As a kid, I considered myself quite the social butterfly; I was gregarious, loved a good laugh, and always looked forward to having friends over for the weekend. Many friendships were forged over the most innocuous things, like listening to The Killers while walking from P.E. to Algebra or staying up late on AOL Instant Messenger. However, as I’ve gotten older and experienced my fair share of failed friendships I’ve noticed quite a few fundamental changes in the way I approach making new friends.
“Many friendships were forged over the most innocuous things, like listening to The Killers while walking from P.E. to Algebra or staying up late on AOL Instant Messenger.”
After a major friend break-up a couple of years ago, suddenly all of my standards and values surrounding the idea of friendship seemed unreliable. I didn’t know how the hell to make friends because I was scared that I was going to do something to mess it up. My confidence was shot, and with it, so was any hope of creating a lasting friendship. I was certain that there must be some magic word I could say that would make new friends stick, but even if I knew what it was, I was bound to get it wrong.
Looking back now, of course there is no “magic word” to make new friends, and just because I was in a bad friendship before didn’t mean I was cursed. There were so many moments spent feeling awkward and anxious around new people, perpetually worried that the words “BAD FRIEND” were tattooed on my forehead.
I switched between fearing that my past would come back to bite me in the butt, and convincing myself that this new person would eventually stab me in the back. Memories of past friendships morphed into bitter tales of treachery and I called into question every seemingly “positive” interaction and went over each one with a fine tooth comb until I could absolutely rule out any foul play.
“Just because I was in a bad friendship before didn’t mean I was cursed.”
It took me the better part of four years to come to grips that all of this time I have been too hard on myself to be the perfect friend. So, instead of forcing myself to be something I’m not, I’ve decided to employ a few helpful tips to keep in mind when dealing with friends. If you’ve been doubting your ability to be a good friend or even make friends at all, you may find some of these tips helpful, too.
Empathy and Vulnerability
In my opinion, these two really should go hand-in-hand when it comes to friendship. Everyone goes through different things in their lives, so it’s essential to show empathy to those who need it. For me, empathy is also a good way for me to check my anxiety at the door and remind myself that other peoples’ behavior isn’t always directed at me.
Similarly, vulnerability is another thing I’ve found useful in forming deep connections with people. While it is scary to open up and let others see a side of you that isn’t often shown, the strength it can give to a relationship really is invaluable. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable with a new friend can bring you closer together, and the friendship may actually grow in unexpected ways.
“While it is scary to open up and let others see a side of you that isn’t often shown, the strength it can give to a relationship really is invaluable.”
Screw Rejection — Make the First Move!
Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and send the first text message or DM to get the ball rolling, and geez can it be hard to do! There are times when I’ve reached out first and not received any response, but the important thing I take away from it is that it probably doesn’t have anything to do with me. A lack of response doesn’t make me a bad friend, so what is there to be afraid of? Rejection is temporary and the more you allow yourself to experience it, the less you’ll see it as a personal sleight and the more you’ll view it as an opportunity for growth.
“A lack of response doesn’t make me a bad friend, so what is there to be afraid of?”
Patience is Key
For a very long time, I was so keen on making new friends that if I wasn’t making progress, I became increasingly frustrated at myself. But is it even realistic to walk into a social situation and expect to come away with a new BFF? Absolutely not! Strong and fulfilling friendships require attention and patience, much like a garden. It takes time for a seed to sprout and take root, even with the most ideal conditions. You can’t expect a seed to turn into a tree the moment it is planted in the ground, can you? Give it some time to grow and mature, and you might end up with even more than you had hoped!
“Strong and fulfilling friendships require attention and patience.”
These days I’m taking a much more open approach to friendship. I’m allowing myself the freedom to actually be myself and roll with the punches as they come, and that doesn’t always mean getting things right the first time. Rather than rush into a friendship to prove I’m not a bad friend, I’m taking my time and getting to know the friends I have around me in deeper and more meaningful ways. I may not be the social butterfly I once was, but I’m growing comfortably into this version of myself who is open to the possibility of making new friends.