Over the last few blog posts, I have written about loneliness. How it is a common problem for adults and made a small case that we NEED community. (I can just hear my teenage-self heavily sighing and slouching into a bean bag chair in the corner of my room. Yes, Teenage-Self, you TOO need to be around people and involved in other’s lives.)
Making new friends is so so hard. Getting past small talk in a conversation is hard. Finding “your people” is hard. And finding the right type of people: ones that are supportive without enabling. Ones that challenge you without making you feel inadequate or inauthentic. It is hard. But, in the words of Daniel Tiger, “Try a new food, it might taste good!” (Okay, so Daniel Tiger is trying to get toddlers to eat things they haven’t before, but you get the idea.) Making new friends is uncomfortable and not always super easy, but it is worth the try because you might just find your new favorite person.
Not everyone operates the same way, but if by posting this, I can help one person find community, it’s worth letting the dishes sit in the dishwasher for 30 more minutes. (Let’s be honest…most things are worth that…) It’s not an exhaustive list, but here are 10 things that have helped me get out of my shell and make connections with people.
- Recognize That It’s Not Just You
One of my biggest obstacles I have to overcome when I need to put myself out there and make new friends is the lie that I’m the only one feeling lonely. It is such a stupid little lie that really makes no sense when I say it out loud or type it, but it can be almost disabling when I let it creep in. That voice that says “Everyone already has a best friend. Everyone else is too busy to hang out with you. They all have plans and they don’t involve you. No one wants to hang out with you.”
Do me a favor the next time you start to feel this way and begin to think these thoughts. Stop what you’re doing and in your best drag queen voice, snap your fingers in the air and say “Not ta-dayyyy, Satan!” Because that is where those thoughts are coming from. They are lies and they are false.
We are all sitting at home wishing someone would text us and see if we wanted to hang out. So, instead of feeling lonely and thinking that you’re the only one not invited to the party: do what the cool kids do and INVITE SOMEONE. BE the inviter. People DO want to hang out with you, they are just waiting for you to ask. And what better way to hang out with people than to do it on your own turf? Amiright?
Reach out. You may find a hand to grab and you might be the hand someone else needs.
2. Recognize That it Might Not Be About You
Okay, so maybe this post should be titled: “Lies Amanda consistently falls for.” Another classic lie that I like to tell myself whenever someone can’t hang out is “They don’t want to be your friend or hang out with you because you suck and there is something wrong with you.”
No. No. No. Say it with me: “NOT ta-daaayyyyy.”
I know it is so hard, but try not to take someone’s rejection personally and then stop inviting people out. It may not be about you. Sometimes it is about you and well, oh well. They weren’t meant to be your BFF. But most of the time it’s not. Either that person really is very busy and living a very full life and if you keep asking they will learn to make time for you (that’s a lesson they need to learn, friend, and not on you) OR maybe they aren’t emotionally ready to be a friend right now. Maybe they also are just trying to figure out this community thing and aren’t ready to engage. Either way, it’s not about you. Don’t let rejection discourage you.
3. Don’t Fear Quiet and Alone Time: Make It Work For You.
Here’s another lie I’ve loved: whenever I feel alone or bored or the need to connect with someone (or tbh, the need to escape), I think I can find those connections in my phone. FALSE. Social media is great and wonderful: when used appropriately. But if you’re looking for real connections with real people, you’re going to have to text or (dare I say it?) CALL someone. I know it is much much harder to reach out to a real live person who may or may not reciprocate, but friend, that connection will be so much more real. It gets easier with time, I promise.
Additionally, I’ve been convicted lately of always trying to fill my spare moments with “efficiency” or “socialization” by grabbing my phone every time I am not otherwise actively engaged. What I have noticed is this actually keeps my brain constantly engaged and doesn’t give it any time to reflect or process.
Our days have naturally built in “brain breaks” if we took advantage of them. Every time we’re in line for something, waiting on an appointment, driving, at a stoplight, using the bathroom for goodness sakes, these are all times when we could just stop taking in information and give ourselves a chance to breathe, notice ourselves and our surroundings and just reflect and think.
There is a reason why people’s best ideas come in the shower: we have no other distractions. We are forced to THINK.
While taking the time to disengage electronically and from work is a good thing in general, socially I believe that it allows you to refresh yourself to actually purposefully engage in real in-person social situations. Giving yourself time to reflect and gather your thoughts makes for a more interesting and relaxed person later.
4. Be Open and Honest
When social opportunities do arise (whether they be online or in real life, keeping in mind, you’re shooting for real life), be open and honest. Again: it’s not easy. Especially if you’ve had social anxiety at some point in your life. But the more open and honest you are with people, the more they feel like they can be open and honest with you, which makes for deeper and more lasting friendships.
5. Smile at people. Wave.
Friends are every where, you just need to meet them! Go back up to bullets 1 and 2 and remind yourself not to believe lies and then when you are out and about SMILE and WAVE at people. Trust me, no one is going to be put off by a friendly smile and wave and a “how are you today?” (And if they are, they’ve got other issues…) Here’s the funny thing that happens when you simply smile at your neighbor when you walk around your street or the person in line with you at the coffee shop: you make a human connection, you open a door to relationship. It is something so simple and yet so effective. Don’t be yet another person that stands in line at Starbucks and pretends that they are the only person that exists in the room and ignore the people around you. This is why we all feel isolated: because we’re all acting like we are! Stop that. Smile at someone.
6. Put. Down. Your. Phone. O.M.G.
Recently, I had jury duty. Currently, my day job as Assistant Regional Manager of the Briscoe home leaves little room for adult interaction and conversation because all of my colleagues are under the age of 10. I was looking FORWARD to jury duty, you guys. I was going to talk to real adults about real things that didn’t involve someone’s bodily functions (I assumed). So I went into this purposefully leaving my phone in my purse.
As I sat with my fellow jury members on a bench outside of some office waiting to be told what to do next, I actually engaged with them. I smiled and I asked what their names where, what they did for a living and we started talking about what we usually do during the day and conversation moved on from there. It was great! Because I didn’t immediately pull out my cell phone and start staring at it, I was able to actually make some real human connections and it was awesome!
Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long because I stood up to go check on something and when I came back literally everyone had pulled out their phones and had directed their focus to their screens. It made me a little sad that we couldn’t continue our conversations because we’ve been so trained to pick up a device, but I was happy to discover that the ability to have a conversation, even with people you have almost nothing in common with outside of being in the same place at the same time, was still possible. It motivated me to do it more. I dare you to try it!
7. Volunteer and Ask for Help
I was asked by one of my friends how I had made so many connections with older moms and knew so many teenagers that were able to help me out and my answer was simple: I volunteered.
It seems a little strange, but if you’re looking to make connections with people that might be one stage ahead of you, the best way to do that is to find a way to serve them: teach Sunday School, volunteer in your church nursery (but like, not if you have kids in the nursery, I mean sure if you want to do that, do that, but if you’re looking to get to know people outside of your age and stage, sign up for something you aren’t already going to be involved in), sign up to take meals to shut ins, coach a youth sport, tutor at a local school. You get to know people you otherwise might not interact with and begin to build relationships.
The key to achieving balance in this area is once you’re serving in some capacity, don’t be afraid to ask for help! We all need an extra set of hands every now and again. See if you can find a local teen to mow your grass (and then talk to them when they do), have a teenager come over and help watch your kids while you get some house work done, ask for help planning your menu from someone who seems to have that under control, ask for advice for how to budget from someone who does that really well, get a tutor for a class your taking! Reach out! Make connections. People love to feel needed and helpful.
8. Memorize a List of Conversation Starters Because Words Are Hard and Awkward is My Life
But seriously. I am SO awkward. Ask anyone who has ever known me. Queen of Awkward right here. I say things that as I say them, it feels like I am having an out of body experience. I am watching some other person say the most awkward and embarrassing thing possible and am cringing. It is rough. Soooo I’ve looked up conversation starters. I have looked up topics and prepared them in advance for when I am meeting new people to try to avoid these awkward moments and in an attempt to avoid small talk and weird pauses. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s almost guaranteed that I will STILL say something really weird, but hey, that’s just me being open and honest and real. 😉
9. Join a Church/Club/Gym
Seriously, do it. There are people there. People you have something in common with. People that WANT To know you and what you have to say. While you’re there, remember not to listen to lies in your head and to smile and wave!
10. Stay Open to New People: Never Forget What it Was Like to be Without
Inevitably, if you’re trying to be real and to reach out, you will make a group of friends. Perhaps you’ll even make a close group of a few friends that relate to one another, agree on most topics and by some miracle, have the same sleep/wake schedules. Take the time to savor that, build on that, but please, don’t stop there.
Remember how it felt to be the “new kid” and how good it felt when someone invited you into their circle. Always try to make room for someone new. They might be there for a season, or they might just be the new best friend you didn’t realize you couldn’t live without.
Either way: please, I am begging you, keep your eyes open for the “new kids”, for the people that seem to be sitting alone, that have that searching look in their eye at the gym or school or in line at Starbucks. There is always always room for one more. Maybe you aren’t meant to be their BFF, but you know how to connect them with someone who could be. Once you have conquered your mountain (spoiler: you’ll never reach the top, but just keep pushing and conquering one more crest at a time), look back and give someone a hand up every now and again.
Alright! That’s all I got for ya! Maybe it was too much, maybe it wasn’t enough, but it’s what I have! Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts: what are your tips for meeting and making new friends and building lasting relationships? What do you do? Anything I forgot? Something I need to clarify?