Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Process - How to Make Friends

wwShort of living in your hometown or the place where you went to school, trying to make friends requires cunning, creativity, and a certain degree of extroversion. I am guaranteed the first two, the second I have to work on, but two out of three ain't bad.

I say this because everyone I meet who lives outside those two scenarios always seems to struggle for a social life separate from work.  You see, in your hometown, you can rely on your previous connections.  You have any people your parents knew.  You have 13 years of schooling relationships on which to rely, and any summer job connections you may have gleaned over your teenage years.  Plus if your family was a part of a religious community or some other organization, you have a few other pools from which to draw social engagements.

If you live in a town where you went to college, a number of your professors and classmates are also likely to live there.  You tack onto this any organizations you joined, and work contacts and you've got at least a core from which to build a healthy stream of social interaction.

Of course, there is a third option which I have yet to experience.  It is the child factor.  When you have kids, you meet other parents no matter where you might be located.  This triples your options, even if they tend to be kid-centric.

The problem is, there is a significant swath of the population that doesn't fit into any of these categories - frequently young professionals who have struck out on their own they are left to fend for themselves in the "big city." This leaves them going to happy hour with workmates and little else.  If you're lucky like Christian and I, you end up living in a place that attracts like-minded people from your past social pools, so at least you have some sort of core on which to build.  If you're not, you have no given way to seek out other interaction.  You are marooned.  Isolated.  There are tons of people around you but none of them speak to one another let alone you.  So how do you break out of your shell and move into that friendly sphere? You work at it.

It is just like losing weight or getting fit.  It takes time and practice and the development of special skills.  There is no way around it.  Some people are born with those skills and it's a little easier, but for most, you have to develop them consciously.  And trust me, everyone needs friends.  I can think of a bagillion different situations that a person could end up in and need friends.  It is a necessary thing.  Everyone needs to be in community. It only takes a second to start the process.  Once it's started, you just have to nourish it and nurture it.  It doesn't take much.

Most people don't realize that a friendship needs a little bit of a spark, a little chemistry, and a willingness to maintain the relationship.  There is a courtship period.  You get to know them, they get to know you.  Maybe you get coffee a few times.  Maybe you go on a hike, or take a class together.  Who knows? Once it gets going its easy to keep it up, if you want to, but you need to want to. 

I would call myself a reserved person.  I've been told by multiple people that when they met me I was scary, intimidating.  One person even said I channeled "second-grade teacher vibe." That is actually very scary to me because I had a horrible second grade teacher who screamed at me quite a bit and glowered like it was her religious duty.  I'm, what you could say, is selective about who I allow to get close to me.  It's stupid and frankly destructive.  I look at the world in a weird way, and the selectivity doesn't help the small pool of people who can get past the cold exterior I present.  Most people realize that under the scary, I'm very different.  It just takes... a while. When I say a while, I mean, probably three or four times meeting me.  There is definitely a warm up period.

I say this, but the reality is that friendship doesn't have to have a warm up period.  Friendship can start growing in the first meeting.  When you start recommending books and music to one another, you have a solid friendship in the making.  That can happen in a couple of get-togethers, no matter how uptight you might be regularly, you just have to be open to the possibility of a new friend.

So I know I have a ways to go as far as getting out there.  I'm definitely in that group of people not guaranteed a set of friends (such as with a job or a kid).  It's late now, but tomorrow is a new day.  I think it's time I break out of the apartment and start being the joiner I used to be in college.  It's time for me to make some more friends.

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