While doing research for The Friendship Fix, I realized how common it was for adults to feel like they were in need of new friendships at every turn. This phenomenon could be brought on by a life transition that made you grow apart from old friends such as a relocation, a job change, a divorce, a marriage, or becoming a parent. Maybe you've just recognized that many of your friendships have gradually faded (or worse, become toxic). No matter what your situation is, you're never alone if you're looking to make new friendships. It can feel embarrassing, though, and since there is not nearly an official friendship-courting ritual as there tends to be with dating, it can also be downright confusing.
Shasta Nelson, the founder of GirlfriendCircles, has set out to do something about it. GirlfriendCircles is a friendship site for women that helps them meet each other and helps reduce the alienation and awkwardness that come from feeling so disconnected. Nelson has also just come out with an invaluable new book about the nuts and bolts of friendship-making, called Friendships Don't Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of GirlFriends. I presented her with some common scenarios to see how she'd advise getting over friendship-making obstacles. Read below for her excellent suggestions to overcome your doubts and start making good friends -- yes, even as a busy grownup -- today.
1. I've come to a new milestone and am new to a city/just started a new job/am entering parenthood/have found myself living the single life. I'm embarrassed to have such a lame social life and have never felt so alone. What are some tangible ways I can jumpstart my connections with people?
First, the easiest thing to do is to maximize the places we frequent, the people we know and profession we have -- even if some of them are new to us. In other words, introduce ourselves to our neighbors, tell some of our Facebook friends to introduce us to people they know who live in our city or tell some of our friends we're looking to meet other mothers and try to reach out to a few people we can interact with for our work. The advantages of maximizing where we already spend our time is that those relationships are easier to grow if we are in close proximity or more frequent contact. While it not socially acceptable to walk into a business and ask a random employee out for lunch, it is more acceptable to do that in our own company. The context of having something in common -- our neighborhood, our new life stage or a our new job -- with the new people we meet makes it so much easier to move forward than if it were a complete and random stranger.
2. My schedule makes me too busy to see the friends I already have, let alone make new ones. How and why should I make friendship one of my top priorities?
The question isn't how many friends you have but whether you feel like your life is supported by the ones you have. In my book "Friendships Don't Just Happen!" I teach the five Circles of Connectedness -- the five different types of friends we have and need -- to help us articulate the difference between the different roles that various friends can play in our lives. Many of us know a ton of people and feel guilty about not staying in touch with everyone, but those are two different circles of friends than having a few close friends we feel close and connected to. Health-wise, there are few things that will make as big of an impact on our longevity and decreased stress-levels as having a circle of friends. Making our friendships our priority isn't just a "nice-to-have-if-we-have-time," but a necessity of a healthy, happy and meaningful life.
3. Whenever I reach out out to make some new friendships, I hear that terrible inner voice about how stupid I sound or how nobody has time for new friendships anyway. How do I quiet my fear of rejection?
Our greatest fear as humans is that of being rejected so it makes complete sense that we hear that voice! It can feel very vulnerable to put ourselves out there, fearful that we want friends more than others do. But here are three truths: 1) Nearly everyone I meet wishes they had more meaningful love and connection in their lives -- what I call Frientimacy, the platonic intimacy of friends. 2) Nearly everyone hates the beginning stages of building those friendships as they are often in filled with small talk, awkward moments, uncertain feelings and lots of energy depletion with near-strangers. 3) And finally, that there is no way to get to those deep and meaningful places with people we love without going through the stages of getting together with strangers that we don't yet know that well. Every relationship has to start at the beginning with two people who have never danced together, which means all of us will have our insecurities. You are not alone -- even the outgoing, beautiful, confident, successful women among us have the voice of the critic telling them they are not enough. We all have to eventually value the end goal enough to put up with some of the awkward moments in getting there. In other words, you may not silence the fear, and that's OK. In my book, I talk about this a lot in the context of defining courage and understanding how we can minimize our vulnerability by doing it incrementally so that it may feel a little safer as trust is being built. But our insecurities may always be present...
4. Other people talk about meeting friends online, but I don’t know where to start. I'm slow to open up, and I also don't tend to trust stuff online. Is there a website for me?
Absolutely! Online is actually a great place for taking it slow. But remember, a friendship website is just a tool, just as a party or a telephone both can be -- they in and of themselves are not good or bad or untrustworthy, they are simply one other way to connect with people. I compare GirlFriendCircles.com -- the online female friendship site I founded -- to a health club. Just as you can get healthy and in shape without a health club, so can you make friends without going online. But if you find yourself without the friends you crave, then you might want to try another way. Many people love the online approach, as it automatically attracts those who live near you who also value new friends which increases your chances of connecting with other who will make the time and have the interest. Ultimately, the important thing isn't to worry about how you get those friends you crave as much as it is to find the tools that work for you.
For even more help in jumpstarting your friend relationships, pick up Shasta's book today!
Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is the author of The Friendship Fix and the longtime writer of Baggage Check, the mental health advice column in the Washington Post Express.