Having relationships is something that most long for. During this time of year, many of us experience a sense of loneliness and a desire for connection that goes beyond answering the question, “How are you today?” Yet, while this is something that most can relate to, many of us do not feel that we have the skills and knowledge to make this happen. In fact, it can feel like there’s an unknown or unspoken “something” that others possess in making new friends and acquaintances and seems unattainable.
The truth is, we think some folks may appear to be more naturally gifted towards making friends. They are good looking, make a lot of money, are confident and always seem to have people around them. They are the “life of the party” and everyone wants to know them. What many may not know or see, is that we all have different ways of feeling connected to others. This will be a two-part blog. I want to take a look firstly at how to find friends and follow up with how to cultivate a mutual relationships.
First Things First in Making a New Friend
Identify first the type of relationship that you are looking for. Maybe you want someone that you can spend time with during the weekend? Or are you wanting someone that you can study with? It can be someone to connect with while your kids are having a playdate, or someone that you can do fun activities with. Are you wanting someone who you can travel with? Start first by rationalizing what you’re looking for.
Consider The Places You Go
Once you’ve decided the type of relationship that you are craving, now consider the places that you could meet them.
Social Media: We are now in an age where finding people largely occurs via social media. Facebook, meetup groups, twitter, instagram, etc. are just a few spaces to find people with similar interests that you have. The convenience of these avenues as well is that the search can often be location specific. Of course, not everything can be found online. And for those who may not have had the opportunity or comfortability of using the internet, there are other ways to find relationships.
Locally: Considering the places that you frequent, coffee shops, school, libraries, church, synagogues, spiritual meetings, restaurants, community centers, support groups, work places, exercise clubs, special interest groups, places to volunteer are just a few. Then consider how frequently or consistently you would like to go to those places. It is true that the more often that the places that you become a “regular” are the places where you will start to see other “regulars.”
Make yourself available. Nonverbal body language communicates a great deal when wanting to approach new people and vice versa. How many of us put in our headphones, look on our phones, or turn to reading when we are not interested in communicating with those around us. The true can be said for the reverse. If we are interested in communicating with others not appearing preoccupied, sitting or standing with our body uncrossed, making eye contact, smiling can communicate that you are approachable.
Who should you approach? Someone who also appears to be open or available. They can be alone or with other people, it depends on your level of comfort and confidence. In addition, we want to keep in mind some social rules. For instance, if you are an adult it’s best not to approach children particularly if they are not accompanied by an adult i.e. it’s best to approach folks who are of your similar age.
What Do You Talk About
So you’ve identified that type of relationship you are looking for, the places that you will frequent, and the person you would like to approach. So what do you talk about? Speaking as someone who doesn’t often feel comfortable initiating “small talk,” it can be important and very helpful to plan ahead what topics to discuss:
- Identify topics that are of interest to you and relate to the place that you are meeting them at. For instance, if you are meeting with someone at a coffee shop and they have a beverage and food on their plate asking a question like: “What is that you ordered, it looks amazing?” which is an easily related topic to your location and can be a great conversation opener.
- Do not pick a topic that may be too personal. Americans, culturally often speak about the weather or job status as a neutral topic that is not too personal. This could change depending on the culture of the person. For Americans, avoiding topics related to family, children, money, and politics may be best. Gauge how personal you would like to be as well. If speaking about your emotional health seems to make others feel uncomfortable (for example maybe they are looking away, crossing their body, or showing general signs of discomfort) then change the subject.
- Once you’ve got them talking make sure to demonstrate that you are listening to them. Smiling, nodding, asking follow-up questions and giving responses related to what they have said communicate that you are interested in what they have to say.
If you’d like more help in making new friends, therapy could be a beneficial support for you. I am very interested in helping others to get in touch with the longing for connection to others, identify new places to meet, and practicing new conversations. Don’t feel shy to reach out if this is something you’ve struggled with on your own.
Written by therapist Pamela Larkin