Not surprisingly, a familiar face strikes us as a friendly face. “It’s the exposure effect,” explains Beverley Fehr, a psychology professor at the University of Winnipeg. “When you see someone every morning at a coffee shop, you’re no longer a stranger.” Her advice is to go slow: Begin on a superficial level, and as you disclose more about yourself, see whether the person responds in kind. “By sending out those feelers,” Fehr says, “you aren’t risking too much.”
Your office is a gold mine of potential friends. “Be curious and ask questions,” suggests the Vancouver life coach Laura North. “People are always looking for a place to tell their stories.” You’ll discover you have more in common with your colleagues than you thought. Try a small gesture of kindness, like buying a co-worker a cup of coffee; that’ll show your interest in moving toward a friendship. As Fehr says, “It’s an act of closeness. Friends don’t keep count of who owes whom a few dollars.”
“We form lasting friendships with people who are similar to us,” Fehr maintains. Seek out an environment where you’re likely to find someone who shares your interests: a yoga studio, a cooking class or an athletic team is a good place to start. Susan Clarke, the executive director of a counselling agency in Saint John, N.B., called Family Plus/Life Solutions, says, “When you see the same people every week, it becomes more natural to talk to them â and then more natural to ask if they want to grab lunch.”
Clarke, who has lived in five cities over the last eight years, elected to get involved in her community. “Volunteering took maybe four hours out of my week,” she says. “But everyone was working toward the common good, and in that egoless environment, it was easy to meet people.” Best of all, making friends is a fringe benefit to feeling good about your own contribution.
The benefits keep coming: Friendships are an important part of physical health, particularly for women. Studies have linked social-support networks to improved heart function, a stronger immune system and better eating habits. Women with close friends are also more likely to seek medical attention and undergo routine exams. Not having a strong social network, on the other hand, has been linked to irregular sleep patterns, lack of physical activity and even failure to use a seat belt. So get out there, meet some new people and, please, buckle up.