How Do You Make Friends From Strangers?
September 25, 2008 3:47 PM   Subscribe

You've moved to a town very remote from any of your established social circles: you have no best nor casual friends nor any romantic relationships. You go into one or more meetings of utter strangers with whom you know you share some common interest (OneBrick, a Mefi meetup, a Meetup.Com thing, or something else entirely). What do you do — specifically, pretend I've got Asperger's here (no offense to those who do) — to take things from the level of "just an amiable conversation" to an actual friendship?

I'm not shy: I have no qualms striking up a conversation with, or joking with, a total stranger. I remember people's names and what's going on in their lives. I don't stink, but I don't wear smelly fragrances; I shower and brush regularly; I don't look hideous; I don't pick my nose in public, rant at people, or act egocentrically or grouchily all the time; people react to me as if I am coming across as very friendly and approachable, which is what I intend.

But despite a plethora of easygoing relations, over the course of my life, I've had few people I could call friends.

I used to think that it was something preordained, or something undiscoverable but utterly intrinsic to me — but that's "magical thinking," and it's dumb. No matter what bad quality I could possibly imagine as the culprit, there are people in this world who would be worse than I, and yet who have friendships and romance in abundance. Yet I am the common variable in all this. I will be hanged if I know where the problem lies, though.

My guess is that there's some step that's so natural to everyone as to be instinctive, but a step that I don't realize I'm not doing. Or some cue that most people pick up on, but that I'm utterly blind to. I've cranked all my brainpower on this for a very, very long time, and I have come up with nothing. I'd appreciate the perspective from people for whom this comes naturally.

Another way to ask this question might be: a good number of Mefites have heard of and/or read or recommended the SIRC guide to Flirting. Is there an equivalent for friendships?

I do want to really emphasize: I can engage in a pleasant conversation with a total stranger (someone I'm sharing an elevator ride down with, or someone I'm waiting on a platform with), or with work colleagues. But I don't seem to really know how to turn these things into anything more weighty. At least from my perspective, it feels like I don't have a problem with the actual amiable interaction with people — but that I'm missing something when it comes to going from point A to point C. Whatever it is, that's — I think — where my problem lies.

posted by WCityMike to Human Relations (27 answers total) 122 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing I can think of doing is actually saying to someone 'Hey, you seem cool- we should do (NAME ACTIVITY HERE) together sometime'. If you are in a meetup environment, you can accomplish this without them thinking you're hitting on them.

But honestly-it's not just you. If you don't know anyone in an area, it becomes even harder to meet people.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:06 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I read the HTML excerpt from the SIRC guide, and came away with the following significant paragraph:

"The first key to successful flirting is not an ability to show off and impress, but the knack of conveying that you like someone. If your 'target' knows that you find him or her interesting and attractive, he or she will be more inclined to like you." (Emphasis mine)

It's not a knack. You have to care. You have to realize that you and that other person are in the same physical space (inside or outdoors) and are having similar experiences. You should also consider determining which side of the bed your "target" got up on that morning. If on the wrong side, you should see it with body language and save your flirt for another time. If that behavior is consistent over days or weeks, your flirt attempts are a waste of your time.

Don't forget to smile. Not a thin-lipped smile showing no teeth; something more open. Who looks approachable in supermarket magazines? What makes Ellen DeGeneres seem approachable even though she's so rich? She smiles, she doesn't take herself too seriously, and she treats people well. Bill Clinton has the same kind of magic (I knew in 1985 when he danced with my mother-in-law at the USF law school graduation that he was going to be POTUS in 1992).

Note that the SIRC guide is not written with North Americans in mind. The social skills it promotes are those needed to survive in a tiny island with extremely dense concentrations of people. North Americans are generally more open outside of a very few places where people have their guard up for reasons of self-preservation.

Don't attempt to flirt with someone wearing an iPod. A waste of your breath.

Just a few observations; take them for what they're worth.
posted by Wheatland at 4:11 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've recently made a similar move, and what I've learned so far is that the two easiest ways in to meeting anyone are through sharing a house and work. The advice from one of my new friends, who's done the same thing, was to get involved with groups that interest you, and stay involved. Keep turning up, keep seeing people, keep having the small conversations, and if you're the friendly person they meet every Tuesday night and they're inviting other people from the Swan Fanciers Club to a party, they invite you too. Be open about knowing nobody, but don't be desperate, and keep yourself busy so you've stuff to talk about and don't have an open calendar all the time.

Or: very. fucking. slowly.
posted by carbide at 4:12 PM on September 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I wonder if the issue here is the mechanics of friendship maintenance, rather than actually liking people and getting people to like you which seems to be the focus of some answers at this point. I have a number of work colleagues that I get on very well with, we know we like each other, but we don't actually socialise. Everyone leads really busy lives, and we're such a diverse bunch that coming up with an event that would be suitable, even for just two of us, is hard to imagine. I mean, I can't imagine couples dinners between us, our partners are so not similar, it'd be just weird. Go to the movies? Who has time for that? That narrows it down to work lunches, and yeah, we do that.
posted by b33j at 4:25 PM on September 25, 2008

What about co-workers?
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 4:29 PM on September 25, 2008

Best answer: You say that you have no problem actually interacting with people, so I assume that what you are looking for is a particular person(s) that you can interact with on a regular basis (i.e. call for drinks or so forth). In my experience, all that is required is to actually instigate that kind of relationship with someone. Say you're at a party and meet someone with whom you feel at ease, assuming that the other party feels similarly (i.e. you both have good conversation) then all that is left to do is ask for a number or e-mail. I usually try and have some kind of event in mind when I do this, for instance I might say "hey, there's a party this Saturday, you should come, let me get your number." or simply "hey, we should get drinks next week.". Another good tool for building friendships is social networks. I've met some good friends by talking to them at parties and then following up with a Facebook or Myspace friend request- this has the added advantage of casual non-committal conversation before any effort is made to "go out", plus you get a better feel for their social lifestyle, thus making it easier to find common activities that may lead to a good excuse for a meet up.

Aside from that, It's just a matter of pushing the friendship forward. Get into personal conversations, have some talks about fear or uncertainty... anything that makes your relationship with that person special and not just superficial.

Hope that helps!
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 4:42 PM on September 25, 2008 [5 favorites]

Best answer: The way I see it, the real goal of all of the chit-chat at first is to find the something that you and the potential friend like to do, that you each like to do with buddies, that you don't already have a buddy to do with. That something can be anything. Movies, new restaurants, museums, specialty shops, concerts, classes are the obvious thing. Another tactic is if one person has something they can teach the other or fix for the other. Less obvious shared experiences might be having brunch on Sundays or discussing a particular topic in a particular way. Once you find that person and begin doing these things, you start to share more personal information at each outing. Once personal information has been exchanged, you begin to update each other via phone or email about important happenings, your schedule, etc. This regular contact leads to a sense of reliability and trust.

It is tricky to find that something, though. People are busy, people have habits, etc. It might help for you to define it for yourself -- what type of companionship are you looking for? That way, you know what to ask someone new (e.g. "What kinds of movies do you like?") and when you've met a good prospect.
posted by xo at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

If people are going to these events, odds are that they're in a similar boat you are - looking to make more friends. So I'd say you can be way more forward that you would be meeting someone in normal social context. Bringing up a "I'm really new here and pretty bored not knowing anyone/don't know a lot of people, but I'm glad I found this group." is key, I think, and if you're getting along with someone who is nice and not socially clueless should make them realize what you're asking.

You could follow up with a "Where's a good place to hang out?" or "I'm glad I found someone who also likes (thing you both like)! Want to (partake in related activity)?/Do any of your friends like (thing), too? Maybe we could hang out some time."

Also: ("Hey, I've been meaning to check out (casual restaurant/cafe/bar name). Is it any good? (yes/no.) Cool! I'm glad to hear you like it./Oh yeah? Are there any good places nearby? Want to grab lunch together next week/this afternoon?")
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:47 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, man. It's tough going.

Having done the cross country move several times, I've built entirely new blocks of friendships out of nothing several times. It's hard work even if you're very outgoing.

Every time I've done this my job was a complete dead-end as far as outside of work friendships. My offices have never been the "lets go to happy hour" type offices. What worked for me has always been going to one group consistently. When I moved to San Diego, it was my marathon training team. We run together for a few hours, then we're hungry and we go eat a big breakfast. Do that for 5 or 6 Saturdays, and you've got the makings of friendships.

If you think you'd be interested in the marathon (cycling, triathlon) thing, I can't recommend Team In Training (AKA, Team in Dating, Team in Eating) strongly enough. Of course, maybe that's not your bag. Try for some group that meets weekly; if you keep seeing the same people over and over you'll start to develop friendships.
posted by 26.2 at 5:56 PM on September 25, 2008

Don't waist your time with locals. I mean, make acquaintances with them, but they won't take new friendships too seriously. If your looking for friends, find more people who are also new.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:22 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, from my own observations approaching middle age, you really don't make any more of those buddy-buddy <>
So I think your best bet here is to identify something you are passionate about and use Meetup or scheduled events to make that connection. I am skeptical anything else will work.
posted by crapmatic at 6:31 PM on September 25, 2008

Best answer: Uh, let me try that again... I improperly used html brackets.

Well, from my own observations approaching middle age, you really don't make any more of those buddy-buddy < 25 yo friendships once you're into your 30s, unless there is exceptional convenience (i.e. with a bachelor or someone living next door) or exceptional shared interest. I point that out because you are searching "[beyond] an amiable conversation to an actual friendship". Many people these days are extremely wrapped up in work and/or family and do not make room for anything else, perhaps besides comfort activity like TV or Halo.

So I think your best bet here is to identify something you are passionate about and use Meetup or scheduled events to make that connection. I am skeptical anything else will work.
posted by crapmatic at 6:32 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

WCityMike, I´m glad you asked this, I´ve been wanting to ask something similar but was at a loss for words about how to formulate a question on it.

Those who are saying to just ask for a number or email, or say ¨we should get drinks¨, how do you go about things at that point? I usually find that calls are unreturned, or that there is an agreement on ¨we should get together sometime and hang out¨ without being able to actually end up hanging out. Unreturned calls often result in the person commenting at next meeting that they are sorry not to have returned my call (I don´t mention the call), and that we should do (x) sometime. Usually these are single folks with no kids, so its not ¨family¨ busyness.

So how does one actually arrange something other than just running into people and having them express that they would like to hang out? What do you say when you call someone so that they will call you back? Yes, I´m piling on, but surely if this isn´t part of the OP´s question it´s something they will want to know shortly after getting those phone numbers.
posted by yohko at 6:46 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't waist time trying to find a girl/boyfriend if your not normally quick about that. Just meet as many friends of the opposite sex as possible. Bars are not very good for making friends, but they are a social outlet, and they are the place to practice your flirting if your enjoying that.

You should host lots of parties yourself if possible. But the best way to quickest way to make local friends is flatmates and friends of flatmates. Try living with people you don't know, but who seem nice and social.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:08 PM on September 25, 2008

Best answer: Don't waist your time with locals. I mean, make acquaintances with them, but they won't take new friendships too seriously. If your looking for friends, find more people who are also new.

Aw, I'm sorry you've had that experience, but it's in no way universal. I'm an L.A. native and still live here, and well over half of my friends are transplants.

So how does one actually arrange something other than just running into people and having them express that they would like to hang out? What do you say when you call someone so that they will call you back?

I have no problems making friends (why I can't get a date is a whole other can of worms), and even I can't get a friendship off the ground if it's just a bunch of mutual "we should do [undefined thing] at [vague future time]." One of us has to say something like, "Hey, let's see Wall-E (or other movie you suspect both parties will enjoy) at the Ginomoplex this weekend." And then you get something to eat before or after the movie, you talk about other things you'd like to do. . .you add the person as a facebook friend, you forward them an NYT story you think they'd like. . .it flows from there.
posted by tyrantkitty at 7:47 PM on September 25, 2008 [6 favorites]

Personally, I'm drawn to people who care...about me, themselves, others. People who are not thinking about how they are coming across...but about whom they are talking to. "People don't care what you know, until they know that you care." Of course chemistry and commonality are major components of any real relationship...but all the clever and cute and funny and smart in the world is eclipsed by a person who just comes into my life and is really interested in me.

I find people fascinating...if you do, you'll just be fascinated, engrossed, engaged... and people will be drawn to you. When you go to the outings and meetups and brunches...maybe you'll connect with someone who appreciates these qualities in you.
posted by mumstheword at 9:00 PM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: dinty_moore's suggestion is good, but I think you can improve on it thus: Pick about 8-10 'prospects' (people you think may become friends). They don't all have to all come from the same 'source' (all work, all club etc. - though it will likely help if there are a few from each, so they have a bit of a comfort level). Arrange a poker night at your place. Poker is good because there is structured interaction, yet plenty of time for conversation. Have it regularly (maybe every couple of weeks). Once you get a sense of who become 'regulars', you can broaden out to suggesting other activities with them - depending on interest and availability- a movie, a sports event, a drink after work, etc. You can continue to have your poker evenings (they're fun) while at the same time developing friendships with specific members of the group.
posted by birdsquared at 9:32 PM on September 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Personally, I'm drawn to people who care...about me, themselves, others. People who are not thinking about how they are coming across...but about whom they are talking to.

I was going to say something along these lines. I don't think anything is more important than being really interested in the people you're with. Ask people about their lives, and then listen to what they say. Don't rush to give unsolicited advice or tell a story about yourself, keep the focus of the conversation on listening to and encouraging the person you're talking to. Everyone needs more friends like that.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:56 PM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The problem I encounter is that when I meet someone who catches my fancy, that one person at the party who just seems cooool, sometimes I get excited, and anxious, and can't act on those feelings in a carefree way. I start to overthink it, and try to imagine what they might like to do with me, and oh my house is too messy and oh I'm pretty busy and all that junk, and I get quiet. Find your inner 5th grader, that part of you that can gush and get friend-crushes and say "wow, wanna come over and play with my space station set??" Sometimes, maybe I let that kid out too much, and start asking lots of questions about the person, but really, I've not had that backfire much, it just outs me as a fan of theirs, if they get creeped out, so be it.

It doesn't hurt to always be thinking of things you want to do with somebody. Make a list! I'm new to SoCal, for example, and there are a whole list of museums I need to get to. I just haven't decided who to call on to invite, yet! Just ask people! Pub trivia night? Other bar specials? Karaoke? Short, defined activities are perfect for new friends. Not a lot of planning or sharing required, an easy commitment to make for them. Lunches are kind of a universal treat, too. Lunch on Saturday: who knew??

And man, have the meetups worked for me, because the people you meet are local and contactable.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:13 PM on September 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

As someone who is in your boat:

What about co-workers?
As much as it's good to be friendly with them, it's really hard to be friends with them. Someone much older, wiser, and more office-politically-savvy than I am told me that it's much easier to make enemies in the workplace than friends, and he's right, and it's sad. Besides, it's so easy to let the friendship interfere with work, or the work-talk interfere with friendship. Unless you find someone really special, it's so much easier to focus outside of work.

Besides the "hey we should hang out" moment of finding a common activity to share, this is what I've been forcing myself to do:
-when there's an event, be the one to help with prepping food, etc. It gives you a chance to hang out more before *everyone's* competing for attention.
-figure out who you would trust/want to turn to when things aren't going well. There is an irreplaceable kind of bonding that takes place when someone's down that magically transforms any relationship.
posted by whatzit at 5:28 AM on September 26, 2008

I just read your description and thought to myself "that's me". Let me tell you, the problem for me is making my self vulnerable. I am conscious of this fact and still insist on not putting my self out there.

I remember when I was younger I would try and explain this to myself by reasoning it as a way for me to become a spy. I wanted to become a spy and this - not having close friends, not letting anyone know of my inner most secrets, not trusting my friends to the fullest as a fear of being let down or disappointment - was my excuse for not having close friends.

I'm still that way and even though I have some friends that I hand out with, I've yet to become really close. Hopefully someday this irrational fear of disappointment will come in handy when I'm interviewing for CIA :)
posted by clueless22 at 8:22 AM on September 26, 2008

Don't rush to give unsolicited advice or tell a story about yourself, keep the focus of the conversation on listening to and encouraging the person you're talking to.

Of course, you need to do this to some extent, but at some point you need to reveal bits of information about yourself, or it makes people uncomfortable around you. There is so much emphasis on developing good listening skills, but if you focus only on that eventually people realize they have told someone they don´t know much about things they generally wouldn´t tell someone until they know them quite a bit better. While this can be fun, if the goal is to make friends in the long run you do need to reveal some things about yourself.

If people ever reveal personal information to you and suddenly seem a bit embarrassed, you may have overemphasized your listening skills. When it comes time to talk about yourself, use some feeling words along with the nuts-and-bolts stuff. ¨I´m excited that...¨ ¨I´m worried about...¨ convey more about what you are like and let people feel that you are opening up to them.
posted by yohko at 9:21 AM on September 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's not you. Most people have a spouse, kids, extended family, friends from school/work, etc. So, even if they like you, they may not have room for another close friend. Be persistent, keep asking people to join you for lunch, meet up after work, go to a club, etc. I've found that special-interest activities generate more long-lasting friendships, so join the chess club, birdwatchers group, salsa dancers, or whatever.
posted by theora55 at 9:21 AM on September 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: WCityMike... It's all about the NUMBER of interactions you have with people, not the beginning. When you first meet someone, you're just laying the groundwork and both are figuring out if they can stand the other person, or if they have something to say. Next time you see each other, you may start with your previous conversation and continue on to something else. You need to find a reason to KEEP bumping in to people. After you "bump" into them a couple times, you may exchange numbers (if you haven't already). You need to allow the other person to get comfortable over TIME. Several casual interactions will lead to occasional meetups on weekends or even weeknights to catch a game at a bar, play some pickup basketball, go to a baseball game (I realized these are all sports examples, but then that is one way I was originally linked with several close friends).

Some ways to bump into the same people several times: join a class at city college (bonus: they're interested in what you are), join a community group, join a gym, etc.

I'm telling you... increasing the number of encounters moves you from casual acquaintance, to friends. And you'll usually realize it after the friendship occurs.

My $.02
posted by namewithhe1d at 9:57 AM on October 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wow, I really can relate to this Mike! I am a very outgoing person with a huge social network back home, but it's been years since I had to start over with no "leads" - friends-of-friends, parties I'm invited to, etc. And it is a full-time job in itself, let me tell you, I was not prepared for how much work this was going to be.

In just my four months of experience, though, I have to agree that my best luck is with people who are also new in town. As I approach my 30s, I'm starting to see how insular networks get and that people just don't break out of their routines. So the Meetup route has yielded me one actual new friend, another transplant, and then people to at least attend a concert or other event with. Another way "in" that's so lame but: Internet dating. I did this immediately upon landing and ended up staying in touch with a guy I dated for a month; there's one more friendly face I didn't have before. And finally, yes, work has gotten me some invites to parties and whatnot, which has yielded new Facebook friends, which might net more event get the point.

But again: this whole process makes me feel like a social climber or a predatory sociopath, always looking for a non-desperate way in! And yet it's what's necessary, I'm learning. My final very valuable lesson: This shit takes time. I pouted because my officemates seemed frosty in my first month, and now two months later plenty of them have warmed up like magic. I'm a very open friendly person so it was hard for me to understand that most people just take a second. With patience and effort you (and me) are bound to make a friend or two, right?
posted by Jaleesa at 10:47 AM on October 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding the "new in town" people. Newly organized groups or meetups are people who for some reason or other now have a social slot open in their life... divorce, move, friends getting married and having kids, whatever. Most people as they get older have friends accrete to them like barnacles - unless something scrapes them off, the entire hull is covered after some time and the person has no more free time to socialize.

WCityMike - are you saying that you have lots of acquaintances but few friends? Can you also define what you mean by "friend"? I always think of a friend as somebody who would actually help you out if you got in some kind of trouble. If so, the transition from acquaintance to friend is the sticking point, not meeting people.
posted by benzenedream at 5:29 PM on December 10, 2008

Best answer: Re-read your question. Transitioning from anonymous meetup person to acquaintance is mostly a matter of constant conjunction. People will always be suspicious of you for the first 5-6 meetings. Once you have shown yourself not to be pathological or a flake, people will begin trusting that you are not a social predator. From there initiating a common outing or more personal meeting transitions toward friendship. Once there, some generalized bonding exercise (sports, weekend camping, home repair, peyote, etc.) will mature into friendship.
posted by benzenedream at 5:39 PM on December 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

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