Making New Friends in a Busy Social World, overcoming Anxiety
November 23, 2008 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Currently, I have few friends. I've always had problems making friends. I've had even bigger problems keeping them. I don't know where to start, or how to remedy. .......


First, I'd like to say that I am posting anonymously because I do not wish this question to be linked to my online screen name for the rest of internet eternity. I hope you (and the mod approving it) can understand this concern. :)

Now let me get to my life impacting question:

First point: I have very few friends.

All throughout my life, I have had issues KEEPING friends. And, making them, to a certain extent... in the sense that all friendships I've had seem to have materialize on their own or through the efforts of others, and not through my own actions.

So today I have maybe 2 or 3 somewhat- real friends. I cannot confide in them 100%, more like 80%. They are not my ideal choices in friends, but I have them and will not let them go for this very fact.

I feel that these friends are not a fit for me. They are not as reliable as I'd like, they do not fit my own lifestyle and goal-oriented ideas like I'd like.

So I feel they are almost holding me back and causing me frustrations just in the way that they live their lives. Its is not their or my fault, just a % of inequality in our lifestyles.

Don't get me wrong, they are great for good times, and great to share experiences and elicit advice (on the two-way advice street). But they also have problems that I know I would do better not being around .. like alcohol/driving and drugs/jail related histories.

I am able to separate their problems from my life (as in, not put myself in harms way or let them influence me) but as such, I would like to add to these friends .. and maybe as a result be able to spend less time with the troublesome group but not alone lost in my own lonely thoughts.

So far.. this may seem like an easy situation to resolve .. but I have huge issues going out ALONE and trying to make friends. The fear of rejection seems to be a huge thing i suffer with, among severe anxiety that does not quell into I feel comfortable.

In the area I live, right now (8:30p on a Saturday night) there are not may options unless I know people.

I.e. Going out alone to the bar.. because #1 I am not going to drink & drive, and why else would you go to a bar? Not dirnking would seem socially odd in my mind. (If you tell me to get over this fear, I may say I do not find it possible to just "get over" and live on. Anxiety comes into play).

Beyond that, even if I had a ride, all i can picture is walking between the finely knit groups, awkwardly breaking their "circle" to get a word in, and trying to fit in with one of them. Being such a outcast I dont even have much to talk about! This process will not look good at all to the other patrons (and potential future friends), and so after two or three moves between groups, I would seem like a social outcast (which is not necessarily untrue.), but would still prevent me from making progress seeming as a stable, interesting friend.

So far I know this much: 1) need new friends. 2) have to get over the fear of rejection and social stigma.

Therefore, imaging the advice I will get from ask.mefi, yes i need to start a new sport. or hobby. and meet the people there.

But I still have problems with small talk , and starting conversational threads without my anxiety getting in the way. I have this and that and all other internet resources to learn off of , but putting it into affect is not as simple as find and reading the resources.

After trying sites like events@ craigslist, and, and other sites .. it seems to be very hard to be successful in meeting people. Or, at least I havent found sites that work for me.

So, I dont know where to start. I would be open to any other thoughts you may have on this delima I find myself suffering through every weekend. Please do what you do best ask.mefi, help me!!

I thank you in advance for every idea you can share
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Go out & do stuff! Bar friends aren't great usually, but friends you make in classes are often okay. I've also found that choosing flatmates well means you'll make friends with both them & their friends.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:27 PM on November 23, 2008

I think most of the I-need-to-make-new-friends threads tell you to go volunteer somewhere that you care about. You'll meet people who have the same interests as you, which is always a good start to a friendship.
posted by at 7:33 PM on November 23, 2008

This is more common than you may think. And you already know the solution, which is to branch out, explore new settings for meeting people. Places where people congregate. People like you. People you would enjoy having a conversation with. People who would enjoy knowing you. And I think you will have better luck if you quit looking in bars.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:35 PM on November 23, 2008

I feel like your question is maybe partially where do I meet people, and also, what do I do once I met them? I posted a long response in another thread, and that comment seems pretty popular, so I will post it here.
posted by sweetkid at 7:42 PM on November 23, 2008

I have the same, or possibly worse problems, with making friends as you do, tried the same things you have. If 'get out and do stuff' - take a class, volunteer, etc. were alone enough very few people would be suffering from social isolation. You have to work on your anxiety and fears of rejection, etc. first - or at least at the same time as you're attempting to build up a social life. I sometimes hate askme's constant refrain of therapy, therapy, to every question that's asked, but when you feel isolated and like an outcast you need to make more drastic changes in your life than just the same old dabs at forcing yourself into social situations and then finding yourself handicapped by anxiety and awkwardness. Professional help could start you off on these changes.
posted by frobozz at 7:46 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

You need to:
yes i need to start a new sport. or hobby. and meet the people there.

Specifically, a shared activity, or exercise. Why?
Because working on a shared activity with strangers, or just exercising, tends to reduce anxiety in most people, including stranger-anxiety. Shared activities, including team sports, are best for building bonds between people. Any exercise class though, given that they usually reduce anxiety, will tend to increase your comfort level with strangers etc.

Non-verbal method for building friends from acquaintainces:
Reciprocal actions. Doing things for each other.
Yes, definately offer to do things for other people! BUT, --Trick for new players-- very shortly suggest some small thing they could do that would 'repay' the favour, even if it's something small, make sure it's understood that you're 'even' now.
People feel more comfortable with people they do not feel they owe, or are owed by, but have a past prior history of positive, reciprocated actions.
So, it can often be easier to ask someone else to do something for you. Something small and doable, verging from, giving them the money and asking if they can get you a drink when they get a drink, to asking for advice, to a ride, etc - it must be WELL within their comfort level. Then be really gracious about it, and generously repay them. Get their drink next time, and some chips to share for the table, etc. Keep escalating like this, and you soon find the people you can rely on - and who can rely on you! :)

Seen from - personal experience, discussed in detail in "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert Cialdani
posted by Elysum at 7:58 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Beyond that, even if I had a ride, all i can picture is walking between the finely knit groups, awkwardly breaking their "circle" to get a word in, and trying to fit in with one of them. Being such a outcast I dont even have much to talk about! This process will not look good at all to the other patrons (and potential future friends), and so after two or three moves between groups, I would seem like a social outcast (which is not necessarily untrue.), but would still prevent me from making progress seeming as a stable, interesting friend.

Um, do you see how you're creating a completely imaginary scenario here? You're picturing the worst case, when it could very well go something like this...

I walk in, order a drink and sit down on one of the stools at the bar. I watch the football game on the television. The guy on the stool next to me says "Man, the _____ suck!" I nod my head and say "Yup. But those ____ are great, aren't they?" or "Yeah, I don't keep up with football much, I'm more of a [baseball, basketball, extreme ping-pong] fan myself." I sip my drink slowly. I exchange a few more random remarks with this guy, finish my beer and leave. I haven't made a true friend connection, but it wasn't a bad night out, and maybe next week I'll have a longer conversation with someone else.

It's hard to recognize these cognitive errors when we're inside our own heads, so check out the book Feeling Good, or do some reading on cognitive behavioral therapy to get an idea about cognitive distortions and how to work around them.
posted by MsMolly at 8:02 PM on November 23, 2008

I never made a friendship with anyone I met in a bar. I've met a lot of really cool people in bars. And I've had good times and great conversations. But the "friendship" never developed.

Other than the obvious problems of irresponsible use of alcohol and high expense of the activity, I think bars are great places to go spend time and relax with friends you already have, or even people who you aren't close with, but could come to be.

Are Taxis an option for getting home if you want to drink and you don't have a safe ride with a friend? Many areas don't have taxi service, but most mid to large cities do. And a $20 ride home beats a ticket or an accident of any sort. Consider it a cost of the night you choose to have.

All of my closest friends were people I either met at a job or who moved in with me as roommates. I found that while it's nice to have my own space, living in a house with roommates is a great way to not only save money, but most importantly, have someone who has no choice but to get to know you on some level that's unlikely in a more public social setting.

Meeting people is one of those things that can seem really contrived when you set out specifically to do it. And that makes it awkward like you are being fake by wanting to meet someone you don't know much about. It's very much the same as trying to meet someone you are interested in based on looks alone. Where do you start? Why should they even want to give you their attention long enough to establish whether or not you might get along? Deliberately attempting to meet people feels like, and really is, taking something from them initially with the hopes that it will be worth it to them to know you afterward. You are taking their time and attention.

That said, there's nothing odd about having a specific desire to meet someone. Most cultures have some build in social methods for meeting other people. They have family introductions, ceremonies, activities groups and so on. All of these methods take the onus off you as the initiator and make it so you don't have to ask for anything from the person you are meeting. In our modern culture things are a bit more free form and mixed up. So it's easy to lack external help with this. But it's also easy to find it.

Here comes the common advice. Join a group. Find a hobby that's shared with others. Go to church if you like that sort of thing. Take a class in something that interests you. Do a social activity like a sport that you enjoy. Take up a martial art. Basically do things that you yourself would enjoy which happen to require being with other people doing the same thing.

That advice is common and it works for the reason I described above. When you are engaged in some activity that isn't directed specifically at meeting someone, you aren't taking anything from them to talk with them. At that point conversation is natural and you can use the things you've learned in your studies without worry that the other person feels imposed upon.

That said, it is possible to get past your fears of approaching people cold. Many people do it very well. But you will have to have either the confidence that you will make up to the person what you are taking from them in the initial approach by being someone they actually want to know, or the coldness to not really care.

Based on how you describe yourself and your desire to meet a more compatible type or friend, I think the first approach of getting involved in other things is best. But you may benefit a tremendous amount from learning how to simply inject yourself into the close knit groups also.

In my personal experience, one of the best ways to get to know people is to put yourself in a position where they want to know you. For this to happen, they have to know about you first. So you have to be in a position of authority or high visibility. Bartenders have this. Public speakers have this. Do you have any skill that you could be considered an authority on? Could you start a meetup or class or group of your own?
posted by davathar at 8:04 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Without knowing anything about you, it's hard to know what to suggest. Is there something you like doing that you can share with others? Step out of your comfort zone and be an organizer.

Invite people (people who you don't know very well, and say, hey bring a friend) to your house for a regular movie night, or a monthly potluck. Throw a tea party. Set up a weekly basketball game. Or a book group. Just by giving of yourself will attract others to you.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're looking specifically for friends who have more in common with you, I'd say doing activities that you enjoy is a great place to start. At least you'll know you have that in common, right? I've found really useful... sometimes it's just a matter of finding the right group. When I moved to a new city once I found a great book club via craig's list. Sometimes you just need to try a couple times.

That said, if you want to try meeting people in bars, you could always try going and drinking something non-alcoholic. That way you neither look awkward nor crash your car.
posted by shaun uh at 8:13 PM on November 23, 2008

I went from a very shy and introverted child/teenager who had difficulty meeting people, into a social, slightly extroverted person. And what changed me was travelling overseas by myself. I stayed in hostels, where you either spend all your time alone, or you talk to people. People will come up and talk to you. Ask you to do things with them. I think this gave me the confidence to approach people myself, and I felt I had something to offer pretty much anyone.

It competely changed my life.
posted by Admira at 8:16 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Volunteering is a good way to make friends. Clubs (ballroom dancing? hiking?) are also pretty good. Before volunteering or joining a hiking club or whatever, you'll probably want to make sure that it's the age group you're aiming for, and there are plenty of people that you might want to date or hang out with.

As far as anxiety goes, keep in mind that people generally like kind, gentle, interesting and assertive people. You don't have to talk all the time, but you should be able to talk intelligibly about the weather, and perhaps a favourite movie or a book. More importantly, people like people who ask questions and listen.

A really good opening question (after you've said what your name is) is "what's new and exciting with you?". You can then listen and ask a few more generic questions like "how did it go from there?" or "how do you feel about that?"

By asking a new contact an open ended question about themselves, you don't have to fear rejection as much, because your partner will be talking about his or herself. You can then remember this information and follow-up in a later conversation.

Ideally, your conversation partner will then ask you "what's new with *you*?" and you should be prepared to answer this question. You can then use that opportunity to bring up something unique about yourself, such as a hobby, favourite movie or a book, and then the conversation will shift perhaps into shared interests.

If the person does not show any interest in you, then you might choose to end the conversation and move on. Bear in mind that your conversation partner may also be a little shy, so give them another chance the next time you see them. Sometimes relationships take a while to develop.

It should be noted that younger people (college age) are sometimes not good conversationalists. For many, many people, it's a skill that is learned.

But the basis of friendship is generally showing interest in your partner, and then shared experiences.

Sometimes you have to take the risk of phoning someone up and seeing if they would like to do something. Maintaining relationships (especially if both friends are introverts) is tough, too. And it never ends.

In university I had few problems making friends. My personality is such that I knew someone wherever I went on campus, and I've used that ability in my career, first as a teacher, and for the past few years as an account or client manager and in business development.

In between there I spent ten years in Japan, and I had to figure out how to do EVERYTHING, including learning a new language, and then conversing as a Japanese person would. I actually analyzed how people interacted, and how people make friends, and I was successful, so I'm pretty sure you can do it, too.

It's been more challenging returning with my family to Canada. My wife is Japanese, and is somewhat shy. Shyness is interpreted as being standoffish here in Canada, so it's been really hard to connect with all of my lifelong friends here and their families.

Basically, we had difficulty making friends when we came back.

Our closest friends are families who are Canadian-Japanese mixes like us. But I also volunteer with an immigrant services organization here, helping tech professionals find jobs from within my network. It's a lot easier for us to become friends with these immigrant families for some reason.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Great suggestions above, I think. One thing I wonder about is what might be getting in the way of keeping the friends you do meet-questions here for you to think about for yourself, not necessarily get back to the askmefi gang on. Have you thought about this? Any themes that you've noticed re how friendships end for you? Any thoughts about what you might be bringing to the table that can lead friendships astray? In your question, you talk about where to meet and make friends, but don't talk much about what you say is your "even bigger problem keeping them". Are you picking unsuitable friends in the first place-you're trying to control your substance use, for instance, and your friends are all addicts? Are you a little unsure about social boundaries, maybe, so you get too close too fast or do the opposite and fail to nurture friendships at all? If someone makes a casual overture to you, do you jump right to BFF or do you find after the fact that someone has been trying to be friends and you didn't notice it? Do you have any one in your life that can give you some honest, kind feedback here (a sister or brother, maybe-parents are no good at this).

I think it's worth some time, and maybe some therapy, figuring this stuff out. It's much easier and more soul-satisfying to make a couple good friends and keep them, then to keep having to go through the treadmill of making, losing, finding new ones.

And remember, too, with your "80% satisfactory" friends-I think most folks have friends that are good matches for certain parts of their lives, and not for others. So, you might have your party friends figured out, but still need to find your "hopes and dreams" friends-they aren't always going to end up being the same person, in my experience.
posted by purenitrous at 11:01 PM on November 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Used to be me, brah, used to be me.

One thing that did wonders for me was getting to know "nodes" on the local party circuit (I'm an white American in Beijing, which means I've got a massive population, a 24-hour nightlife, and status as a visible minority going for me). For some reason, a lot of cliques tend to center around one person's planning activities and gregariousness; the rest of the people are just along for the ride and like the company. It works out pretty well, too, because if the node is someone you like and who likes you, they make an effective filter for others, making the time you spend in their circles unusually "efficient" when it comes to making like-minded friends. But let's get even more specific! The nodes that I started out with were attractive, charismatic women who enjoyed their alcohol and witty conversation. I had a lot of free time, and they had need of someone, anyone really, to go out with them on a Monday night. I just happened to be unemployed, bored, and at the time, so hey, sure, let's go get some beers, and that they were women paying attention to little old me made me assume some things I probably shouldn't have, but it had the positive side-effect of disengaging my normal response to strangers inviting me out, which is to blow them off and then dwell on how much I suck in social settings.

After a year or two of just kind of following them around being a loyal buddy-in-tow, meeting their armies of friends, and finally understanding that no, saysthis, this isn't a date, I picked up a lot of phone numbers and a lot of social cues, and I'd earned the firm recommendations of these two women, who I still appreciate dearly for dragging me out of my shell and introducing me to Beijing. On their recommendation as a "good guy", I met other people, who knew other nodes, and was soon holding my own in every social setting, sometimes even dominating conversations! Now I have a stable network of people who I enjoy going out with to meet other people.

Keep in mind this took me 3 years, and it might not work outside of a major metropolitan area, or if you can't or won't spend the bucks on beers and sushi every now and again. Back in the day I wouldn't open my wallet for ANYTHING, so I don't know if that's a factor in your isolation, but it was for me. "Bar? Let's just go to the corner store and come back here and watch stand-up comedy on youtube." Not everybody's idea of a good time. Done with care and purpose, though, I imagine what took me 3 years could be accomplished in 3 months. It's definitely also doable, though, if you can get to know some girls/guys who like to drink and have friends from all walks of life. It took me awhile before I learned to do it, but eventually, I poached half their friends. :)

Just being around friendly, talkative, relaxed people helped me tremendously, and they eventually became some of my best friends. I imagine it's replicable.

Also, theater. Join a community troupe and get yourself in some plays. That got me over the initial shyness humps and fed my ego enough to make the leap to bar chatter, as well as gave me confidence that I could bullshit convincingly. I'm not saying you should, but it's nice to know you can. Really comes in handy for graceful exits with idiots who can't stop talking about the traffic or how unpalatable Chinese food is.

That's all I got. Memail with specific questions or other stuff if you wants to, but mostly, good luck!
posted by saysthis at 1:03 AM on November 24, 2008

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