5 and stairs graphic
How to Seal a New Adult Friendship in 5 Steps
11.01.19

Below, the winner of October’s Writers Club prompt: The 5 stages of locking down a new friend.


“We’ll have a séance . . . I’ll bring the sage!”

The words soothed me like a spell. I had recently moved to a new city and the only prospect more terrifying than being haunted by a ghost was blowing my chances at a friendship with the only person I clicked with. Her nonchalant reaction to my insistence that I’d “sensed” a presence in my room quelled both fears at once. Now that I had a real friend in the city, the idea of lodging with a vengeful spirit didn’t sound so scary.

Every adult friendship has a moment that seals the deal like a spit-soaked handshake. This was ours. Confirming the suspicion that we were in fact just as nutty as each other, we leveled up from friendly acquaintances to well-acquainted friends.

From the five love languages to the five stages of grief, five is a magic number where capturing the human experience is concerned. So if the steps to friendship are five, this seismic moment of mutual recognition is the fifth. It’s the threshold that, in years to come, you’ll point back to saying, “That’s where it all began!” But actually it isn’t. It began four steps before that.

The first step is so effortless you might not even catch it. It’s the flicker of potential, the glimmer of possibility that in a world where you meet so many people you don’t vibe with, you’ve met someone with whom you do. And once they’re blinking steadily on your radar, you advance to the second step: transmitting and receiving signals of interest. Maybe it starts with an Instagram follow then progresses to the occasional DM or maybe it starts with a break room run-in and progresses to break room loitering, but usually, it ends with a casual friend date.

Many friendships linger on this step forever. That’s okay; they’re not all supposed to reach the top.

scattered stairs

Whether it’s a Kim K-esque ugly cry or letting a fart slip mid-laugh, next comes an uncensored expression of unbridled emotion. It puts cracks in your public-facing veneer and then binds them with glue, bonding you closer together. And while this third step pushes boundaries, the fourth tears them down. Be it telling a secret, confessing a taboo dream, or asking if you have something between your teeth, it’s a deliberate act of putting yourself out there to be judged in the hope that you won’t be.

Only once you’ve ascended those first four steps do you finally reach the fifth. It’s the one that’s most varied from person to person. Mine looked like the opening scene of a Netflix Halloween special, yours likely won’t. But when you reach the top, you’ll know. That’s when you realize they weren’t just steps, but a stoop. Five stairs leading to a new house of shared affections, built with shared memes, spilled secrets, and small leaps of faith—one you’ll treat with care. Because trying to make a new friend may feel like climbing stairs, but succeeding feels like coming home.

Graphic by Dasha Faires.

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