Craving connection and friendship with other people is a fundamental part of being human. But what does being a friend mean in a world where hackers are trying to be your “friend” on Facebook?
The act of making and being a friend is as simple as it is difficult. We spoke with experts to help find ways to make new friends, as well as to take better care of the friendships you already have.
Here are a few of their insights:
Accept the awkwardness and assume that other people need new friends, too
It’s weird and uncomfortable to make new friends. When you reach out to somebody you don’t know well — whether that’s sending the first text message or making small talk in the elevator — you often feel exposed. You have to accept that awkwardness and the vulnerability it stems from, because guess what? You can’t have friends without getting vulnerable.
Remember that people will like you more than you think they will
When you are moving through the world, don’t forget that human connection is yours for the taking. It’s science: Gillian Sandstrom, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, has done research on something called the “liking gap,” which says that the little voice in your head telling you that somebody didn’t like you very much is wrong, so don’t listen to it.
“When you talk to someone else, you’re actually going to brighten their day,” Sandstrom says.
If you’re up for it, Gillian and her colleagues have developed a scavenger hunt challenge to help you talk to strangers.
Invest in activities that you love
Ask anyone about how to make friends and they will most likely tell you to try a new hobby. It might sound hollow, says Heather Havrilesky, the advice goddess behind the “Ask Polly” column on the website The Cut, but it works.
“Do the things you’re passionate about and you will naturally draw people to you, and you’ll naturally connect with other people because you’ll be in the right place,” Havrilesky says.
Don’t forget to start with something you are actually interested in, and if it doesn’t work out, remind yourself that you contain multitudes! You don’t have to be interested in just one thing.
It’s OK to treat friendship as seriously as you would dating
Having friends is one of the most nourishing parts of being alive, so it’s not weird or bad or wrong to prioritize it. Get comfortable putting yourself out there a little bit. Carve the time and space you need to find and nourish your friendships. It’s what all the cool kids are doing.*
The planet is warming, our news alerts are constant, and there’s so much good television out there to watch. We get it. But if you want to prioritize and nourish your friendships, you have to show up for them. We have a few tips for being present and engaged with your friends:
1. Listen and notice things about your friend.
2. Take notes! It will help you remember your conversations and allow you points of connection later.
3. Remember the names of folks in your friends’ lives. Another thing that can help: Ask to see a picture of the person they’re talking about so it sticks better in your head.
Sandstrom’s research on the liking gap found that after strangers have conversations, they are liked more than they know. She gives detailed instructions for how to get in on her scavenger hunt.
Havrilesky rounded up all her “Ask Polly” advice on friendship in this story in The Cut.
Journalist Rachel Wilkerson Miller gives great advice about being honest when people ask how you’re doing, plus a detailed guide to how to show up for people in small and large ways. Look for her book, The Art of Showing Up, in spring 2020.
Gillian Sandstrom’s scavenger hunt instructions can be found here. You can even take part in her research!
*This author does NOT guarantee or endorse coolness as a concept and very likely has no idea what proverbial cool kids are up to.
BY JULIA FURLAN
Image by Lindsey Balbierz