(A part of the making friends and friendship series)
Think about how most people make friends. You meet people at school or work. You meet people at summer camp. You meet the close friends and relatives of people that become close friends or that are married to another family member or close friend. What do all these opportunities have in common? Aside from none of them involve sitting home alone in your bedroom reading the computer, there is another shared trait. You have real potential to make friends whenever you are in the same place as other people on a regular basis. This happens through chance- you do not have to “try”, they are there and you are there and have seen each other many times and since they are not strangers anymore it is relatively easy to turn that into making friends.
What happens when you are not a student in school anymore, and you either do not work or the job you do leaves you isolated or not able to even casually socialize with work mates? It is not uncommon for people to be isolated and not have these common opportunities. If you do not have close friends and family members to bring others into contact with you, are not a student, and not working or job does not lend to socializing then what is left for you? Walking up to strangers and asking them to be your friend will certainly attract attention, but is not likely to make many friends. But you can take advantage of the way people follow certain habits and patterns to give yourself other opportunities to make friends.
People are Comfortable with the Familiar
People tend to fall into habits and are comfortable with the familiar. This applies even if they are not really happy with the habit or what is familiar, they still tend stick to it because it is their comfort zone. One part of learning to make friends will have to be to work on changing your own comfort zone a little. If you have spent months or years doing things the same way and not made any or many friends or close personal attachments, it stands to reason that continuing to do the same thing in the future will probably not yield better results.
The good part about people being comfortable with the familiar is you can use that to overcome your own shyness and make it easier to meet people and make friends if you are willing to use a little persistence. All you need to do is become part of what is familiar to other people and you have the inside track for making new friends. Pick some place where people gather that you can feel okay about being in.
- Bars and pubs are often the first thought but if that is not your scene there are lots of other options.
- Coffee shops or smaller lunch/food places where people go to socialize as well as eat.
- Library – particularly if they have reading or book groups
- Parks and recreation areas
- Walking or hiking trails
- Literally anyplace that people gather at and go to on a frequent or regular basis
Places that have a lot of people but that visit only once or very occasionally like tourist stops are not the best bet even though there are a lot of people. You are looking for the type of places where people tend to go 1x a week or more, and continue to go back to repeatedly either by choice or need. You cannot become familiar with people that you only see one time then they are gone; the goal is to find a place where you will likely see many of the same people every time you go (like is the case with school and work).
Getting Out There
Step One When you go to a new place for the first time, you will feel out of place and like you do not belong. This is where persistence is needed. You need to still stick it out for at least 30 minutes or an hour, even if it is not really comfortable. It does not matter if it is a bar or a coffee shop, or any place where people tend to gather, just stick it out for 30-60 minutes.
You may get incredibly lucky and find a really nice out-going person that comes up and starts to talk to you and achieve some success that first visit, but realistically that would be the exception to the rule. So when you leave after that first time, do not think “this was a waste of time and did not work” – it accomplished exactly what it was supposed to do. People saw you and you saw people and that is all you were trying to accomplish. No, this is not some “immersion therapy” to help you get over being shy or teach you that people don’t bite. This is step one in building patterns and habits.
Step two is easier for some, and for some it is much harder. It really depends on what type of person you are and how pessimistic you are. Step two is to do the exact same thing again. In fact, that is step 2, step 3, step 4, and step 5….. Etc. You get the idea. Keep going back at the same basic time on the same days of the week on a regular basis. You still do not have to go up and start talking to people. We are going to presume you may be a little shy and going up and talking to strangers is not your favorite thing to do. Just keep going back.
If you picked a place the first time that you absolutely hated then choose a different place next time- there has to be something to make you feel like you want to be around the place. Comfortable chairs, the people that seem to frequent the place seem like the type you would like to meet, good music, good coffee, but something so you do not hate everything about being in the place. Just disregard the part that hates it because you are alone and others are not. The key is to find someplace that you would like to be, and then to be there on a regular basis at least 1x-2x a week, ideally on the same days and general times.
Around your 3rd or 4th visit you will start to notice things are different. The server might remember what you drink or how you want your coffee. The people that either stared or avoided eye contact before might nod toward you before they look away. Instead of “what can I get you?” you may hear “Hi – nice to see you” or “hey how are you today?” You will notice that some of the people there are there every time you come in, and be able to tell those “regulars” from the others that are just stopping by.
Being a Regular
By the time you have come in 5 or 6 times the regulars will be nodding to you and getting curious. People will be apt to strike up a conversation, if even just a brief one. The thing that makes all people prefer the familiar starts to work in your favor. You have become familiar, not the new person or interloper. Hopefully now you also are a little less nervous about coming in, it is not new anymore. You will know who seems friendly and who is avoided by all the other regulars. This is because by doing nothing but showing up on a regular basis you have become a regular yourself, and are informally accepted as part of that scene.
You may not have made new friends yet, but you have a place to go that accepts you and where it is at least possible to make friends, unlike staying home in your apartment waiting for strangers to knock on the door and ask to be your friends. While I am sure that is not really what you expected, if you never get out to where you can meet people, that is the only way left for you to make friends. That is obviously a long shot in the dark for success. Now you at least have a realistic chance of meeting people.
Taking it from being a “regular” to having friends is not any faster than going from being a stranger to a regular. While people will happily exchange greetings and make small talk, that is not the same as being invited over to a cook out or birthday party. When it comes to making real friends, slow and steady wins the race every time. Inviting yourself to activities you hear people talking about with each other may be temping, as it may be tempting to reply to “hi, how are you?” by spilling your guts about how lonely and depressed you really are, but it is not going to win you long time real friends.
Hopefully you have taken the time while getting to know this place to see how the interactions progress. Use the ”hello, how are you” that is now common place to share an observation, thought, joke or story and then go back to your regular place until people are inviting you to sit down. It is very possible that you will not have to take that first step and others may start to share like that with you so long as you are smiling and look receptive. Just like it takes time for the habit of seeing you there to be formed, it takes time to change that from being around to being part of the “group”. In the meantime, be happy you are at least out seeing people.
Making Real Friends Takes Real Time
This is where it falls apart for many. They suddenly realize they would rather spend time in apartment reading or watching Netflix than doing this weird social dance. Then it is also time for some real hard heart to heart discussions with yourself. Are you really lonely? If you really want to be around people then stick to the course. It is easy to say “this does not work” because 6 or 8 weeks later you are not having your besties over for drinks and party games like in your imagination. This is the difference between reality and fantasy.
It takes real time to meet people. Even in work environments, 6 months to a year often passes when you are spending 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week before people are comfortable thinking of you as even possibly more than a work mate. You see others being invited out after work and if you get an invite it is as a last thought, or they forget to invite you. That is not necessarily because they do not like you- it is because they do not know you in a social way yet. Saying yes when invited and getting into the pattern and habit of being one of the people that will say yes when invited is the only way to change that.
It is the same in this sort of social environment. Going from somebody that they associate with a certain place or activity to somebody they want to do other things with or are happy to take a call just because you are feeling down is a slow process. Hurrying that process will not end well. It will cause you to lose the progress you have made and become known as “odd”, or a “creeper.” Going from friendly to real friends that can talk about anything, bitch about bad days or relationship issues, and talk about deep feelings is a trust that takes months and years to build if it is genuine.
The desire to have close friends you can talk to about anything and that stick by you through thick and thin is strong for most people. Is that desire enough to make you spend the time and effort needed for genuine true deep friendships? Many people that do not have friends are actually over trusting in equal parts to shy and cynical. They want close friends so much that they advance the relationship and trust much faster than others. This inevitably leads to them feeling like they were “let down” by another person because they shared a lot and made emotional commitments that the other person replied back in similar manner even though they did not actually feel as strongly.
It takes time for genuine trust and life-long relationships- a lot of it. There are not short cuts to that time and desire for friends like that must be matched by a commitment of your time needed to establish that. When the desire to have exceeds the commitment needed to establish and earn that type of bond, it results in disappointment. To avoid this letdown is easy. Be realistic and look for friends as people that you can go out to enjoy activities with and talk to about every day things. Remember how often you said all you wanted was somebody to do something with once in a while? Then do not be disappointed if they have other friends as well, and if they are not treating you like their best friend in the world after a few weeks.
These casual friends that are good for a few laughs and doing activities with on occasion are in fact the ones that will, some day, become life long bonds. This makes up the majority of most people’s friends and not should not be looked down on as “not real friends” Hurrying that process or trying to force it will just result in nobody to call and no place to go this weekend. Accept that the vast majority of people you meet will be just casual friends and be happy to have that as it is valuable. Treat them like they are valued and the sitting alone every weekend can become your history rather than your next weekend.
(This article was submitted as part of the making friends and friendship series of articles. All readers are invited to share their own ideas and experiences on general tips or specific places and ways to make friends in the comments. Exceptional and well written comments and ideas may be used as future feature articles in the friendship series.)