Making friends is a tough subject because its a subjective process. Most believe that making friends takes effort, and they aren’t wrong, yet perhaps the ‘effort’ could be less… difficult than people make it out to be.
The kicks to making friends are this:
Hobbies/ leaving the house
Personability, smile dammit
We get extremely tied up in the idea that only the outgoing extrovert is good at making friends. Friend, as a word, is tough, because the difference between a person with a lot of acquaintances, and a lot of friends, is huge, and from the outside looks the same.
Let’s start by defining a ‘friend’ and what you ultimately want. A friendship is a form of relationship. It should include easy conversation, trust, some amount of love, caring or compassion. A friend is someone you should be able to confide in, and them you. You both want to be there. You both want to know about each other, to participate. You have similar interests. Your morals are similar. You make time for each other. You show up for each other. A friend makes you feel good. A friend doesn’t want anything out of you but to hang with you.
With a friend, you may also not see eye to eye on every subject. A loving friend is capable of debate. I want to discuss a different perspective than my own. A friend with a different perspective is not the same as someone who constantly shoots you down or believes something unreasonable. A debate is not an argument. A debate is conversation, which is two sided. It’s important to note this, as a lot of people have different opinions. Different opinions is fine and often good, but being cruel with those opinions, that’s not okay.
A friend will also help you with mistakes. Listen, no one knows how to do this, be a person. We are all just winging it… figuring it out as we go. Some are better at faking it, pretending like they know whats up. They don’t. They’re just as unsure. It’s through friends that we learn. Sometimes we don’t know we’re being rude. A friend will let you know. A good friend will stick with you, even if you’re being an asshole, and will help you learn to not be an asshole. My best friends told me when I was being condescending. They also told me to stop or they’d stop being my friend. It was a threat, but one of self-care. I was being mean and people shouldn’t have to deal with mean people. That was an important moment. I had to learn to be kind to keep my friends, and they stuck around and watched me learn that lesson. I taught them things too. A friend is honest with you, and honesty hurts. A friend sticks around as long as they can while you figure it out.
What do you want in a friend? Someone to watch Youtube with? Dine out or in with? Someone to go to shows with? Someone to confide in? Someone to help you process your crap with, that supports you? Someone who gratifies you?
There isn’t one kind of friend. There are a myriad. It’s good to have more than one friend, as different people will offer you different things, as you will offer them different things, based on the quality of the relationship you have. My punk-rock friends are no less valuable than my historian friends. I need to my punk-rock friends to commiserate with. I need my historian friends to be mellow and discuss the victorian age with. There’s a place for everyone. I have a dynamic mind. I need different kinds of friends for different parts of my interests and personality.
How many friends is the right amount of friends? In my opinion, when push comes to shove, if you have one to three good friends who lift you up, support you, answer your calls, and know you, you are doing good in life. It’s perfectly alright to have one best friend and one or two close friends. That’s normal. How many friends you have has to do with juggling and time. How much energy can you offer others? I have three best friends. On top of that, I have maybe five close friends. I don’t see my close friends that often, but we love each other and try to make semi-regular time for each other monthly. I make time for my three best friends weekly. They are very different people, my three best friends. We talk about wildly different things, different perspectives. I have to schedule time with each of them, juggle them, and I have the energy to deal with that. I’ll be honest though, for most people that is a lot. I am a scheduling genius.
Okay, so what about acquaintance friends? These are hella easy to make because there’s no intrinsic value in the relationship. These are work friends, or bar friends, or gym friends, mostly. There’s a level of social, but it doesn’t extend very far outside the immediate physical environment in which you know them. What I mean by intrinsic value is that this friendship is based on convenience, that it would be easier to be friends than not, because you’re near each other. The friendship isn’t based on depth, and outside of the location or situation, you really have nothing in common.
It’s when we try and put value in these relationships and are disappointed in the lack of reciprocation that we become untrusting and unsure of friendship, or that we are capable of making friendships.
How do we identify the difference? How do we succeed at finding what we want?
The three steps. First, research and environment. This is gonna take some consideration on your part. If you are trying to make friends at work, or the gym, or the bar, keep in mind that the purpose of those places is not to do that. Bars and gyms can be elusive because they pretend to be those places. Most of the time they aren’t. Not because the people going to them aren’t looking for friends, but because the inherent nature of the location itself is selfish. Self improvement, self distraction, self congratulation. Nothing wrong with those things or the communities which exist therein, but the origin of a would-be-friendship will straddle an alternative goal, rather than that of friendship. There will always be that other thing stealing attention away – be it booze, or working out, or whatever.
Where do you go then? This has a lot to do with hobbies. How do you like to spend your time? Basketball? DND? Movies? Figure out your hobbies, what you can nerd out on, and then find locations that do that. See, hobby based locations will give you a common ground with a would be friend, and it’s not to say there’s any guarantee that the same acquaintance trap won’t happen at these other locations, just so much as that when people are focused on an independent pleasurable subject they tend to open up about who they are and what they are about a little bit more, which gives ground to start building friendships. What I mean is that because hobbies are rarely ‘goal’ oriented, simply done for the pleasure of doing, that people tend to be a more authentic version of themselves, and aren’t so much focused on the subject at hand, as just enjoying themselves and those around them.
Smile dammit. This one sucks and is so so super important. Your body language is the gateway. If you are afraid, tired, angry, happy, it shows in how you sit. You have to be willing to make friends and you have to be willing to be a bit vulnerable. I’m not saying to lay your heart on a platter, but before you leave the house, consider what you are willing to give in energy and time. Are you willing to make eye contact? Are you willing to talk? Are you willing to let someone in, even just a little? We are often not taught to do this. It’s not that we’re taught not to do this… we just aren’t taught how to.
Think about how you’ve dressed today. What are you saying to the world? If you didn’t know you, what would your look say? Remember, you are probably not your type. You don’t have to like how you look. You are probably someone else’s type. Think about it from that perspective. Less focus on the details of you and more focus on making the overall picture look decent. I try for something clean, open, slightly sexy, and eye catching without being scary. For feminine look I put my hair up, but light make up. I wear something that covers my knees, but shows some cleavage. Some jewelry for quality, but not a ton; I don’t need to advertise money, but I don’t want to look like a pauper either. For a masculine, consider the difference between a t-shirt and a button down. A hat is almost always a bad idea, unless that’s your signature style. You have to have character to wear a hat, and that means life experience. Put on something clean – make sure you are clean. Deodorant. If you go the road of cologne or perfume, less is more. You want someone to smell it only when they’re an inch from you. It’s a gift of closeness. It should not announce you.
Placement. Where are you? If you can exist near a working staff member it’ll be easier for you. Staff are there to engage, the nature of being near them will start conversations. Look around your location before you find your place. Decide if you’re jam is people watching or looking distracted. People love to people watch. If you’re clearly interested in your surroundings, causally people watching, you’ll likely attract other people who like to do the same… which is just about everyone not talking to someone else or waiting for someone. Remember, most people want to people meet also.
Body language. Stand up or sit up straight. Are your feet facing the door? That’s a physical social cue that you want to leave. Are you hunched over? Is your face buried in a phone? Are you looking around? If you make eye contact on accident, do you look away shamefully? Or do you crack a shy smile and look down or wink? That’s a favorite of mine, because it says, ‘opps, you caught me being interested’. Don stare people down or look too long without saying something. The difference between being a creep and being flattering is using your words. ‘That is a great hat’. Compliment clothing and makeup choices. Do not compliment eyes or body shape. People didn’t choose their skin. They did choose their shoes, dress, hat. Keep in mind that most people are as afraid of being hurt as you are. Number one key to making friends: be kind.
Which brings us to number three. Listen. All people want to be heard.
It’s a super serious huge problem. The most successful strippers in the world make their money sitting at the bar with a client listening to them talk. Humans are great at talking and terrible at listening. If you ask basic questions, do you have siblings? where did you grow up? and you listen, without trying to volunteer your own information, then you will make a friend – or at least the beginnings of a friendship. The key here, is whether they voluntarily ask you back. An acquaintance won’t ask you back. Someone interested in friendship will. You’ve got to understand, people are rarely asked about themselves. Extroverts will volunteer information about themselves, but most people won’t. They’d like too, but they’ve been taught that no one will care. Show care and you’re likely to make a friend. The people who won’t respond to that often already have too many friends or are too afraid.
The process of making friends is a hit or miss. Honestly, ya just gotta keep trying. Watch people. Go sit at cafes and watch how people interact. Sit at a slow bar with a bartender and watch how people interact. Ask your bartender or barista questions. They literally spend all day watching how people succeed and fail. It’s great entertainment.
There’s one last part and it’s the hardest. Once you’ve made a friend you have to work to keep the friend. People fail at this constantly. You have to keep dates and show up. Showing up is number one. Keep your word, that is number two. Number three is keeping a level head, and this doesn’t mean not fighting, this means fighting and working through the fight. You both have to realize that this is a two way street. If y’all are fighting then both of you are probably at least a little bit wrong. Be willing to accept that, and then determine how much y’all are willing to negotiate for peace.
The truth is that friendship is another form of dating. Minus the sex and all the romance crap. If you take a friend for granted, just like a partner, they will leave you. Don’t put effort in? They will leave you. Act like a bully? They will leave you. People have a hard time making friends because they think friendship is a guarantee; it should happen for you because you exist. No, you have to put effort into learning how to be a friend, just like you have to put effort into learning how to date and have a job and keep an apartment. And sure, you can get laid from tinder, but that’s not dating. Sure, you can make bar friends, but those aren’t usually real friendships. Anything worth anything is going to take some amount of effort. It doesn’t have to be a huge debilitating amount of effort. A person will be lucky to have five good friends in their life. Lucky.
You have to be patient, you have to be willing, and you have to be open. You have to be willing to say no to people, and yes to people. A good friendship, it’s a combination of being in the right place at the right time, willingness of both parties, curiosity and a strong dose of humanity. You like each others style, vibe, quality of person. You have things to talk about. You’re pacing is similar, meaning you move at similar speeds.
You also have to understand that people change. I’ve made many friends where things just fizzled out. Someone couldn’t show up, interests changed, people moved, dating happened… all sorts of weird shit. Friends come and go. The really good, long term friends, they can go too. The ones that stick around, that takes real work, which often doesn’t feel like work, but which when viewed objectively, is. I’ve also lost three good friends to toxic relationships and outgrowing. I’ve lost a life long friend to political differences. It happens. It can be hard to learn to trust again after moments like that. The nice part about friends is that you can usually have more than one.
I have hundreds of acquaintances, friends, not even so much because I’m outgoing, but because I offer kindness, listening, a smile, and compassion constantly. That’s my hobby, well, that and travel. Travel, dance, and adventure, are really my hobbies. I have three dedicated lady friends whom I call sisters because we’ve surpassed and built solid relationships based on those very same hobbies. I have probably another five or so very good friends whom I don’t see as often as I’d like, but when we are together we pick up where we left off… also because of those hobbies, and also because of our life experiences. I put effort into my present moment, who ever is in front of me. Some people are more appreciative and wanting of that than others. Some are more available than others. Whatever the jam, figure out your hobbies and friends will naturally follow.