Personal Growth

These Are the 3 Ingredients for Forging a Friendship

Back in kindergarten, friendship was easy: you approached a fellow kid, asked them to be your friend, and the deal was done. But as people get older, established friendships start to falter and new ones form less frequently. At this point, new best buds don't just sit next to you on the first day of school — you actually have to try to make friends. Luckily, sociology researchers have been looking into what people need to form lasting friendships, and they come down to three simple ingredients.


Chances are that your BFF in school was probably in your class. They may have even sat in the desk next to yours. The same goes for friendships later on in life: They're most likely to form between people who live or work in the same general area as you do. That doesn't have to be the same neighborhood or office building; studies have found that the same city will do just fine. But the closer the better: One study that asked married students living in a student housing complex to name the three people they talked to the most found two-thirds of the people they named lived in the same building, and two-thirds of those names lived on the same floor.

Of course, these days people make plenty of meaningful friendships with people across the world online. But research suggests those friendships lack some of the depth and commitment of connections made offline. That's not to say those relationships aren't real; it's just that making the effort to actually visit those people face-to-face can go a very long way.

Opportunities for Interaction

Of course, living in the same city won't really help a friendship blossom if the two of you have never run into each other. That's why this second ingredient is important: You need to be in a situation where you're having regular, face-to-face interactions. Again, this is where the classroom was king, but there are plenty of grownup venues where this can happen, too: the gym, a favorite neighborhood bar, a volunteer group, or recreational sports team. It's why parents of children who are friends often become friends themselves — with all those birthday parties and after-school activities spent together, you might as well bond. This comes down to a principle known as the mere exposure effect, where the things you encounter most often (whether that's a pop song or the letters in your own name) start to grow on you, making you like them more with every new encounter.


This is probably the trickiest variable: You and your potential friend need to be in the right place in your lives to form a new friendship. Friendship is fun, but it's also work; you need to make time for communication and coffee dates, you need the funds to celebrate when they get a promotion, and you need to have the energy to hang out after you've been working all day. Not everyone has the hours, funds, and willingness, especially if they've got a time-consuming job or an ailing family member. What's more, some people just have enough friends — each of whom requires their own time and energy.

Bonus Variables

But just like knowing the ingredients that go into a cake isn't all you need to bake one, knowing the ingredients that go into a friendship isn't all you need to make one. If that was it, we'd be making friends with every willing Starbucks barista and mail carrier. There are countless other elements at play, from your similarities in personality to your social skills and even your physical attractiveness (you tend to choose friends who are as attractive as you are).

But if there's one thing you should take away from this research, it's this: Most of us aren't in school anymore, where friendships are practically a given. Making a new friend takes effort. So what are you waiting for? Reach out to that person you keep running into and go do something together. If the timing's right, you may end up with a new friend.

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Learn the art of friendship in "The Friendship Formula: How to Say Goodbye to Loneliness and Discover Deeper Connection" by Kyler Shumway. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer May 31, 2019

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