Help a high school junior get a social life
April 21, 2012 8:14 PM   Subscribe

I am a high school junior who is growing unsatisfied with his social life. How can I meet people outside of school?

I am currently a junior in high school. My friends are kind and interesting people, but unfortunately they don't seem to do much outside of school. In my group, only one person other than myself has organized a get together in the past few months. So while I like these guys a lot, I would like to make some new friends outside of my current group. I am lost on how to go about doing this, though.

Furthermore, I have gone to an all boys school since elementary school. I haven't retained many friends from that era, which means that I don't know a single girl in my area. I can't meet any through my current friends, as they are mostly introverts themselves. I think that this would be solved in the same way as the above problem, but if there is any specific advice that applies here I would love to hear it.

I don't believe that I am socially awkward, but if I were completely socially comfortable then I wouldn't be in this situation to begin with. Fortunately, I have access to a car.

I have been volunteering, going to the gym, and studying for SATs at the library. I have yet to meet anyone this way, though. There are a decent number of people my age at the gym, but conversation is difficult when everyone has headphones in.

Am I approaching this the wrong way? Is there somewhere else that I can go where I am more likely to meet new people? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you get a part-time job at place where other teenagers work? When I was a teen, I worked at the mall in a clothing store, and my co-workers were teens from other high schools. I know the economy might make that difficult but it could still be possible to get something.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:17 PM on April 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I did two things to radically improve my high school experience: I started a BBS and started exploring philosophy (including mind-expanding shortcuts of the entheogenic stripe). I cannot recommend either in the current world, but you could tweak the BBS thing into maybe starting a blog or website, or at least participating in one that suits your interests. Also know that some of the coolest people I met after high school said they had no friends at all in high school... it DOES get better. Just bide your time until college or whatever is next, and in the meantime focus deeply on whatever is interesting to you.
posted by mantid at 8:27 PM on April 21, 2012

When I was in high school, I had very few friends that went to my school. I was active in my synagogue youth group, though. I made a ton of awesome friends, including a variety of lovely ladies.

So look for similar organizations and volunteer groups. Also, it does get WAY better in college.
posted by gnutron at 8:34 PM on April 21, 2012

Join a club that you have an interest in. I've made several friends by being on a FIRST robotics team. Obviously if your not into robotics/engineering, find something else. A team or club that requires communication and teamwork is where you will get the most hits. :) Trying to find friends at a library or a gym isn't going to work. People don't go to these places to find friends, they have a specific purpose for being there. A club or bar is ideal, but obviously your a little young.

"I don't believe that I am socially awkward, but if I were completely socially comfortable then I wouldn't be in this situation to begin with."

So you have some insecurities. You might be labeled as "that guy". I'm a senior in high school and I've had a general label stuck to me ever since middle school, when I was a complete nerd and stupidly annoying. I definitely grew out of that shit and to boast a little, I'm fun to be around. Probably because everyone needs a gay friend. ;) lol. The label is incredibly hard to shed, and I've just dealt with not being one of the more popular kids. Just wait till college when you have a clean slate to work with, and you have a chance to completely alter how people see you.

Figure out what about you is a little off. Dressing funky scares some people away, dated glasses or cheap haircuts will do that too. I'm totally going off guessing what kinda things you think are a little off about yourself, but a problem I've had was saying things that would not lead to decent responses. Ever said something that literally no one responded to? (they might give a quick chuckle if they were just trying to be nice) Shit like that can be avoided if you think for a second about what people might say in return. People will then start immediately tuning in to what your saying when you open your mouth, thus making you more "popular" instead of an outcast.

Good luck! :D
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 8:50 PM on April 21, 2012

Oh yes, get a job.

When I was 16, I got a job at a coffeeshop (this was in the pre-Starbucks days) and worked with tons of college kids and other high schoolers - from different schools. (The college kids even invited us to their parties and would buy us smokes/booze.)

It was an instant social scene, was fun, I made some money, and found that holding a job forced me to be more organized overall. And lots of people liked visiting me at the coffeeshop when I was working, so that was fun too.

But back to my point, the high school coworkers became my primary friends and dating pool and now nearly 2 decades later, I am still pretty close with that group of people even though we all live far apart.

(I also was big into the local BBS scene and made a lot of good friends though there (even some current MeFites!), but I imagine that that sort of localized Internet community is different now. Maybe there is a local reddit or something though?)
posted by k8t at 8:59 PM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you an athlete (or even close)? I always found that, even if I didn't have a ton in common with them, I found at least a semblance of teamwork/social interaction there.

If not, most schools offer clubs that will generally offer people you're similar to. At least you have one thing in common, and then build on from there
posted by brbarnett at 9:02 PM on April 21, 2012

I went to single-gender school too. The ways I met a lot of people of the opposite sex were through my job (as others have suggested above) and by participating in extracurricular activities that require a group (preferably a group necessitating girls) or involve competition between schools. Does your school have a sister (all-girls) school with which there are shared extracurriculars (theater productions or band/orchestra would be the obvious examples, but maybe there are others)? Even if it doesn't, joining a competitive activity (not sports, but think like maybe forensics or mock UN) is an option.
posted by axiom at 9:03 PM on April 21, 2012

Drama club?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:10 PM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is there a community college where you live? When I was a HS junior I met some people from taking fun, non-academic classes there (like art and dance). It was a way to meet people outside of the HS age group. If you are religious, I know some people socialize and meet friends through church, but it may not be your thing.

Volunteering and work would also be ways to do that. What about getting a summer job coaching a kids sports team? or lifeguarding (if you like sports)
posted by ichomp at 9:11 PM on April 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely consider doing local theater as an actor or as a tech.
posted by mmascolino at 9:35 PM on April 21, 2012

My junior and senior years of high school I got connected to new social groups because I was active on the newspaper staff. Maybe there is some sort of activity at your school which could lead to interactions with a different group of people who maybe have other connections outside your school or what have you. Try something completely new that none of your friends do.

This is not necessarily the norm in high school, but I also found that during my last two years, throughout my class, the friend groups that existed evolved/opened in interesting ways because many people felt less need to cling to the social power structures as we began to think about college and beyond. I think I was less insecure and therefore more open and less judgmental of my peers. I was shocked to discover that not all the popular kids were rich or assholes. This is all to say, maybe there are people in your school that you have taken for granted that you can connect with even in classes that might satisfy your desire for social growth/diversity, or maybe even your own friend group will change in an unexpected way. Be patient, be open, take social risks, because high school does not matter after high school.

More concretely:
-Make sure your volunteer or work involves interacting with other people, working in a team and not just being a lone person working at an info desk or something.
-Ways I interacted with people outside my school: going to local concerts, going to Student Democrat meetings, volunteering at the local art museum.
-You mention going to the gym: maybe it would be more useful to try to join or start some sort of intramural/community sports team, check craigslist, the local YMCA or other community center, or just google if you have a particular activity in mind. I had friends who competed in non-school sports (badminton, ultimate frisbee and lacrosse) which allowed them to connect with people across the city. I bet there are multi-age running/walking/hiking groups wherever you are.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:12 PM on April 21, 2012

When I was your age I joined a local juggling group. They'd meet one evening a week in a local community hall and the only cost was a couple of dollars for the hall hire. There was a real mix of people - adults, teens and kids - and everyone was really warm and welcoming and eager to teach what they knew. There were plenty of introverts, too, although that might seem surprising for a hobby usually associated with performance. Many had no interest in being on stage - they just juggled (and unicycled, and fire-danced, and walked tight ropes, and flew trapeze) for fun and fitness.

I met some great friends my own age, but I also found it valuable to have a circle of friendly adults in my life who weren't my parents or teachers or otherwise in a position of authority over me. They gave me a window into the 'real world' and were much more level-headed than my teenage friends, which really helped put the emotional dramas of high school in perspective. These days I don't juggle so much, but it's still nice to know a silly trick or two to pull out as an icebreaker when traveling. You might find a group near you at the International Juggling Association.
posted by embrangled at 10:53 PM on April 21, 2012

Outdoor sports like climbing, kayaking, skiing, etc are a great way to meet some really talented people. Anywhere with the right geography will have a dedicated group of outdoor athletes, and they tend to be a pretty relaxed and non-judgmental bunch as long as you show up with a desire to learn. Doing something that demands strength and skill (and has immediate consequences for screwing up) definitely puts high school trivialities into perspective, as well as makes you a generally more competent and confidant person.

It's also a great way to meet interesting and substantial members of the opposite sex.

The best way to get into sports like that is to find somewhere that teaches beginner classes, and go from there. Climbing gyms, outing clubs, and bmx parks are good places to start. If you're lucky enough to have good rivers near you, or an artificial whitewater course, those are great places to take lessons and meet people. Same goes for ski areas.
posted by cirgue at 4:30 AM on April 22, 2012

You mentioned not knowing any girls. Remembering back to my school days at an all-girls school I can tell you girls really want to meet boys too! But (I hate to invoke gender stereotypes here) some activities are better for meeting girls than others. For example I'd say part time jobs, model UN, and drama are likely to have a good girl-boy ratio, whereas for community college and sports it really depends on what course/sport you pick.

Also you say you have been studying for SATs at the library - are there any SAT prep courses where you could meet people, and then use that to start an SAT study group?
posted by EatMyHat at 5:19 AM on April 22, 2012

You sound like my high school self, minus the part about the all-boys school.

At that age, I was all about making friends, having come out of pre-adolescent obesity (went from 185 lbs in 5th grade at maybe 5'5" to 165 lbs in 11th grade at about 6'0") and geekiness (I was still a clarinet player, but there's something about being a VERY successful high school clarinet player who also plays saxophone in the jazz band that seems slightly cooler than being a junior high clarinet player). I was really STARVED for social interaction, especially with these new types of humans who seemed smaller, softer, and curvier.

What I wish someone had told me was that at 11th grade, it was time to start figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up, or at least start making serious preparation for college, which involves figuring out your major.

Fortunately, there's a way to do both, and some of the advice has touched on this. This is the time in your life to try a BUNCH of different things out vocationally. There are Explorer posts (Explorers being part of Scouting, as I understand it, but co-ed and typically vocationally centered) in several career fields, there are community college courses you can take, and there are even probably random grown-ups in your life who would love it if you asked about their jobs. There are a ton of programs designed to help late high-schoolers like this - there are junior versions of some civic clubs (like Rotaract, which is the junior counterpart to Rotary).

Only some of this will be heavy in contact with your age-peers, but those you meet this way will tend to be the best and brightest. And while dating should be kept to your own age-bracket, don't underestimate the value, both socially and professionally, of making friends who are a bit older than you. We all have a soft spot for that "bright young person" we think we discovered - you can be that guy.

Word of caution - not all grown-ups are winners. Just as there are people in your peer group you shouldn't trust and want to avoid, you will find that there are negative people in these organizations I mentioned. I particularly regret taking some of the bad advice to heart - I think I missed out of further consideration of at least two good career fields because I talked to people who were negative about them and didn't look further.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:05 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Eh, I should have double-checked Rotaract before I mentioned it - it's for college and up (18-30). But in a couple years... another way to be involved in local civic groups is to contact them and ask about youth programs - many have them (like scholarship contests, shadow day). There's a world of stuff out there that busy and/or lazy high school guidance/vocational counselors don't always tell you about.

Okay, I'll shut up now.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:09 AM on April 22, 2012

When I was a high school senior I was very bored with my peer group and considered leaving early. My guidance counselor had me take my electives at the community college, and this worked wonders to get me stimulated intellectually. I took philosophy, art history, and more, and I met mature students who were actively involved in learning, who were just a year or two older than me.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 6:45 AM on April 22, 2012

nthing the job. Get a part-time job. Girls will probably be more likely to work at retail, department stores, ice cream/bakery, and craft stores. Or at least that's where I worked and where I had nearly all female co-workers. The one or two guys on staff were nearly always thought of as awesome and intriguing and people we wanted to hang out with. Also, any job in a strip mall or mall is great, cause you have an instant with the teenagers/young people working in the other stores.

I bet a job at a summer camp would provide for interaction with guys and girls your age that could be really fun too. Or any sort of summer program for h.s. kids, doesn't have to be a job. Maybe a weeklong intensive on a subject you like, an hour or two away? I am still in touch with a few people I met at a weeklong intensive from h.s., that was a few hours from my town. It's been 15 years.

You might also try hanging out at a coffee shop, not a chain starbucks kind, but a normal hippy-ish one. In my experience the 15-18 age group frequents these and folks who aren't studying are just hanging out and friendly.

The best part is, college is awesome. You should dorm at college, even if you live in the college's town, if it is possible. Living in a co-ed dorm will be an awesome opportunity so stay focused on the awesomeness to come too :)
posted by manicure12 at 8:59 AM on April 22, 2012

Yeah, nthing part time job, and local arts community. Also it's hard to tell from your question but I wonder if you're in a suburban or exurban context. If so, go downtown in a city and look for activities there. The burbs have a pernicious spatial-isolation effect (everyone living far apart, needing excuses to bump into one another, cars for transport) that's particularly hard to overcome at your age.
posted by ead at 10:50 AM on April 22, 2012

Are there any teen centers in your area? Volunteering or just hanging out at a center, which usually has events/shows as well as outreach programs is a really good way to meet a cross section of all the teenagers in your municipal area. If your local teen center kinda sucks, don't be afraid to get involved and help it grow! When one opened the next town over, a lot of local people helped build it up to host local concerts, have fashion shows, find funding to put in a photo lab, and pretty much make it an overall fun place to hang out that drew people from pretty far around.

Also Nthing locally owned coffee shops! I had the mixed bag benefit of being in an identifiable subculture when I was in highschool (I guess I still fall into the classification of "goth", but that's a whole different story) so it was much easier to approach other people "like me"...but just hanging out somewhere with a book or a notepad and striking up conversations with people who look as if they share your interests can be a good way to meet long chains of people-who-know-other-people. Look around for places that have poetry readings or other events, since those are the places most likely to have a culture during all business hours, not just during little events. It can be a sorta long process to actually get to know people at any given scene or locale (think about a month or so before you really make friends) though it is easier in summer when everyone's just hanging out.
posted by zinful at 2:22 PM on April 22, 2012

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