How to get better at staying in touch with people?
July 18, 2012 12:45 AM   Subscribe

How do I get better at initiating and maintaining contact with friends, romantic partners, and potential friends? If you are a socially anxious, super-busy person, what helps motivate you to stay in touch on a day to day basis?

I find I have a hard time just contacting people out of the blue, just to chat. When I am bored, I work on my hobbies. When I miss having people around, I watch television or movies. I find social contact energizing, but I spend most of my time doing things by myself. It rarely occurs to me to pick up the phone and ask someone to hang out with me. Part of this is decision paralysis. I have a wide social network, but shallow relationships. I don't know who to call first; I generally feel guilty and worried about leaving people out and end up calling no one. The other part is low self-esteem that I am still working on. I feel like I am bothering people if I initiate a conversation without having something in mind to talk about first. Similarly, I've never asked a friend to hang out without having an activity in mind. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that my company is good enough by itself.

At the same time, I know my friends want to hear from me. I enjoy the time I spend with them and usually end up wondering why I don't initiate more often. I also feel sad whenever I realize a friendship is withering because I neglected it. I think I could get better at this with more effort and practice. What can I do to actually make myself stay in touch? Would setting a schedule be too forced and weird?
posted by sockomatic to Human Relations (13 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
I think a first small step would be to contact someone when you miss having people around instead of starting up a movie or turning on the television. Because your missing people is a signal your body is trying to give you, and as it is, you're sort of over-riding that. Listening to those clues a bit more carefully will probably give you some indicators too of who exactly you're missing, and who you'd like to see, which could help with the problem of: who do I call?

Also, when you say that you always have an activity in mind, do you include eating meals with people as an activity? Or do you mean it's always something like, "Let's go to this museum!" or "Let's go to this concert!"? If it's the latter, may I suggest adding the friend-coffee-date, the quick lunch, and the leisurely dinner to your roster of activities? Those sorts of things are easier to organize casually, and easy to re-schedule, so it lessens the pressure in terms of Making Plans, when that is sort of intimidating.
posted by colfax at 2:23 AM on July 18, 2012

I have a huge problem with this, and I am looking forward to the other advice in this thread. For me, this happens for three of the same reasons as you: wanting to work on my hobbies, decision paralysis, and low self-esteem. Most of the time, I wait for my friends to invite me to things, which means I have a somewhat sparser social life than I'd like.

A big part of getting over the hump for me is just coming up with the activity to share with my friend or friends. When I can find something to do, it works out pretty well. It's just that I'm lazier than I'd like at finding stuff that both I and the friend would like to do. It's not helped by the fact that I am busy, like you, and don't have a lot of money to throw around on activities.

When I find something I absolutely must bring someone and go to, though, it usually works out fine. For me, it's gotta satisfy some of the three mitigating factors above. This may not be everyone's attitude, but I almost feel like I'm wasting my time when I spend a lot of money/time on pure socializing that doesn't somehow, in some way, relate to my hobbies, even if it's just shooting the shit with someone who is involved in one of the same things I am. So that's one.

Two, I had to have overcome my decision paralysis, or otherwise have something amazing and unmissable fall into my lap. That's harder than it seems, and a big part of where the whole "watching TV to unwind" thing comes from, at least for me. I totally do that; I absorbed three seasons of Breaking Bad in two and a half weeks. You've got to be active about finding things that sound like the kind of thing you want to do with someone, but you can find stuff to do that will be cool. Which leads me to the third factor...

I totally struggle with thinking, aw man, this friend of mine doesn't want to come to this thing with me, because of X reason why it wouldn't be good, because I'm a bit socially anxious. Sometimes, even if it's something as simple as inviting them over for dinner (hobby level: cooking). Something that might help here is finding a way to engage with other people. No matter the activity, whether it's something really cool and engaging, or sitting at your place with a couple of beers, part of it is spending some time with someone and relating to them.

What are your friends interested in? Better yet, what would the friends you'd like to have be interested in? Find out about those things! Find out about cool things related to your hobbies that you could talk about or do with your friends. You may even be able to find a new angle of interest in your hobbies this way. You could find a new hobby, even. Say, you didn't have a bike; you could get one, and learn about the cool local trails to invite people to go riding on. Or you could learn how to fix your bike up a little, and when your friends have problems with theirs, offer to help them.
posted by malapropist at 3:11 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My group of friends has a similar issue, and what has worked well for us is really low-key last-minute invites to do things we're already doing. So, at the end of work, I'll text a handful of friends to say "I'm going to be sitting on my couch with Netflix and a bottle of wine tonight - Come join me!". Or, "I'll be at Local Coffeshop from 7-9 or so - swing by if you're around!". That way no one is pressured to say yes, but if they're around and have no plans, we're usually able to meet for a bit.
posted by JannaK at 5:35 AM on July 18, 2012

Try putting post-it notes on your TV or remote.

They should say "Call Friend A" or "Call Friend B."

Hopefully those will help you to call someone instead of watching TV.
posted by commitment at 7:25 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's easier to call someone if you have a reason to call them, rather than "just to say hi." (I hate "just to say hi" calls anyway, it feels like the person was bored and had nothing to do and was calling me in hopes I'd be the performing monkey or something.) So come up with a reason, like an activity or whatever news is going on in your life.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:28 AM on July 18, 2012

As lives get busier and social circles more complex, you've got to plan in advance... what do you want to do, who do you want to do it with. It's definitely easier to schedule time with friends if you have an activity to suggest, but it doesn't have to be complicated, it can totally be "come watch a movie at my house" or "let's go for a walk".

I'm married and in my 30s and I definitely book regular dates with the people I most want to see. I have one friend where we now try to book immediately after we go out because our schedules are busy enough that we need a month's lead time. Another friend and I set a weekly date for awhile to do aactivity so that even of we had to cancel we knew when we'd see each other again.

For less intimate friends, I definitely set calendar reminders to call if I think of it at an inopportune time, or I create a checklist of the people we want to invite to dinner. There's no reason you should make a note to call someone every other evening, or whatever.

Over the years, I have learned that I'm happiest if I can socialize 1 or 2 nights a week, engage in hobbies 2 nights and do nothing 2 nights, so that's what I try to book in advance. Your own balance may be different.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you want to spend more time interacting with others or do you just feel guilty about not being more available to your friends?

If you want to spend more time with others, then you need to make a decision to make space in your life for other people. Pretty simple. Nothing more to it than that.

If you feel guilty about not being more available to your friends, but you don't really want to be more available to them, then what's the problem? Nothing is going to fix that.

People make time and space in their lives for their priorities. Sorry I can't offer any other strategies, because there really aren't any. Decide what is important to you and the rest will take care of itself.
posted by strelitzia at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2012

BTW, you'd be amazed at how many people would love to get a phone call from a friend who was just "thinking of them" and wanted to say "Hello".
posted by strelitzia at 9:45 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Why not try chatting online? I do like calling people just to talk but many of my friends do not care for the phone. You could just have a casual talk on gchat, or send an email asking them what's going on with them and if they maybe want to get dinner or something soon.
posted by mlle valentine at 10:07 AM on July 18, 2012

I have struggled with this same issue. After moving away from the Pacific NW many years ago, I spent my alone time reading books and mastering Origami, and then when I moved back to Seattle (where most of my family/friends live) I wanted to find a sustainable (meaning, something that didn't feel awkward AND could be done regularly without getting boring) way to stay connected with my friends. So I started branching out into other interests, like attending Roller Derby bouts, and then asked my friends to join me -- and they do!

Another useful trick that you could try (or re-purpose) would be to have a weekly event at your home, and invite any/all of your friends to show up (you could even use Facebook Events to plan these, if that's your thing). My sister used to do this, when she was centrally located within a few minutes' drive of most of her friends, and their event was Margarita Monday -- although you could try other things, like a weekly movie/board game/trivia night, "teach me your hobbie" night, and etc.
posted by erasorhed at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2012

I have some social anxiety happening, too, and what has worked for me is to decide on something I really want to do (like seeing a new movie that will be coming out, or trying a new restaurant, or watching a new TV series) and then putting out feelers based on that specific event. Then, I do something concrete that forces me to commit to it. For example, I'll get everyone to buy their movie tickets then (it might sell out!), or make reservations, or whatever.

For me, it's easier/less awkward to say, "hey, I really want to do this thing but don't have anyone to join me. Can you help me out?" than an intangable request for a friend date. The committing part keeps my anxiety from letting me cancel at the last minute.
posted by itsamermaid at 11:29 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I never do the phone-call-to-chat thing, but I will make the effort to fire off an email to a friend saying "hey, we haven't hung out in a while, are you free for [dinner/coffee/drinks/bocce ball/whatever] on [X date]" Picking a date has helped a lot, since if they like hanging out with me and aren't free on that date, the response will usually be "Can't do Tuesday, how about Wednesday?" And then things go on the calendar. When I'm traveling to a city where I know people, I"ll fire off a similar email, "Hey, I'll be in town these days, wanna hang out?"

Then, if you meet people you want to hang out with again, or think about so-and-so out of the blue and wonder what they're up to, take the NEXT STEP and contact them. I just did this with friends-of-friends who we met at a housewarming party last weekend. Contacted the mutual friend, got their contact information, and we're hanging out again this weekend.

The reverse is also important -- if someone calls you up and invites you to do something and you don't have a reason not to go, go do it. Not really your time of art/music/coffee/whatever? Doesn't matter, go. Kind of wanted to finish the book you were reading? Doesn't matter, go. Are totally exhausted or have something else booked? Don't go. Be open to these experiences and it'll generate more of them.

Also, host a party every once in a while. Invite your friends, and tell them to each bring a friend.

If setting a schedule works for you, go for it. No reason not to. Or even a calendar reminder that pops up weekly "Hey, invited anyone to hang out recently?" Do what works for you.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:30 AM on July 18, 2012

It sounds like television and movies are replacing people in your life, and you're realizing that media doesn't have some of the same long term benefits that long-term friendships do, but you're not quite jumping that gap over to "I need to watch less media".

It might be the cliche your mom warned you about, but stop watching television. It's bad for you.
posted by talldean at 5:35 AM on July 22, 2012

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