communication. In fact, small talk is the quickest, most efficient way to gain insight into someone’s personality and find shared interests.

Small talk is more than a conversation about the weather that’s become the clichéd definition. Anything from movies and TV shows to vacation spots and hobbies is a potential topic. It’s all about finding common ground to form a base for prospective friendships.

2. Shared Interests Make Stronger Ties

Kids are able to make friends by just “hanging out,” but, for adults, that’s no longer an option. Cultivating an interest opens the door to involvement in activities, providing an opportunity to meet others with a built-in common bond.

The key is in choosing a genuinely fulfilling interest. If you become a compulsive “joiner,” people will see through the pretense, and insincerity is one of the quickest ways to end friendships before they even begin.

3. Friends Should Inspire Admiration, Not Dismay

It’s a fact of life that teenagers are often most attached to the friends who draw the most objections from their parents. As we become adults, we discover another fact, which is that we’re judged by the company we keep.

We have a tendency to seek approval by mirroring the appearance and behavior of those we spend time with. Seek out others who have qualities that you want to develop in yourself. When you’ve outgrown the need to rebel, the best friends are ones who challenge you to improve and become your best self.

4. Making Friends is a Long-Term Investment

Once you turn 30, the window of opportunity for making friends begins to close. This isn’t a negative development. Rather, it’s part of the natural cycle of life as we marry and start families that take most of our attention. At that age we also have more fully developed values, making us more selective about those with whom we spend our time.

It’s smart to make as many friends as possible while you’re in your 20s. As time goes on, it becomes easier to maintain close friendships than to make new ones, so the relationships you develop then will be a significant part of your future.

5. To Have a Friend, Be a Friend

Twenty-somethings often make the mistake of thinking they have to be the smartest or richest or most athletic or best anything for people to like them. They can end up exaggerating or even lying about their achievements in a desperate bid for popularity.

Think about someone who’s always talking about his or her great vacation or expensive new car. Are they fun to be around? Instead of making yourself look important, make others feel important by taking a genuine interest in them and what they do.

Making friends as adults is no longer the happy accident it is when we’re young, but we all have the basic tools to develop relationships. Creating a social network should be part of the learning curve of all 20-year-olds.

More reading about friendship: 10 Secrets to Making Lifelong Friends

Featured photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

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