Do a quick Google search on “how to make friends,” and you might find more unhelpful platitudes than practical advice.
- Be friendly
- Be yourself
- Make jokes
- Just put yourself out there
- Turn on the “Power of Vulnerability” TED talk, place your forehead against your screen, and absorb it by osmosis.
Oh, I needed to smile? I’ve been baring my fangs to establish dominance over my potential targets. Thanks for the help again, ThoughtCatalogue! These platitudes can feel esoteric and often hinge on qualities you may not possess or come naturally to you. It can read like there’s a step or two missing, especially if you’re introverted, shy, struggle with mental illness, or are just not very put together in general.
“Oh, I needed to smile? I’ve been baring my fangs to establish dominance over my potential targets.”
Here’s the thing: Not everyone is cool. Not everyone says the right thing. Not everyone is outgoing. Not everyone is smart. Not everyone is charismatic. Not everyone is funny. And that’s okay. None of those qualities are requirements for being a worthwhile person. You’re good enough as-is. But even the best pep talk about your self-worth from some random-ass dude on the internet doesn’t change the fact that making friends only gets more difficult as you get older. Outside the confines of school, meeting people can be extremely difficult. You may live alone and your workplace or friend group may be a closed loop. People have more responsibilities and tend to accumulate personal baggage as they age, too.
From the New York Times:
As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.
“But even the best pep talk about your self-worth from some random-ass dude on the internet doesn’t change the fact that making friends only gets more difficult as you get older.”
Think about how something as simple as your last name has shaped your life. In school to a certain year, we were sorted by our last names and seated accordingly. How many of your friends from school became your friends because they sat near you? How would your life be different if your last name started at a different part of the alphabet? Where you sit is important, so get your ass out there.
Isn’t that the similar to saying “just put yourself out there”? Yes, but reframing a platitude can make it click and become useful. Don’t poke holes in this. By having close proximity, you were able to build the comfort with your classmates that allows for the potential of repeated, unplanned interactions.
“Where you sit is important, so get your ass out there.”
Even if you’re anxious, you don’t need to go out with courage or even the intention of being social. Go to places just to go to places. Whether that’s becoming a regular at a restaurant or business, taking a class, volunteering, etc. Over time, you’ve built that comfort with the other regular strangers that leads to unplanned, regular interaction; thus, increasing your chances of making new friends. These people may even speak to you first! They see you enough to recognize you, but they don’t know you. You could pique their interest. Not every interaction has to be lengthy or go well, either. It’s the time you put in that matters most.
By playing the long-con, you can sidestep having to summon the bravery on some do-or-die test of your social anxiety. You’re at your spot. The people are used to your presence, and you’re used to them. And these people are more gracious and forgiving than you realize.
So, get your ass out there.
Zach Peacock is a retired vlogger and a self-described YouTube pioneer, though the jury is still out on the latter. He now spends his days in Seattle managing social media for The Man. For more from Zach, follow him on twitter @thatzak.