Before adulthood, new friends came easily. Every classroom from kindergarten to Psych 401 was ripe with low-hanging buddies ready to lavishly spend time with humans they barely knew. Lifetime friendships were solidified, ensuring reluctant attendance to your annoying destination wedding.
Those days are long gone. I noticed that once I neared the age of 30, it became much harder to break past acquaintance level despite my sterling dental hygiene and adequate level of friendliness. After giving the concept some serious thought (and not researching any actual communication studies), I've developed a series of eight awkward hoops that adults must jump through to become Real Friends. Read on, and maybe it'll help you make a new friend, which is the whole point of the Internet, right? To find adult friends?
Stage 1: Noticing a new friend
They say there's no such thing as friendship at first sight, but they are obviously not New Friend material. Sometimes you can just tell!
Perhaps it's something as simple as an old-timey mustache or proper wheel-to-frame bike-locking technique that catches your eye. Whatever it is, something about this potential friend makes him or her sparkle like a diamond in a mine full of filthy people who wouldn't think twice about stealing your wallet.
That's all assuming that you're seeing this person for the first time in real life and not on the internet, where privacy goes to die. Should this person appear in one of countless feeds, it only takes one well-placed "like" to start a friend crush.
Stage 2: The introduction
Here's the first of many chances to risk coming across like a friendly person, also known as a weirdo. There are many shades of introduction, but these days it's nearly impossible to meet a new person without an endorsement from a mutual friend.
The sad truth is that strangers almost always want something from you. The primary three motives are money for the bus, your eternal soul, or sex stuff, so any uninvited contact is met with justifiable skepticism.
Another barrier to unprovoked introduction are handheld 4G loneliness shields. It's easy to look like a loser when you're alone in public, so thankfully smart phones function as cocoons to isolate you from being bothered by weirdos. It's where all your Real Friends are hanging out, who just so happen to be Instagram models and New York Times writers.
In the rare case that you have a third party to introduce you to this mustache-wearing cyclist, the quality of the intro is pivotal. Shaking hands and exchanging names is the first step, but you won't remember this person's name without an actual conversation. If you do remember and use it at a later time, you're once again in creep territory, so be ready to make like Skyler White and tread lightly/not process information from previous episodes.
Stage 3: Public recognition
Acknowledging another human as a known entity is the first real hard part. All it takes is a small nod or friendly wave at the laundromat to check this stage off the friendship score card, but it's surprisingly difficult.
The main hurdle is admitting to a discrete memory of another individual, which is definitely not cool. You're not supposed to remember strangers because you're busy with your Real Friends enjoying frozen margs and happy-hour appetizers.
Should you muster the courage to let down your 4G shields, the next step is to make eye contact. This can be the equivalent of locking a laser cannon onto Darth Vader's Tie Fighter: you'll need to use the force.
Stage 4: The stop & chat
At the previous stage a simple “hey, man” or “hello, you” will suffice, but the stop and chat puts both parties at risk of revealing that they don't know the other person's name. The important thing to remember here (other than their name) is that they're just as forgetful and terrified as you. Keep calm, stick to one conversation topic -- "how about this weather?" perhaps -- then scurry away before you poison the potential-friendship well. Luckily you can use "being busy with work" or "I just got my smoothie" as an excuse to leave almost any conversation.
Stage 5: The group hangout
Here's where the buddy sparks start to fly! With the safety blanket of an already established Acquaintance (doesn't require Real Friend status, only a previous Group Hangout), there's less pressure for one on one dialogue and more opportunities to learn about this new pal's profession, college history, and theoretical last meal.
Also, there's likely to be a shared activity with which to develop a legitimate bond, a requirement to keep climbing the ladder. Luckily this usually involves beer.
Stage 6: Exchanging contact information
Some would say that social media has made this stage irrelevant, but those people are wrong. If you don't have a direct telephone contact, you're not Real Friends. It's crucial to knock this out in one of your first group hangouts, otherwise it becomes a 10-digit elephant in the room and dooms you to Permanent Acquaintance status.
This is also where another bit of friendship poison can come into play, especially when contact info has finally been shared: potential desire for romance. Ever since cooties was eradicated, the reciprocal relationship between pee-pees and va-jay-jays has been an unavoidable obstacle to friendship. No matter your level of chastity or unattractiveness, it's impossible to rule out “making the sex” as an interpersonal motive that jumps you off the friendship ladder and into the seduction tunnel. This can become complicated, whether or not said desire is mutual.
Stage 7: Group invitation
This is the friendship goal line. You're in scoring position, but the accepted strategy is a few incremental carries rather than risk throwing it all away. There's still a line of burly dudes protecting against over-disclosure or mouth-kissing, but football analogies end there, because this is where the the friendship activity ladder starts to Escher out depending on your interests.
Stage 8: One-on-one hangout
This is where Real Friends are born. Inviting someone to a solo hang is the first true admittance of the dirty secret that you don't have anyone better to spend time with. Those friends inside your cell phone are revealed to be #likesforlikes relationships at best. You are not nearly as busy with work as you have previously stated. It is clear that your happiest hours rarely include affordable apps.
Now, don't get too excited about having someone to go to the movies with just yet. There are still plenty of obstacles to overcome. The primary three are politics, musical tastes, and the fact that you could decide you want to get busy at any moment, depending on your sexual chemistry. The last part is great if you're single, but if you're in a relationship it's an impossible test of trust, freedom, and willingness to infuriate your partner. It's too fraught with pitfalls to address here, but there's probably something on Jezebel about it.
So you're friends... now what?
These previous eight steps were like sand slowly dropping through an hourglass, and the result is a beautiful friendship beach to lay on during Saturday afternoons and holidays.
Baseball games! Matinee films! Lunch! Camping trips! Helping you move! Posing for silly photo shoots! Lunch!
The world is your dollar-oyster happy hour, and even if you forget your wallet, your New Friend has a few extra singles with your name on them. You'll pay him back next time, because his substantial investment in reaching this stage ensures he'll be around until long after your personalities and interests have diverged. So just like that sand, you can look forward to finding this new friend in uncomfortable places for the rest of your life.
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Dan Gentile is a staff writer at Thrillist. He'd like to thank his friends for modeling for this photo shoot, even though one of them isn't at solo hangout level... yet. Follow him to sealing the friendship deal at @Dannosphere.