How To Make Friends As An Adult

Nikki asked me: How do I make friends as an adult?

I don’t do that anymore. My friendship days are over. I have chosen a life of loneliness & solitude, a slow sullen decline into isolation, with no one to attend my funeral.

Ok, kidding.

Yes, I make friends wherever I go. People are so cool! I believe half of life’s assignment is to Love People. There are so many people we don’t know, and each one is Unique! Similar trends, yes—‘they all wear blue jeans’—but inherently unique: individual fingerprint, eye scan, facial structure, footprint—it is so crazy cool!

There are so many stories ‘out there’ which we will miss if we stay ‘in here’. People are invigorating and refreshing in their own way—and remember, if it weren’t for people, we wouldn’t know anybody…

I love kidding around with people, making eye contact, smiling and saying hi. I love making people laugh, especially those in the service industry—cashiers, waitresses, anyone we encounter whose job is to serve. They are often forced to interact with customers who suspend the niceties of life because ‘it’s their job and there’s nothing in it for me’.

Watch at grocery store how cashiers have to check out stone-faced, distant shoppers. The cashier asks “Did you find everything you need?” —no response from the shopper. ‘Anything I can help you with?’ No response. Sadly, cashiers are used to this. Their job puts them on the front line, and multiple beat downs lead to patterns of protective behavior—stock phrases with no heartfelt meaning because they expect to be ignored. So I joke around with them.

“The sign says this is a smoke-free zone. So…where are the free smokes?”

“Would I like cash back? Yes, if it is someone else’s.”

“Did I find everything I was looking for? No: I was hoping to find someone else’s wallet…”

This used to bother my kids; but I clearly remember the day,  checking out at Best Buy with my then-teenage daughter Nikki when she looked at me sideways, then stared straight at me, a smile crept over her face as she said “…Ahhh, I get it”—as if in that moment I morphed from nerd to philanthropist. Then during her turn to check out, while using her bankcard, she paused in mid-process, stared accusingly at the cashier and said, “You were looking at my pin. You just tried to get my pin.”

The cashier blinked out of his stupor, his  eyes widened, face dropped and began energetically denying the claim—and then Nikki laughed, said ‘I’m just kidding—‘ and all three of us busted out laughing, -maybe none harder than the cashier. Nikki sparked him.

Anything you can do to get people talking is cool. I love listening to people speak. Most people feel isolated and ignored. To have someone be interested in them is practically medicinal! Most people are lonely. Take an interest in them—a genuine interest, with nothing in it for yourself—just be interested, ask them questions, let them speak—and two outcomes: you’ll have a chance to learn something new, and they will call you an excellent conversationalist.

My personal challenge is I get easily distracted. Two doctors have said I may have attention-deficit disorder—I don’t want to believe them, but dang it, they might be right. I’m jealous of my daughters because they do such a good job of being in the moment–listening, processing and retaining information. I struggle to capture, absorb, and retain. Sometimes my brain feels rattled like a ball in a whistle, and the sensation is multiplied in groups or large settings. It’s a struggle at parties to stay focused on conversations.

But oh well. We all have personal battles, that’s one of mine, and there you go.

I’m not saying ‘be like me’—and neither is my wife, she’d go crazy. But I am saying: Take a Genuine Interest in Other People. Smile. Compliment (sincerely). You’ll connect with people and cool things will happen.

[One word of caution: The Master Teacher said, ‘Be shrewd as a serpent, innocent as a dove.’ What do you think that means? There’s an old Russian proverb that President Reagan used when negotiating an arms treaty with Gorbachev: “Trust but verify”. Be wise. In making friends, do not put yourself—or allow yourself to be put– into a position of danger. ‘Come here, little girl, I’m friendly, want a piece of candy?…’ So yes, be innocent —but be shrewd.]

I fully believe half the calling on our lives is to Love people—to love our family, love our neighbors, love our friends—and so let’s expand our circle of friends. Get out there! Go shopping! Explore! Smile! Cheer people up! They’ll appreciate it and you’ll have fun! You’ll meet all kinds of people, make new friends–and a few will end up being besties for life.

Dirk Mullenger

Raised in NY, college at University of Iowa, year abroad in Paris. Tight with my wife and 4 children. Business, writer, guitarist, skier, drives a convertible. One person’s hindsight is another person’s foresight.

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