You know those people who "never met a stranger"? People who collect people and make friends wherever they go?
I'm not one of those people. I can talk to people easily and I'm approachable when I choose to be. But that's schmoozing. Making real friends? Those youthful days of meeting someone and being BFFs within hours are behind me. These days I'm slow and cautious and discern between friends and acquaintances.
Making new friends isn't easy and I certainly don't have any fail-safe advice, but here are some random thoughts and suggestions. (And, as always, I welcome yours.)
Leave the house: New friends are unlikely to come knockin' at your door; you must get out and among people fairly often. Accept invitations--sometimes even when you'd rather not. If you're shy, hanging out with someone who is not shy can help. Researchers in Japan call that person a "surrogate" and found that after seven months, shy students entering a university who used a surrogate had as many friends as not-shy students So instead of going to a party alone, recruit an outgoing friend to join you. If you need to cling a little, that's OK. Sooner or later you're bound to recognize a kindred introvert spirit with whom you can sit and talk in that non chit-chatty way we love.
Mine your past: Some of my most gratifying new friendships are people I knew long ago but with whom I lost touch. (Thank you Internet!) Shared past is very powerful. In some cases, these were not actually friends in the past, but they have become friends with a future.
Stick your neck out: Meet someone you want as a friend? Be a little (but just a little) pushy. Make contact, extend invitations. What feels pushy to you might just seem friendly to others. As introverts, our sensitivity can work for us or against us. Don't be so sensitive that you are afraid to take a chance; be sensitive enough to recognize if and when it's time to give up.
Accept some awkwardness: Like first dates, the early stages of friendship can be awkward and self-conscious. This is not a reflection on you, the other person, or the potential for friendship. It's just the way it is. One way to mitigate this is to do things together other than just meeting for a meal. Go to a museum, a movie, an art festival--anything so that you aren't just sitting there gazing into each others' eyes. Also, with other things to talk about, you won't be tempted to overshare personal stuff and overwhelm the other person. (Have you ever done that? I have.)
Put in the time: Insta-friends are difficult (impossible?) to come by. If you meet someone with friend potential, make an effort to spend time with that person. Fake it 'til you make it. Friendship is cumulative. If the friendship is meant to be, that gratifying "click" of real connection will happen eventually.
Know when to fold ‘em: Some friendships just don't take. Again, that's not a reflection on anyone. We all want the same thing: connection. Nobody is a failure when friendships fail to take. Cut your losses, skip the self-flagellation, and move on to the next interesting person.
For more about friendship, visit my friend, The Friendship Doctor.
My book, The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World, is available for pre-order on Amazon. It will be released December 4, 2012, just in time for party/festive/family-togetherness season. You know you need it.
Photo by Timothy Tsui via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Copyright 2010 Sophia Dembling