Help me be more sociable and make friends!
April 7, 2012 11:40 AM   Subscribe

I think I've forgotten how to be a sociable person and how to make friends and such. Help!

Admittedly this is hard for me to actually write down. I know you're not my therapist and that I should seek therapy for this, but just go with it for now. The main issue is that I'm having a hard time being social with people because I don't feel like I have anything interesting to say. It feels like all I've got to talk about are work and my pets, and like I've just somehow forgotten how to be a member of society. Since moving here several years ago I've not really made many friends (I live with my long-term partner) and have been trying to go out and meet people.

Here's an example. My coworkers and I went out a few weeks back after work for drinks. If we were all talking as a group it was fine, but when it was just me and one or two other people, I didn't have much to talk about other than what we had been working on that day. I always feel like the awkward silences are my fault, and that I have to somehow fill them in - but I have nothing to say. I guess it doesn't really need to be stated, but I'm not at all adept at small talk.

This is causing me anguish in particular now because I've got a few meetups and whatnot in the coming weeks, and I want to be an active contributor. I signed up for them with the explicit purpose of getting myself out there and being more sociable and to actually make some friends.

I think I've also forgotten how to turn people I've met into actual friends. Like if we actually hit it off and have some good conversation or whatever, how to actually turn that into a friendship. I think I feel like a creep contacting people through Meetup and being like, "Hey, are you on Facebook? What's your email address?" I don't know, maybe that's more socially acceptable than it used to be? This was so much easier during college, and I don't know why here in the real world it causes me such anxiety.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
It is perfectly acceptable to ask people whom you've hit it off with if they are on facebook or google+ or anything like that. That's what these social network sites are for. If you feel as though you've connected with someone, ask. The worse they can do is say no. Then what have you lost? Nothing.

As for awkward silences, they are not your fault at all. They come because no one in the group can think of anything to say. It is certainly not your job to fill them. However, if you do feel the need to fill the silence, stick with something neutral like the weather (people love to talk about the weather) or some interesting tidbit you heard on the news or read here on metafilter. Steer away from politics and religion.

I'm a bit of an introvert myself, but I tend to ramble on and on when in groups because I hate silence. I know your pain. Good luck.
posted by patheral at 11:46 AM on April 7, 2012

It's okay that you have something to say about work and your pets, because it's what takes up so much of your time. This is normal.

If you want to have something more to say, then you need more experiences. Go walking in a new place. Join the Society for Creative Anachronism for a few months and learn some blacksmithing, calligraphy, or something crazy to talk about later.

Ask questions of them. Don't talk about yourself. People love to talk, and if you can find something they can gush about, you'll come across as fun.


For getting in contact with others, instead of asking for Facebook id if it feels uncomfortable, get some personal cards printed up (eg) with your name and phone number and online details. You'll come off as kind of classy, and if you have a small notebook in your pocket, you can offer it to them to write down how you should contact them.
posted by cmiller at 12:08 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you watch TV? It may sound, I dunno, "shallow" or what have you, but "Do you watch [Whatever Show]," "Yeah, can you believe what [Character] did last night?" is a perfectly acceptable and simple conversation-starter. And even if they don't watch the same shows you watch, they'll probably mention what shows they do watch, and you can go, "Oh, what's that about?"

cmiller's suggestion of asking the other person questions is great, especially if they're wearing something you can comment on ("Nice earrings, where'd you find them?") or if you know anything personal about them at all ("So your daughter's in fourth grade now? Man, I wish I could be that age again") that you can toss out there to get some back-and-forth going. You can ask them what they like to do for fun, and they'll most likely answer and then ask you the same thing (hopefully you have a hobby or two you can respond with, and if you don't, find one, even if it's just going for walks).

I'd avoid mentioning anything political that's in the news, at least until you get to know people better.

Generally, if a person thinks you're interested in them as a friend, they're more likely to become interested in you as a friend. "A man who has friends must himself be friendly," as the Bible says (Proverbs 18:24).
posted by Gator at 12:56 PM on April 7, 2012

I second cmiller and Gator regarding the "people love to talk" remark.

You may want to do a bit of research into active listening to facilitate this... the basic remarks (many of which are variants of "And how did that make you feel?") may strike you as sounding trite or obvious, but once you become aware of them it's a simple matter to observe more masterful practitioners using them (in interviews, for example) and thereby pick up some advanced technique.
posted by mr. digits at 1:05 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Talk less, ask a lot more questions. When you answer a question, lob another right back at them. Imagine that you are interviewing them for a long profile article and you need to find out everything interesting about them.
posted by amaire at 1:11 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am sometimes link this in public situations because I'm often chewing something over in my own head and have a tough time remembering to interact with people if I'm distracted. And really, it's totally okay to talk about light stuff with people you don't know well. Often I play some sort of "six degrees of kevin bacon" in my own head to try to figure out what I have in common with someone and try to ask questions about them (basic ones like where they live, if they like it, how they know soandso, what's going on this weekend, how about that thing that happened at work, etc etc). The only time you get that weird silence is if both people are being sort of quiet, so let yourself off the hook a little bit and just either get up and get a drink/go to the restroom or find something else to talk about.

And Gators suggestions are great because they're not just dead end sentences. If you're talking to other people you don't know well, it's often a good idea to not just have something to say but have something for THEM to say. It's the difference between "Yeah I like this bar." and "Yeah I like this bar, do you know any other places like it near work?" I mean these examples are sort of flat but you really want to sort of work off of whatever it is that becomes a topic of conversation. You both have pets? Great, dg/cat talk. You're both sports fans? Super, how about the game? You're both nerdy internet people? How about [latest meme]? Part of it is just being interested in other things and being willing to talk about it. I make moss terrariums. I travel a lot. I'm learning the play the ukulele. These are all smallscale things but that can start a conversation with others "Do you do any gardening?" "Have you been anywhere interesting lately?" "Do you play an instrument?"

At some level it's not your responsibility if other people are shy/reticent, but you can learn to be someone who can help people maybe get a little out of their shell instead of feeling like you're the person who needs to get out of their shell. And try MetaFilter meetups, there's often a wide ranging group of people who are pleasant and geeky and it's a good place to try out your "So what do YOU do?" chops.
posted by jessamyn at 1:14 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Follow up - once you have hit it off with someone and have a way to contact them (social networks) ask them if they would like to join you for some other kind of activity. It doesn't need to be anything big - and ideally would tie in with something you have been talking about. Don't expect them to agree right away and don't take it personally if they deny. I find it helps to keep bringing things up - "I am hosting a movie night for TV show we have been talking about" / " I am going to that consignment event Beth told us about" / "I thought about joining xy next week"/ "I am baking cupcakes for church/school/work" Care to join me/us? Take it slow and don't make it a big pressure thing. If they come along, great, but keep doing what you're doing if they don’t want to join (those people might feel just as anxious as you, have busy schedules, kids, pets, jobs). Eventually something will stick.

I think you have the right approach here, you try new things, you get to meet new people! If your pets are your hobby, check if there is a pet-owner group near you or a shelter where you could help out and meet likeminded folks.

Making friends always takes time. Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 1:26 PM on April 7, 2012

> When you answer a question, lob another right back at them. Imagine that you are interviewing them for a long profile article and you need to find out everything interesting about them.

Er, be careful about doing this. I've been on the receiving end of questions where I have felt like I was on the witness stand being grilled by a prosecutor, and it was not pleasant. My reaction was to back away as soon as convenient and avoid the person for the rest of the party.
posted by needled at 1:39 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm also not someone that's great with smalltalk or the whole "chat up a stranger" thing. However, I do like (love?) to talk about the stuff that I care about. If you're at all like me - here's what I do.

I forget the whole "I don't know this person" thing. I don't cover the usual weather/how's work/what kind of music do you like? standards. I don't interview them, and I don't take interview-style questions directed at me particularly seriously. Instead I just talk as if I've known them forever. Sometimes this falls flat and then I make up some excuse to go talk to the next person. But sometimes it works great. A nice side-effect of this is that after you get to know someone in this way, you may later be surprised that you have similar taste in film, art, whatever. You get to discover this. If you'd done the "nervous interview" where you try to verbally build a facebook-profile of the stranger in front of you, you could have ruined a lot of nice surprises.

Another small thing - work on disarming your fear of silences. If you let a silence last FOREVER its weird. But if you're terrified of silence and fill it immediately, you can also come of kind of dopey. Let silences linger while you calmly think of the next thing to say. And who knows, the other person might fill that silence with something worthwhile. Or they might get nervous themselves, at which point you can be the one to smile, humor them, and try to put them at ease.
posted by tempythethird at 1:48 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find keeping up with the news to be a great conversation started.

IE Did you hear about James Cameron going to the bottom of the ocean? Holy crap how cool!!! I'd be so scared of being crushed down there, I don't think I could ever do that. How do you feel about exploring the oceans? How do you feel about science being funded by someone like James Cameron. Speaking of James Cameron, TITANTIC 3D?!?! Yay or nay?! etc.

If they haven't heard, you can tell them the story and ask their opinion. It can lead to good conversation.

Also, my favorite conversation keeperupper is "What would you eat for your last meal?"
posted by fuzzysoft at 3:19 PM on April 7, 2012

This might sound strange, but you should try the "strictly platonic" Craigslist pages. There are a lot of really sweet people on there in the same predicament as you (and many of us!) It tends to be a lot of people who have gotten sucked into the long-term-partner vortex and don't have a real way out of that due to work/time constraints and so on. A lot of them are also interested in getting leisurely activity buddies (running, tennis, art galleries, etc) which could expand your conversation-horizons beyond work. Even if you go hang out with them and don't hit it off, it could be a way to practice some conversational skills without much pressure.

I definitely know where you're coming from -- I often find myself wondering how I used to make close friendships so easily! Good luck!!
posted by thebots at 3:52 PM on April 7, 2012

MetaFilter is full of interesting stories every day! You can bring up MetaFilter stuff in conversations. I also have a hard time with small talk, but it's easier when I'm primed with all kinds of Meta topics.

Many conversations begin with, "I was reading on MetaFilter, this web community I hang out at..."
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:53 PM on April 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this is pretty much what the Blue is for. I'm in the same boat these days (although even more so; since I'm not into pets, it's pretty my job or else). But I do keep up with Metafilter, and the links those smart folks post definitely come in handy when the conversation lags. (FWIW, as someone who's over here on the Green most of the time, it's like an odd, parallel universe at times when it comes to the Mefi mothership.) Anyway, I've had a number of people, both strangers and acquaintances, comments on the quirky, odd, fun references I've been able to dredge up on what would otherwise have been to me genuinely obscure topics or events. Depending on things shape up, I decide whether to mention my source. ;-)
posted by 5Q7 at 3:56 PM on April 7, 2012

I'm with tempythethird (see how that works?:)), in that I pretend I already know the person. As in, I try to keep that ease of conversation and basically assume the other person likes me until I get an indication otherwise.

Let's be honest, if I find the other person intimidating in any way then this is hard and sometimes I can't do it.

But in the basic, 'oh here we all are at our volunteer job' then I would just start talking. Saying whether it was my first time, asking them how they heard about it and so on.

The thing is, is that you have to care about the answers. You have to actually be interested in the other person. This is where the robotic or question lobbing does not work. It's awkward and obvious.

Also the six degreses thing is totally accurate. That's what you are looking for- something you have in common. Sometimes it takes some digging to find out you both play piano or love croissants.

If you find out where they live and it's close to you then you can ask about a gym or something and they might say I hate going to the gym but I love capoeira to which you say oh I've heard about that, it sounds interesting...and so on.

Some people are also not good talkers so its harder. Just try, most people appreciate the effort.

When it doubt you could ask 'how much does a polar bear weigh' and the answer is 'just enough to break the ice'. They will either think you are hilarious or they will think you're a total weirdo and walk off! Either way, problem solved!

(Part two, turning chit chat into friendship is harder and requires repeated exposure at same venue. Takes time.)
posted by bquarters at 4:13 PM on April 7, 2012

I started listening to more podcasts and NPR of the topics I'm interested in (and general interest topics). I always hear about interesting things that I somehow end up incorporating into convos here and there. You can listen to thee when doing the dishes, driving, laundry ect so it's not really taking time out of your day. You could also find blogs of things you are interested in or start watching more movies or good tv shows.
posted by eq21 at 4:27 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I forget the whole "I don't know this person" thing. I don't cover the usual weather/how's work/what kind of music do you like? standards. I don't interview them, and I don't take interview-style questions directed at me particularly seriously. Instead I just talk as if I've known them forever.

Nthing this. Also, you say you feel like you don't have anything interesting to talk about; could it be that you're defining "interesting" based on the person? As in, something that you think a close friend would find interesting would not be as interesting to someone you're not so close to, simply because they don't have the same level of involvement in your life?

I used to define "interesting" based on whom I was talking to. When acquaintances or coworkers would ask me how my day off was, I would simply say "Good" or give some other insubstantial answer, because I thought they wouldn't really care what happened when I went out for lunch alone. Now, however, I try to make my answers to these questions a little meatier. Instead of saying "My day off was nice. I didn't really do anything," I'll say, "I went to eat alone at a restaurant, and you know that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Jonah Hill's character asks Jason Segel's if he wants a newspaper or something because he can't believe he wants to eat brunch alone? That's totally what happened to me yesterday--the host asked me if I wanted a newspaper."

If you give people something specific to work off of, you can really connect with them and build up a conversation from there. I used to try the whole "Ask a bunch of questions!" thing, and it was always really awkward. I've had much better results sharing a part of myself with others, rather than asking them a lot of questions without providing any input of my own. Those question-heavy exchanges weren't really conversations; they were more like poorly executed interviews.
posted by dean_deen at 5:55 PM on April 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think it's better to talk about something you actually care about rather than the accepted but boring topics of weather and tv shows. I would MUCH rather hear about your pets than I would much of the small talk I hear. I haven't watched tv in years and I hate when people assume we share tv or movie references. No, I actually don't know "that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall". I have no idea what that even is.

Also, I don't believe it is necessary to go do do do DO things in order to have something to talk about. I guess this works fine for people who define themselves entirely as their actions, and who don't have thoughts and feelings, or don't care to share those they do have. Frenetic activity may give you some superficially interesting things to talk about, but deep contemplation or study in one area can give you profound insights to share with people, and unusual thoughts that to some are more refreshing than hearing "oh hey I went hang gliding the other day and it was fun". You could even talk about your awkwardness in making new friends. Some people appreciate that type of revelation and honesty, and you may run into someone else who feels the exact same way and you can bond over it.
posted by parrot_person at 6:15 PM on April 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

"I would MUCH rather hear about your pets than I would much of the small talk I hear. I haven't watched tv in years and I hate when people assume we share tv or movie references. No, I actually don't know "that scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall". I have no idea what that even is."

Fair enough, but I wasn't advocating using entertainment as a point of conversation. It was just an example.
posted by dean_deen at 6:32 PM on April 7, 2012

I was, because it's an easy starter for someone who's struggling with how to be social. Baby steps for the OP. Once you're more at ease with the whole idea of social situations and how to talk to people, by all means move on to "profound insights."
posted by Gator at 6:36 PM on April 7, 2012

I'm sort of similar to the OP, actually, and I find small talk much more difficult and awkward than talking about things I care about. It isn't necessarily the case that small talk will make the OP at ease with social situations, and then s/he can move on to more "advanced" topics, it may be that these alternate topics will be easier to talk about in the first place. I know I feel like a giant fake when I talk about stuff I am not interested in. It feels put-on and like I am mimicking some intricate ritual of a foreign society, like trying to participate in kabuki theatre or something. I don't think people have to do it in order to make friends. The OP needs to know that talking about work and pets is fine and will be interesting to some people, and that s/he can also talk about the stuff in this post, including the difficulty in figuring out how to make friends and what s/he has been doing about it. It opens the door to a more authentic connection.
posted by parrot_person at 7:54 PM on April 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My most successfully created new friendship was forged by talking during a recreational art class then inviting the likely prospect out for a beer after class: "hey, do you want to go get andrink after class next week?" We each would have been uncomfortable going to the other's home at that stage, but a few social meetings in public confirmed mutual interests & sociability.

Join a casual team sport - you'll have something to talk about with the people you play with AND your colleagues & other potential friends. There are leagues for anything if you're willing to be not good at something for awhile, and your skill may not matter to others if you pick your team right & have a positive attitude ("want to learn, but just out to have fun").

It's either a team sport or having kids - in which case you meet other parents and forget a bond over how little sleep you get.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 9:48 PM on April 7, 2012

So this is super nerdy, but as a way to transition people I meet to friends my husband and I made tokens.

They are like wooden nickles and they say "This entitles you to one dinner at our place!" and it has a URL on it. The website is a map to our house. It's just a cute way to put ourselves out there.

Here are two pictures. It's silly but so silly it doesn't feel so vulnerable handing them out.
posted by Saminal at 11:47 PM on April 7, 2012

Being a good conversationalist and company is only a matter of habit. If you've removed yourself from certain social situations your social skills will obviously atrophy. That's nothing to feel bad about, I would assume most people are like that, including myself.

I can only speak in my experience, but I always make remarks about something I notice, or maybe something I observed the other day. Maybe it's something on the news, or maybe it's something mundane like how the beer can art has changed. But whatever it is, I usually leave it open for other people to add their opinions to start a dialogue. Doesn't matter if the topic has nothing to do with anything, I find. It takes practice, but it becomes habit after a while. If you're really good you can direct a conversation into interesting avenues, without dominating the conversation of course.
posted by Snorlax at 10:27 PM on April 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

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