martina braun
martina braun


This question has been with me for almost my entire adult life. Depending on how busy I am at the moment, I have phases where I long for friendships and phases where I manage quite well without them. The idea of not having to explain myself to someone, of being allowed to be who I really am without feeling like I'm in a permanent job interview - that's the ideal friendship for me. Ideally with someone who is just as crazy as me and with whom I can share a good laugh without having to worry about my stupid facial expression and smudged mascara.

However, in my experience at least, such people are rather hard to find and the older we get, the more difficult and awkward it feels to build such friendships. But why is that? Aren't we all somehow looking for like-minded people we can confide in from time to time or just spontaneously down a Prosecco? If so, making friends shouldn't be that difficult, should it? And why is it so important to us anyway?

How much friendship do people need?

We humans are social beings and seek the feeling of being part of something bigger. This can be conveyed to us by belonging to a group. The desire for social acceptance is anchored in all of us, to varying degrees of course, but we are all looking for recognition, security and the feeling of being needed. And in the past, our chances of survival were simply greater if we were part of a herd.

Nowadays, this aspect is probably more of a second priority, because in our latitudes no one has to fear the daily battle with dangerous animals or laboriously gather their own food in the forest. In contrast, however, our emotional and mental needs have increased, which can be fulfilled through friendship. In a new way, our world has become a battle that is easier to fight when you have someone by your side.

Perhaps some of you are familiar with the British evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, who has written extensively on the subject of friendship. He came up with the Dunbar number, for example, which describes how many interpersonal relationships we are able to manage at a certain level. This is what it looks like in detail:

Your clan - the personal network

The maximum number of social contacts we can maintain is 150. It is important to note that these are real contacts and not virtual followers on social media. So we manage to interact more intimately with 150 people in some way. However, this is not automatically a friendship, but rather closer acquaintances. When we meet someone from the clan, we remember their name, know their social environment and exchange superficial pleasantries. That's it!

Your clan - the closer network

The clan is a group of 50 people who you would already describe as friends. You already feel safe enough with the people in this group to share personal details and you dare to break down the emotional wall around you. You arrange to meet up at the cinema or theater and talk about your daily struggles at work and your next vacation plans.

Your good friends - the sympathy group

We are able to do justice to 15 people as a group of good friends. These are the people with whom we can spend a Saturday night at the ESC with beer and chips without feeling ashamed. These are the friends we call when we need affection and, more importantly, when we need help.

Your inner circle - the support clique

These are your "Magic 5". These people are your personal support group, the people who cheer you on whenever you need it. You can not only watch the ESC with these people of your heart, but you can also sing along drunkenly at the top of your voice without having to worry about it - there's no room between you! You vibrate on the same frequency, your interests and - very importantly - your values coincide.

So if some of you feel like I do, you're thinking, how on earth am I supposed to get to know 150 people and try to get 5 of them into my inner circle? Don't panic, the numbers show the maximum number of people we can give the necessary attention to for each group. It doesn't always have to be just "strangers" in this environment, family members can also belong to one group or another.

Please also remember that not everyone is blessed with exactly 15 good friends or the "Magic 5", very often there are fewer. It always depends on your available energy and the quality of your friendships. Sometimes less is more and that's absolutely ok!

What do you need for a friendship?

Can you still remember how you made friends as children? No? Me neither. Friendships were suddenly just there or just gone and most of us didn't constantly worry about whether we would ever find a boyfriend or girlfriend again. There were almost no reservations about other people and new friendships came naturally.

And then we grew up. We changed schools, went to university, developed our personalities and complexes and with them our fears. We may have been disappointed and hurt by people at one time or another, which didn't exactly make us more generous with our trust. And this is where it gets difficult, because building a friendship requires at least a little bit of trust and openness.

For a friendship to come about, the following must happen:

  • spend time together voluntarily

The important thing is that it's voluntary. You should want to spend time with the other person and it has to be reciprocal, so you both have to want to do it. This may also explain why you and your office colleague never become real friends, because there is usually little voluntariness and perhaps also little reciprocity involved. You need a so-called context shift with the person, i.e. a conscious decision to want to experience things together outside of a given environment. It doesn't work without that.

  • spend enough time together

Well, and this is where it gets difficult for us adults. In an adult life, there's already very little time left in addition to a job, family, hobbies and mental breakdown. After 40 - 60 hours of time spent together, you can talk about casual friends, then acquaintances develop into casual friendships.

From clan to clan, remember? Now do the math to see how many hours that adds up to. There are theoretically up to 50 people in the clan. Phew, that adds up! If we want to bring someone even closer to the inner circle, we'll need a whole lot more hours. To achieve this, we have to invest over 200 hours together. That's quite a lot and shows that building friendships involves a lot of effort and takes time.

  • have similar preferences, values and views

Friendship can develop where like and like meet. Dealing with people with whom we can laugh, cry and politicize is easier for us right from the start and gives us security. We share thoughts and experiences, we don't have to hide and we are more confident to show our vulnerable side. The best thing about a friendship is not having to weigh every word on the gold scale and knowing that you won't be judged. And what could be better than sharing your enthusiasm for horsemanship with someone?

Friendships and age!

It is not uncommon for our circle of friends to shrink as we get older. Our priorities change, we start a family, change jobs and move to a new city. It takes a lot of effort on both sides to maintain an existing friendship through these changes, which unfortunately doesn't always guarantee that the friendship will last. We also become more selective about many things, including our interpersonal relationships, and place more value on quality than quantity, as it becomes more important to us that relationships make us happy.

Our expectations of an adult friendship are different than when we were younger. We look for deeper and more meaningful conversations and our beliefs need to align much more than they used to. Our willingness to compromise is fundamentally diminishing, including in our friendships. Perhaps it is also a bit of our newly developed stubbornness or new awareness of our needs that makes us more cautious and critical of others. Our free time is simply too precious to spend it on half-hearted encounters. And that's completely okay too!

The fact is that real friendships are no less important for adults than they were at a young age. That is why we should not neglect this topic and should remain open to new encounters.

So how do I make new friends now?

Try the following:

  • Take it easy!

We have learned that friendships don't happen by themselves, no matter what age. We simply find it harder as adults because we try to speed up the process of forming a friendship and worry a thousand times about what could go wrong. And I know there's nothing worse for me than the idea of making a fool of myself in front of others. I hate it and yet it's happened to me a thousand times. Well, guess what, I've survived it every time. So take it slow and give it time. Forcing things won't get you anywhere and will only make you unlikeable.

  • Pay attention to the first impression!

I don't mean that your first impression should be as perfect as possible, but observe the mood of new encounters or the vibe of existing acquaintances. Do you feel comfortable during the conversation, do you have things in common and can you laugh together straight away?

Likeability is essential to get into the clan in the first place and, above all, for the further path to the "Magic 5". You can usually tell in the first few minutes whether the other person is likeable, but sometimes you need a second chance.

And don't forget, we can't like everyone. It's perfectly okay if there is no response or only a one-sided response. Then you can take note of that and politely withdraw.

  • Are you playing your own role?

We have the ability to play different roles depending on the composition of our surroundings and our own mood. We then only show selected facets of ourselves, laugh more quietly than usual, talk more awkwardly or adopt a different posture. If you're with your friends, this shouldn't be an issue.

So ask yourself the question: do you show the real you when you are with the other person?

Being who you are requires a certain amount of trust, but that doesn't mean that you should show every chaotic facet of yourself from the outset, as this could have a lasting negative impact on the development of the friendship. But do you trust your partner enough to show more and more of yourself over time? An interpersonal relationship can only work if you feel comfortable with it.

  • Create your shared past!

Nothing is better than experiencing something together and being able to remember it together. Go to concerts, the theater, do sports together or take a cooking class. No matter what, shared activities bring people together.

It's best to create a routine together, then the issue of volunteering and the hours invested will be taken care of.

  • Just do it!

Yes, I know, evil eye rolling! What a stupid tip and also really difficult for me every time. But this is where you can work on yourself and really make a difference.  My socializing skills could be described as poor and situations in an unfamiliar social environment confront me with my fears every time.

Yes, there are several of them and at some point I made the effort to work through and understand them. That didn't make socializing any easier, but at least now I know how to deal with the fears and what they're all about. Write down your thoughts and feelings about socializing and really dig deep to find out what's holding you back. Only if you are aware of your fears can you do something about them.

A few years ago, I actually had a fit of courage and registered with an app where you can make new friends during non-binding leisure activities. After taking part in one such event, I actually became friends with two women who I find very enriching. I may have died a thousand times before, but it was worth it!

Sometimes we are not able to question our motives and fathom our patterns on our own, let alone change them sustainably.

Then it is very enriching to get support.

Are you ready to be heard? Then let's talk!

What are your experiences with making friends? Do you have any questions or comments? Then write me your story in the comments or by email at