Fixing the Friendship Equation

Whenever someone asks “how do I make friends”, well-meaning people reply “try cross fit”, “go to meetups”, or “join a cooking class”.

This does not work.

Sure it’s a step in the right direction. You will meet new people, but you won’t just make friends like that.

There is a big gap between meeting new people and making friends. And bridging this gap is what most people really struggle with when they’re trying to make new friends.

There is a famous friendship equation people love to bring up:

Friendship = Proximity x (Frequency + Duration) x Intensity

It’s incomplete because it doesn’t take that gap between meeting people and making friends into account at all.

For example, say I’m signing up for boxing classes and I start training with the same guy every week.

It’s all there: proximity, frequency, duration, intensity. But does that necessarily mean we’ll become friends?

Absolutely not. By default, we remain simply training partners, friendly acquaintances.

For my training partner and me to actually become friends, we have to start doing stuff together outside of boxing classes. That’s the gap we have to bridge. It’s the step from doing one thing together, to doing different things together. That’s the missing factor in the friendship equation: Variation.

Friendship = Proximity x (Frequency + Duration) x Intensity x Variation

As long as you’re sticking to one type of activity with a person (Variation = 0), you’re not friends.

What’s a friend anyway?

I’m pretty sure some people will disagree with that last statement. At the core of that disagreement are different definitions of the word “friend”.

So for the sake of clarity, let’s call a friend someone you can comfortably call at 11 pm on a Tuesday to ask if you can crash on their couch for the night since you’ve locked yourself out of your apartment.

It definitely would be weird if I were to call my training partner whom I never saw outside of boxing classes. Hence, we’re not friends.

Bridging the Friendship Gap

To become friends, someone has to initiate shared activities outside of the setting where you met in the first place. That’s what people really struggle with when trying to make new friends.

The demon you have to fight when building that bridge that takes you from friendly acquaintances to friends is the fear of rejection. Plain and simple.

There are obvious similarities to asking someone out on a date. But asking someone you have a romantic interest in for a date is actually easier.

There are well-established rules. Everyone roughly knows the game and there is a set of standard first-date activities you can choose from (dinner, cinema …).

Think about it. There are thousands of movies about romantic relationships but how many movies are there about friendship, especially the start of new friendships?

There isn’t even a term for making the first move towards building a new friendship.

Everyone knows that to start a romantic relationship you have to ask for the first date and yet, most people seem unaware that something very similar is necessary to make a new friend.

As a result, there’s a lot more uncertainty and hence fear of doing something wrong. So most people never actually make the first move.

Now the first step is recognizing that you have to make the first move. Tons of people would love to make new friends and almost anyone loves getting invited to do something fun.

But most people are too afraid to make the first move.

So you have to do it.

Next you have to overcome the fear of rejection.

Here’s a useful frame shift. Ask yourself:

Would I really want to be friends with someone who acts weird or gets offended when I ask them to do something fun?

Of course not! It’s a great way to filter out people you don’t want to be friends with anyway.

The final thing you need is a list of activities you can invite people to.

Friend-Making Activities

You can of course simply ask people to do something together.

“Hey, do you want to hang out sometime this weekend?”

But it’s kind of awkward when they say no and might be a bit too direct for many cultures.

A better category are activities you’re doing anyway and that you can easily invite others to come along. It’s extremely low pressure.

Casually ask about their plans for the weekend. If they don’t have any, invite them to join you.

“I’m going on a hike with a few friends this Sunday. Wanna join?”

“My girlfriend and I are going to this new restaurant on Friday. You should come with us!”

The more interesting things you do, the easier it is to invite people to join you.

Standing events are great for that. For example, a weekly poker game, board game night, or sports event.

The challenge is to actually kickstart these kinds of events. But once they’re up and running, they’re a great vehicle to expand your social circle.

Your biggest enemy when it comes to making new friends is Netflix.

Watching Netflix is not a friend-making activity. Plain and simple.

The more you actually go out and do interesting things, the more opportunities you have not just to meet people but also to invite people to join you.

There are also types of events you can organize specifically to make new friends. For example, Second-Degree Dinners or 2-hour Cocktail Parties. They might feel a bit forced in some cultures though.

But you definitely don’t have to host events yourself to make new friends. If you’re up to date in terms of local events and genrally cool things in your city, you can talk about them and if someone seems interested, invite them to join you.

“I read about this food festival next Saturday. They will offer a ton of free food you try from all over the world.”

“That sounds awesome!”

“Want to join me?”

“Have you ever checked out the new French restaurant in the harbor?”

“No, I haven’t. But I’m walking past it every day on my way to work. It looks really nice.”

“My girlfriend and I thinking about going there this weekend. Want to join us?”

Yeah I’m bad at writing dialogues but you get the point.

So wrapping up, to make new friends, do more interesting things, stay up to date on what’s going on in your city, and then invite people to join you.

Written on August 15, 2023

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