3. Find your tribe.
If you don’t know anyone at all in your new school/city/whatever, you’ll have to push up your sleeves and do a bit of work. I love books and literature, so I’ve been looking up New York book events. I’m planning to go to a few of them and just say hi to people who look friendly. This might sound a bit scary, but all you have to do is say hello (and maybe smile)! You don’t have to make friends straightaway. It’s all about getting used to the vibe and the faces around you. Eventually, you might see the same faces again and again. Then, try to get beyond hi—these could be the people you eventually ask to come to see a comedy show with you, or to grab a bite to eat after a reading.
I haven’t done that last part yet, but I plan to. It will require me to swallow my shyness and just go for it. Maybe if someone’s holding a book I’ve read, I’ll ask them what they thought about it. If I overhear a person chatting in a non-American accent, I’ll ask them if they’re from out of town like I am. People flying solo might be the most approachable, because they could be in the same situation as me. Groups might have their own thing going on, but still, if you overhear a conversation about a topic that really interests you—someone’s having trouble with their sewing machine, or abstaining from watching The Mindy Project when they have buckets of studying to do—why not try politely jumping in?
I realize that the strike-out-on-your-own path might not be for everyone. That’s why clubs and social events are so great. There are heaps of sports teams you can join, for example, and lots of themed meetups that are arranged online. (Here are two I just looked up: Harry Potter meetup! Makeup meetup!) And then there are less-formal groups you can be part of. A new friend has just asked me to join a baking club. I don’t even have an oven, but I’m joining as a guest eater. I mean, I love to put carbs in my face. That qualifies me for friendship with bakers, RIGHT?
If you can’t find an event, team, club, guild, or league that appeals to you, why not start one of your own? Create a Facebook event for a talent show you want to run, or let it be known that your Buffy Binge-Watch Brigade is open to new members. When I’m in charge of something, I feel more confident, and I find it’s easier to talk about something I’m doing rather than about myself per se. And when you create an experience with a bunch of other people? That’s some intense, satisfying bonding right there.
4. Hello: the basics.
Then there are the connections you can make just by being in the world. When you move to a new city or start at a new school or a new job, you’re thrust into a whole new social milieu. It can be tricky to stay cool in such circumstances, because every situation is so different. You won’t know anything about pre-existing social allegiances or rules, and the risk of doing something you’ll feel embarrassed about is higher than if you know where you stand.
But you know what? At a minimum, all you really need to do is say hello, introduce yourself, and ask your companion’s name. Smiling helps! After that, if conversation doesn’t seem to be flowing, just ask a simple question or two. “How long have you worked here?” or “Who’s that band on your T-shirt?” will work fine. It doesn’t have to be rocket science—you’re just two people being friendly. If they don’t reciprocate, it’s probably not your fault: People can be closed up for personal reasons, or they might have had a bad day. Even really awesome people sometimes have terrible friendship chemistry together. But don’t give up on being interested in others. Someone who will be curious back is right around the corner.
I know (from experience!) that making new friends can be exhausting. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and be vulnerable and approach strangers, and it takes energy to work up that courage. It is tiring to have to repeat your story over and over again for everyone you meet, too. Some people I know get really energized by a room full of new people, but I’m both introverted and quickly bored by talking about myself, and this combination makes that kind of situation especially unpleasant for me. I like to give myself a break when I start feeling tired and grumpy, but I also like to remind myself that I love many things about meeting new people! I love asking them about their lives, hearing their stories, finding out secrets about my new town that only people who live here could know, and seeing the kindness in people’s eyes when they’re listening.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, too. I’m not saying this to frighten you, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone home kicking myself after saying something really stupid to a new person! (Just ask me about the time I asked my friend’s very sweet dad about when she was conceived and crown me Queen of TMI.) Still, this kind of oopsy is rarely fatal—my friend’s dad sure remembered me after that, and he actually thought I was funny, not just a horrifically inappropriate person. And let’s be honest: If I wasn’t myself when I met people for the first time, I’d be sure to start talking about sexing or pooping eventually, so I now consider this kind of talk a bit of a friendship hors d’oeuvre, or a sample of what’s to come. Even if you’re afraid of making social “mistakes,” you might find you’re more equipped than you thought you were to tread outside your comfort zone just a little, every now and then. I try really hard to do this, and it’s been worth it so far. I never regret it when I initiate conversation with the first question or joke.
So yeah, it’s hard sometimes, but making friends is totally worth all the effort, IMO. I know I could live my life safely alone in my apartment, ordering delivery and never having to leave or speak to anyone. But new friends do stuff like crack jokes with you and support you and teach you new things, and that’s all stuff I’m willing to work for. If that means I have to open my tender, fragile little heart to strangers, then so be it! Some people might peek in and find nothing of interest there, and that’s OK. But a couple of people might open theirs back up to me, and I’ll be so grateful and excited. This is how it works for everybody, yourself included! Say yes to friends, friend. ♦