By Rebecca Deczynski
Friendships come in all different shapes and sizes. Your go-to thrift-store-shopping friend might not be the same person you have late night heart-to-hearts with, and your work bestie might not be the person you vent to about family drama. All kinds of healthy connections can enrich your life, but close friendships are relationships that allow you to be your full self without any fear of judgment. What a close friendship offers is unconditional love.
While most people don’t become best friends overnight, there are ways you can intentionally deepen your more casual friendships to build a more meaningful connection. Whether you’re trying to find a close friend using Bumble For Friends or you want to connect more meaningfully with one of your more casual acquaintances, here’s how to make a best friend.
Make plans to hang out IRL
Sending a friend or acquaintance a funny video or responding to their social media story can be a great way to break the ice or connect, but look to meet them in-person too. “It’s important to foster a deeper layer of the friendship, and that happens through conversation,” says therapist Jaime Mahler. So if you want to deepen a friendship, it’s essential to regularly take things offline and into the real world.
If you’ve never hung out one-on-one, it can feel scary to initiate, but it’s a good idea to be direct, says Danielle Bayard Jackson, Bumble’s friendship expert. “Let a person know you’re intentional about them,” she says. That can be as simple as asking someone if they’d like to meet up somewhere you don’t normally see them. If you’re work friends, you might want to ask them to be your plus one to that art gallery wine and cheese reception—and if you’re gym buddies, see if they want to join you for coffee and a catch-up one afternoon.
Alternatively, doing something active—like an art class or a new kind of workout—can help you get out of your head so it’s easier to bond. “Doing something fun can get you to a place where you feel vulnerable, but safe to build a stronger connection,” says therapist Lara Waycot.
Practice being vulnerable
Vulnerability is what helps us to create emotional connections—but that doesn’t mean you have to immediately offload your deepest secrets to build a bond with someone. “Take a small step forward to test the waters,” says therapist Saba Harouni Lurie. “Ideally, the other person will take a step alongside you. Reciprocity is what you’re looking for.”
Being vulnerable is all about being honest and sharing things that you might not always freely speak about. You might open up about an insecurity or share something that you’ve struggled with—or even talk about your biggest goals in life. “It gives people permission to say, ‘Oh my gosh, me too,’” says Jackson. If you don’t know where to start, try asking for advice or asking the other person if it’s alright if you vent for a moment. That can make for a more natural segue to a vulnerable conversation.
Stay true to yourself
By being honest with the other person about yourself, you can build a deeper friendship that’s based on real commonalities. “When you’re showing up to new or casual friendships, try not to wear a mask,” says Mahler. Being upfront about your interests and values by sharing them openly makes it easier to find people you can connect deeply with, she says. If you have casual acquaintances who are into the same things as you, there’s a good chance you might be compatible friends.
When you’re trying to deepen a friendship, weave the things that matter to you into conversation. If you love basketball, you can ask the other person if they’ve ever gone to a game. If you’re passionate about politics, you can test the waters carefully—perhaps by mentioning something that happened in the news—and seeing how the other person responds. Be respectful and understand that if someone isn’t into the same things as you, you can decide whether or not your differences are a deal-breaker.
After all, friendship is a two-way street. You’ve got a lot to offer as a friend, and you should feel empowered to ask yourself, “‘Does this person fit what it is I want in a friend?’” says Waycot. If things aren’t clicking, you might just be better suited as casual friends—and that’s perfectly fine, too!
Be a good listener
Another way to deepen a friendship is by being a good friend yourself—which means being a good listener. “Nod and express empathy, without making it about you,” says Lurie. “Validate their feelings, and show that you’re paying attention and care.” If you want to share something that feels relevant—a similar experience you’ve had, for example—do so only after you’ve acknowledged what the other person shared with you. Being a good listener shows that you really care and empathize with the other person, which helps to deepen your connection.
Unprompted follow-ups are also a great way to show another person that you really listened to them, adds Jackson. If you tend to be forgetful, don’t shy away from adding a reminder in your calendar—for instance, if your friend tells you she has a stressful meeting or appointment, make a note to text her afterwards asking how it went. “It shows people you care,” she says. When you remember things about people, it shows you’re paying attention to the things they tell you. That builds trust, opening the path for a more meaningful friendship.
The world is full of potential new best friends. Put yourself out there, be true to yourself, and you’re bound to find the people who make you feel your absolute best.