It’s hard now to remember how I made friends as a child. I was incredibly shy, but always managed to have a happy crew of close friends throughout the years. We’d play elaborate, imaginary games: we were cat goddesses overseeing our human subjects, Pokémon trainers battling gym leaders, or powerfully magical dragons. I never had to hold back. If I wanted to see my friends, I would call and ask them over for play dates, and inevitably we would beg our parents to let the play dates roll over in to sleep overs. I pine for those days of easy bonds.
Now I’m grown up, and living 2,600 miles away from my childhood home. Starting over in a new city forging new connections feels like one of the most difficult tasks to tackle. I’ve been in San Diego for three years now and still don’t have much of a social network here, but I’m finally starting to feel like I’m learning the ropes of making friends as an adult. I wish it was as easy as walking up to a stranger and saying, “Hey, let’s be friends!”
I’ve put together a list of some of the lessons I’ve learned. Some of this may seem obvious, but for me it took a real shift in mindset to begin taking the concrete steps necessary to build connections.
1. You’ve got to be willing to make the first move –
When starting off in a new city with no support system you can’t expect everyone else to be as desperate to befriend you as you are them. I’ve learned to treat friend making similarly to dating, and I’ve gained a lot of respect for men who are almost always expected to make the first move when pursuing a possible love interest. If I meet someone and like them then it’s on me to ask for their info, set up future plans, and follow up after the initial hang out. Eventually you should expect the other party to put in some effort as well, but at the beginning of a new friendship, you’ve got to be willing to put in some work.
When I meet someone new, I make sure to ask them if we can connect via Facebook or exchange phone numbers. Then within a couple days, I will reach out again to let them know it was a pleasure meeting them and reaffirm something we have in common. I still feel awkward during these initial interactions, but I remind myself– what’s the worst that can happen, they don’t respond?
2. Take advantage of social apps –
I’m not just referring to Facebook and Snapchat; there are so many different apps that can help you make new connections. I’ve recently discovered Hey!Vina an app for women trying to meet new friends that works very similarly to Tinder. I’ve also used the MeetUp app to find local groups of like minded people; these group environments are a little more low stakes and let you get to know a variety of people at different events. It may feel a little desperate to join an app just to meet friends, but it’s a great way to connect with people who are equally as excited to make new friends and who you otherwise would never have crossed paths with. In our highly connected, modern world, it’s incredibly easy to find like minded people with a few clicks.
3. Don’t invest energy if you don’t have a connection –
When you’re young and in school it’s easy to spend time getting to know everyone around you. You spend all day with the same cohort of students and eventually know a lot about the ticks and personalities of every classmate. As an adult, getting to know others takes a much more dedicated attitude. As an introvert, I need to recharge after social situations, so spending an afternoon chatting with someone new over coffee can leave me needing several hours alone. I have learned that I need to be sparing with my time. If I can tell right away that a new acquaintance isn’t the kind of person I’m going to connect with, then I need to be ok saying no to an invitation. You can still be polite without agreeing to social engagements that hold no interest for you. Learning this has allowed me to invest my limited social energy into people that I’m excited to bond with.
4. Be vulnerable –
This one is really hard for me, but possibly the most important as you can’t expect a new friendly acquaintance to progress in to a real friendship if you’re not willing to open up and dig a little below the surface. True friendships aren’t built on small talk. Once you’ve spent some time with your new friend, you need to find ways to open up and let them get to know the real you. For me, this means being willing to share when I’m worried or upset by something. I tend to keep negative emotions internalized which I’ve learned can leave my new friends feeling like I don’t really open up to them. I’ve tried to become more comfortable opening up about all aspects of my life including the not so warm and fuzzy.
It’s definitely still a learning process for me. I can’t help but compare myself to other, more social people, and I will sometimes feel embarrassed that making friends is so tough for me. Slowly I’ve started to accept this as part of who I am.
Comment with anything you would add to help someone trying to navigate the difficult task of making friends as an adult!