Making Friends: Are You As Solid As You Think?

therapymaybe you chat with the girl whose locker is next to yours. You might sit at the same lunch table with the same people every day. Borrowing a CD from the kid behind you in English class is no sweat, and you’re a bonafide member of the Debate Club. But when it comes to true chums, you can’t really say you have any.

Perhaps your situation is more complex. You’ve got a full circle of friends, but something doesn’t feel right. It’s like you’re in the group but out of touch. They don’t give you that “I belong here” feeling, and you’re not sure your friends would stand by you in a pinch.

What if the relationship were put to the test because someone said or did something you didn’t like? In a conflict, would it still be easy to be friends? That’s a good question, because a good friend is there for you and doesn’t bail out at the first sign of trouble. Says Gilda Carle, Ph.D., author of Teen Talk with Dr. Gilda, “If your friends gossip about you behind your back, put you down, criticize you, and make you feel bad, they are not enhancing your inner self. Friends should build you up, encourage you to pursue other dreams, and give you a general feeling of joy to be around them. Overall, they should be able to do more for you when you’re with them than you can do for yourself when you’re alone.”

Reaching Out

So if you’re not getting those positive vibes with your current gang, how do you go about making friends that are keepers? “Go to the places that interest you to find people of similar interests,” advises Joan Lakin-Marantz, Ph.D., a New York psychotherapist who specializes in building and repairing relationships. That may mean attending a sports event, a church function, or an arts festival. Or it could involve joining an organization that shares your interests or volunteering for a cause that conveys your values.

Once there, scope out someone you’d like to meet and strike up a casual conversation. Is she friendly? Do you like the way you feel while you’re talking to him? Chicago-based family therapist Imy Wax suggests reading the body language and the facial cues of your potential pal. “Is that person open to your approach?” asks Wax. “If you try to force yourself into a conversation or into that person’s space uninvited, you will be rejected pretty swiftly.”

Meghan Huber, 15, remembers meeting her two best friends by getting up the nerve to make the first move. “Shannon was new to my church group, and I asked her if she wanted to sit next to me,” recalls Meghan. “Kim didn’t know what school bus was hers, so I helped her. It turned out that we take the same bus.”

The next step is to show active interest, says Wax. Invite the person to do something you know you’ll both like, either alone or with other friends. Talk on the phone and ask about their likes and dislikes as well as what’s going on in their life. People like to talk about themselves, and they usually appreciate when someone takes an interest in them. But don’t be pushy. “You don’t want to smother the new friendship while it’s still forming,” Wax warns.

Forming a Strong Bond

If all goes well, you’ll start feeling more comfortable together. But it’s still early. “Don’t tell your deepest secrets quite yet,” says Wax. “Wait until this new friendship has had time to grow and expand. Get to know each other.”

For Meghan, it’s critical that a friend be caring. “If someone in my group of friends is having a hard time,” says Meghan, “the rest of us support her.”

Emotional support, in fact, is one of the major friendship perks, because you have someone to lean on and confide in whenever you need it. “Paying attention and listening to what a friend says is one of the most important qualities in a friendship,” says Erika Lutz, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Friendship for Teens.

Like scattering seeds to the wind, your search for friends may produce a bigger bunch than you bargained for. What works &ponds on your friendship style. Some people want just a few close friends. Others like having lots of friends around them. Still others prefer friends from the opposite sex. You decide. “It’s just important to connect with another person,” says Lutz. Even one friend can make a big difference!

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