How to Make Friends in Austin (as an Adult)

Article By: Daniel Wendler, Psy.D.

If you’ve found yourself feeling lonely in adulthood – well, you’re not alone. A 2018 study of 20,000 American adults by health insurance company Cigna found that:

  • Only about half of Americans (53%) have any meaningful social interaction on a typical day
  • Almost half of Americans (46%) report feeling sometimes or always alone.
  • About one quarter of Americans (27%) rarely or never feel as though anyone really understands them
  • About one-fifth of Americans (20%) rarely or never feel close to anybody.

And these numbers were from before the pandemic! If the study were conducted today, it’s likely that our rates of loneliness would be even higher.

But why is loneliness so pervasive among adults? To find the answer, we need to understand a surprising research finding from one of the fathers of modern psychology.

Festinger’s Finding

Leon Festinger is one of the towering giants of social psychology, best known for his discovery of cognitive dissonance and social comparison theory. But earlier in his career, he discovered how something called “propinquity” was a key driver in the formation of friendships.

In his 1950 study “Social pressures in informal groups: A study of human factors in housing,” Festinger (along with co-authors Stanley Schachter and Kurt Back) explored the factors that caused college students to form friendships. They found that the physical distance between two students’ dorms was one of the biggest factors influencing whether or not those students would become friends. 

This is because two students who lived nearby would frequently run into each other spontaneously, making it easy to spend time together. This tendency of people to befriend others they run into frequently is called propinquity.

When you think about times in your life where friendships seemed to form naturally, you were probably benefiting from propinquity. Perhaps you befriended a classmate you sat next to in several classes, or a teammate you saw in every practice. Perhaps you found it easy to connect with a childhood neighbor who played in the yard next to you, or the child of your parents’ friend who often came over with them. 

In all these cases, you were able to build your friendship over time, through natural and spontaneous interactions. You didn’t have to make an immediate decision on whether to commit to the other person or not, nor did you have to launch right into deep vulnerability or intense trust. You could build a base of positive experiences over time before eventually adding in the building blocks of deeper friendship (like intimate sharing, or spending intentional time together.)

The Desert of Propinquity

Compare that to the life of many adults in Austin. By default, our typical day brings few opportunities for propinquity. If you go to work, you’ll have the opportunity to naturally interact with your coworkers, but it can be hard to make friends in a professional environment (and if you work remotely, your opportunities are even more limited.) Beyond that – where are you going to naturally run into the same people, over and over? Perhaps you see a few regulars at your gym or you run into the same cashier at HEB, but those aren’t exactly welcoming environments to build a real friendship. 

You might fill the void through social media, but following an influencer (or even seeing a friend’s Instagram update) doesn’t provide much opportunity for genuine connection. Or perhaps you try to find connections through a dating app, but modern dating culture makes it hard to get to know someone naturally and easy to get ghosted if you don’t immediately impress.

Fortunately, there’s a solution – the third place.

The Magic of Third Places

A “third place” is a term from sociology. Your “first place” is your home where you interact with your partner and family (and pets!). Your “second place” is your work where you interact with coworkers and customers. And a third place is something entirely different – a space where people gather simply for the opportunity to make connections, and where the power of propinquity is easy to come by.

A volunteer organization that cleans up a playground each week might be a third place. A board game store that hosts regular game nights could be a third place. Even a gym class could be a third place, as long as there is a culture of connection.

The key ingredients are:

  • A welcoming attitude, where newcomers are enthusiastically received and invited to connect
  • Regular meetings with returning members, so you can get to know the same people over time.
  • A focus on connection and conversation (as opposed to something like a grocery store where talking to strangers is frowned upon.)

Finding Your Third Place

In some communities, finding a third place can be very challenging. Fortunately, Austin is brimming with third places where you can build amazing friendships.

It’s simple to get started finding a third place.

First, make a list of your hobbies, interests and passions. This could be things you’ve already tried and know you like, things you used to do in the past but haven’t tried for a long time, or things you’ve never tried but are intrigued by.

Second, fire up your search engine of choice and search for “Austin” + [Your hobby/interest/passion] + the words “Club/group/organization/classes.”

Third, look for opportunities that meet the key ingredients listed above.

For instance, let’s say you’ve always wanted to try pottery. Search for “Austin pottery classes” and boom, comes right up.

Let’s say you care about the environment, so you search for “Austin recycling club. You’ll find with a huge list of opportunities to keep Austin beautiful (and make friends at the same time.)

You get the idea.

Not sure where to start? You can also go to and just browse to see the kinds of groups that are available in your area. Or stop by your local Austin public library – not only do they host events themselves, but the librarians would be happy to help you find other opportunities for social connection.

Making the Most from Your Third Place

Let’s say you decide to follow your dream of stamp collecting and make some friends at the Austin Stamp Club ( How do you give yourself the best opportunity to have a good time and make real friends there (or at any other third place?):

  • Try it twice (unless you hate it the first time.) The first time you visit a social gathering, you might feel awkward or anxious, and others might feel less willing to connect with you because it’s unsure if you’re coming back. The second visit will give you a much better sense of whether you genuinely enjoy the experience.
  • If you don’t enjoy it after two or three visits, it’s okay to quit – but then find something else. There are lots of social groups in Austin. Find the one that works for you!
  • Look for people that are open to connection. Sometimes people come to these groups to connect with their existing friends instead of making new ones. Don’t focus on trying to befriend those people; instead, look for folks who might be sitting by themselves or otherwise seem receptive to making a new connection.
  • Consider contacting the group leaders or organizers prior to attending your first event. They will be able to meet you when you arrive and introduce you to some of the friendliest members of the group to get you started.
  • If you struggle with the social component, get support. Therapists at Deep Eddy are ready to help you with social anxiety, negative relationship patterns, or anything else that might make it tough to build a friendship. And online resources such as my social skills guide Improve Your Social Skills can provide you with DIY tips to boosting your social confidence.

It can be intimidating to start going to social gatherings, but investing in your social life is one of the best choices you can make for your happiness and psychological well-being. 

Plus, every time you make a friend for yourself, you become a friend for someone else. You can make the world a better place simply by being a friend to someone else – so go form those friendships!

Author bio:

Dr. Daniel Wendler is a clinical psychologist at Deep Eddy specializing in loneliness, young adulthood, and autism. He is the author of multiple books on social skills, and is a keynote and two time TEDx speaker. Connect with him at

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