Inside: Wondering how to turn an acquaintance into a friend? Here’s what the latest research shows on how to deepen friendships.

The only thing harder than dating is making friends as an adult. Everyone’s got their head down juggling work meetings and shuttling multiple kids to after-school soccer games. Their thumbs tap away at their phones any spare moment they get. People seem too busy for friends, let alone make new ones. 

It seems like everyone’s already got several good friends—except for you. 

The last time I checked, How to Make Friends as an Adult was not a course offered back in school. Perhaps it should be. If you’re trying to figure out how to make friends while avoiding any cringeworthy moments, I’ve researched some science-backed ways to increase your chances of success. 

Why Friends Are More Important Than You Think

In the hustle and bustle of modern society, friendships are treated as optional, relegated to the last priority for when we have time. But we neglect them to our detriment.

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger published one of the longest-running studies on happiness tracing the lives of the participants for 75 years. The research showed that the happiest people are those with meaningful relationships, including family, friends, and community.

In addition, it was not the quantity, but the quality of their relationships that mattered. It turns out that quality relationships drastically improve our mental well-being and physical health. 

The Bible says that deep, authentic friendships are a gift from God, bringing unique blessings like no other. Proverbs 27:9 says, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice” (NIV).

The Message translation puts it even simpler: “a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.”

It’s not easy to maintain friendships and fellowship amidst our busy lives, but God is honored and pleased when we do so. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (NIV). 

The Truth About Friends That We Don’t Want to Admit

As much as we don’t like to admit it, God uses other people to mature us. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

We become stretched by differing viewpoints and personalities. We learn to put other people’s needs before our preferences. We accidentally trample on each other’s toes and learn to forgive. Although friendships can be messy, it’s through these challenges that God molds our character.

Our self-reliant nature doesn’t like to admit that we need friends. We grow much more in community than we ever could in solitude and isolation.            

Perhaps the most poignant example of a deep friendship in the Bible is that of David and Jonathan in 1 and 2 Samuel. Jonathan risks great danger to protect David from his unpredictable father, King Saul. In turn, David takes care of Jonathan’s crippled son, Mephibosheth, after his death.

This was not an easy or convenient friendship, but it was a meaningful one.

One day, while Saul is in imminent pursuit of David, we read, “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16). Like Jonathan, a godly friend also helps encourage us towards, not away from God. They encourage us during the most heated battles in life.

How Long Does It Take to Go from Acquaintance to Friend?

Reaching this level of deep friendship requires patience and intentionality. Jeffery Hall studied how long it takes to make friends.

According to his study, it takes about 50 hours spent with someone to call them a casual friend, 90 hours to call them a friend, and 200 hours to call them a close friend. 

Another study showed that friendships tended to happen soon after meeting, usually within three to nine weeks after the two people meet. Close friendships usually developed within three to four months, with few friendships developing after four months. 

By then, people had decided that they didn’t want to pursue a friendship or because they were too busy in their life stage for new friends. After all, people are limited in the number of friends that they can maintain at the same time.

This study implies that it might be easier to deepen a friendship with a newer acquaintance who is also looking to make friends than to become better friends with someone that you have known for years.

So consider trying to make new friends as well. You’re the best judge of your situation.

What people do during the time they spend together matters. Friendships are not deepened by the number of hours spent together in a required setting, such as work or school. Otherwise, our best friend would be the person we see most at work. 

On the other hand, time spent together does not have to be all spent talking. Doing something fun together is a great way to deepen a friendship. In the above study, watching movies and playing video games were found to be two common activities among closer adult friends. 

So let’s examine 12 tips on how to turn an acquaintance into a friend.

How to Deepen Friendships 

1. Take the initiative.

No matter where we’re on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, turning an acquaintance into a friend will require initiative. Someone’s got to take the first step.

Nowadays, it’s not enough to just “hang out” like we did when we were younger. In a world full of competing responsibilities, we need an excuse to spend time together. 

So invite someone to do a concrete activity together with you. If that seems intimidating, invite someone to do an activity in a group setting. If you’re already in a group setting, invite someone to do something with you outside that setting. 

2. Pursue shared interests together. 

Hobby and interest groups are one of the best ways to deepen friendships. They provide a common interest to bond over, while reducing social awkwardness. Think walking, hiking, camping, gaming, cooking, crafting, or any other creative endeavor. The list is endless. 

Other opportunities might come through volunteering, the local gym, meetup groups, and community classes. In the adult world, hobbies and activities become “the reason” to spend time together.

3. Get outside of any obligatory setting.

As mentioned earlier, despite the many waking hours that we spend with our colleagues (or classmates), this time together does not automatically make them our friends.

Friendships deepen when we pursue a joint activity outside a setting where we’re required to be. The next time you want to turn an acquaintance into a friend, invite them to do something enjoyable outside of work.

4. Increase self-disclosure.

Studies have also shown that a major factor in deepening friendships is self-disclosure. The level of self-disclosure can mean the difference between remaining superficial friends for years and developing a meaningful friendship.

The next time that someone asks how you’re doing, try being honest. Don’t automatically reply “good” if you’re not.

Deepen a friendship by voluntarily sharing more about yourself. You don’t have to bare your soul, but sharing an interesting recent struggle or tidbit will go a long way. 

(As a bonus, the science shows that self-disclosure makes us more likable. And we tend to like those that we have shared ourselves with, which increases positive feelings all around.)

5. Joke around.

Maybe it’s tough for you to self-disclose. If this is the case, try cracking a light joke instead. Research shows that another way to deepen a friendship is to joke around in shared laughter

Again, you don’t have to be Adam Sandler. Maintaining a light-hearted attitude towards life and being willing to laugh at yourself will go a long way. 

6. Make it attractive, easy, and satisfying to meet regularly.

James Clear has identified four principles for building habits. According to him, we should make our desired behaviors obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying. We can apply some of these principles to help us meet more consistently with friends and, in doing so, deepen our friendships. 

We all seem to be running low on bandwidth these days. Pick easy, simple activities that don’t require lots of planning.

If you’re not a group organizer by nature, don’t force yourself to be one. The more fun the activity, the more satisfying it will be. (And you will look forward to it more beforehand.)

Use the power of inertia. Plan to do something immediately after work (or other commitment) before you get comfy on the couch. 

7. Don’t hide behind technology. 

Make a phone call when you can, rather than rely solely on texting. Better yet, make a video call or meet in person. Texting hides our tone of voice, facial expression, emotions, and body language. It slows our ability to deepen friendships by impairing our ability to self-disclose.

8. Use technology to your advantage. 

Some people, however, may find it easier to develop friendships via text or other online settings. If this is you, use technology to your advantage. 

Psychologist Leanne Hall says the element of anonymity can make it easier to share parts of yourself you would normally find difficult to share. You can get to know someone online first, and then invite that person to do something in real life when you’re ready. 

9. Learn to tolerate discomfort.

Turning an acquaintance into a friend is not without risk. Learn to tolerate social awkwardness and any perceived feelings of rejection. Sometimes, the other person will not reciprocate for their own reasons. Accept that this is part of the cost of making friends.

Derive your self-worth from God, who loves you no matter what and will never reject you. He accepts you even if you feel unsure of yourself. He’s pleased with your efforts in faith to make friends.

Keep your focus on God, not on yourself.

10. Be the friend that you want.

Ask yourself, are you being a good friend? Would you want to be friends with yourself? Would you want to spend time with yourself? Matthew 7:12 says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

Work on being the friend that you’re looking for. The friend who provides a listening, empathetic ear on a chaotic day. The friend that can be relied on when the baby is sick—yet again. The friend who won’t offer up a juicy secret as a prayer request in next week’s small group meeting.

We might not be able to control how other people respond to us, but we can control our actions.

11. Be faithful in the relationships that you already have.

No matter where you are in your friendships, be faithful with the relationships that God has already brought you. Pray for the people in your life, reach out to them, and encourage them. Trust that God will multiply your efforts to deepen your friendships. 

Would God say to you, “Well done, good and faithful steward!” when it comes to your friendships? 

12. Maintain a mindset of service.

For Christians, our ultimate model for friendship is Jesus, the Perfect Friend. Ultimately, friendship is not about us or what we can get, but about serving the other person. 

Jesus says in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” He says that this kind of self-sacrificing love is an undeniable witness to the world. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). 

When we love in this way, we not only enrich our lives, but it’s an opportunity for the world to know us as followers of Jesus.

So when in doubt, let’s look to Jesus as our model. Because the more we look to Jesus, the fewer cringeworthy moments we will have. Who will you befriend today?

Recap: How to Deepen Friendships

1.     Take the initiative.

2. Pursue shared interests together. 

3.     Get outside of any obligatory setting.

4.     Increase self-disclosure.

5.     Joke around.

6.     Make it attractive, easy, and satisfying to meet regularly.

7.     Don’t hide behind technology. 

8.     Use technology to your advantage. 

9.     Learn to tolerate discomfort.

10.  Be the friend that you want.

11. Be faithful in the relationships that you already have.

12.  Maintain a mindset of service.

What is something fun that you can invite someone to do this coming week? 

For more on friendships:
How many friends can you maintain?
How to make new friends
How to make time for friendship

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Photo by Yanapi Senaud on Unsplash

About the Author

Helen Rees

I am a Christian, wife, stepmom, psychiatric nurse, and writer. I write about research-backed ways to navigate the challenges of fast-paced modern life while growing in your Christian faith.

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