Making friends out of communities
November 28, 2013 2:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I turn people I am in communities with into friends?

I belong to a few communities and 'groups/societies', but I don't feel like I have a core group of friends at university who I can always count on and lately I have been worrying about this a lot. I've read other questions on this and know that there is sort of a formula which goes like: regular unplanned interactions + listening, sharing, and laughing = friendships... But firstly, how regular does it have to be? Is once a week enough?

And well, even though I know this and I try to show up as much as possible, I don't seem to have bonded with people in my communities. I suspect it might be because I tend to overthink things... I get discouraged at the faintest hint of someone not liking me, or because I always feel like I seem desperate if I make too much of an effort. Or zone out because I feel self-conscious. Or I feel that they are expecting me to be low-energy (because I used to be that way) and I can't break out of my perception of what they expect of me. And after interactions which I find imperfect I always spend a long time worrying and feeling disappointed. I don't know what to do! I know that all my questions seem to involve overthinking everything... Would it help if I stopped? How do I stop?!! (Is meditation the only way?)

But I digress. Apologies for the rambly question. My main question is this: How do I bond with people and make friends out of people communities? It's supposed to come naturally, but it hasn't. How did it happened for you people out there with friendship groups?
posted by dinosaurprincess to Human Relations (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
As Frankie said, RELAX.
Take a deep breath.
This is going to be okay. You got this.

You're on the right track, but you're in your brain too much and you really need to be in your heart. I believe that you will instinctively know who to gravitate to and how much time to spend with each particular person.

Trust yourself. You will know.

Maybe be a bit more Spock and dissect how you act/acted with your current close friends. You accepted them, they accepted you, you were relaxed, they were relaxed and you had a great time whenever you got together. You weren't in your brain, you were in your heart.

Now that you know that particular 'equation', now you can be a bit more Kirk. Get out of your brain and get into your compassionate heart.

Bring your past actions into your current meetings. Act as if they are your friends, and you will treat them as if they are your friends, and they will become your friends.

This isn't a race. This isn't a contest. This is you, living your life the best you know how. You're calm and you're reaching out, and those folks that you were meant to be with will sense this and reach right out back to you.

Think about the dynamics. Do you feel more comfortable in group situations? Or perhaps on on one over coffee? Go with your strengths and where you feel most yourself.

When in doubt, relax, deep breaths, remember past friendships, bring that awareness to these new friendships.

It's all gonna be okay.
You got this.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 2:57 AM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

" I get discouraged at the faintest hint of someone not liking me"

I'm living in a new place and started a club, I made some friends and a lot of people wanted to hang out with me. But the last few months I stopped putting much effort into developing friendships because my own anxiety was getting difficult to deal with, and making plans with people seemed incredibly taxing and complicated, and it overwhelmed me- so I've stepped back. I also tend to step back and prefer to be alone when I am dealing with problems-

So it is completely likely that when people don't pursue a friendship with you, that it isn't personal AT ALL.

I hope that helps take a little of the pressure off and helps you realize that you're awesome, and there are other people out there that will be at the right place in their lives to be able to contribute to a friendship.

My other suggestion is that you start your own community or meet up. The organizers usually get the first shot and the people who walk in the door, and people appreciate when you set stuff up!

And finally, remember what people say to you about what's going on in their lives... if they say they have a docs appointment or something- send a nice text saying you hope it went well... if you don't get much of a response, don't keep doing it with that person, but that really helps show you care as a person and opens the door to more spontaneous interaction down the road.
posted by misspony at 4:30 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

In my experience, making friends by deliberately trying to doesn't really work; when it does appear to work, the resulting friendships are often quite brittle and high-maintenance. Proper friend-making is a mutual thing that happens spontaneously and organically when compatible people meet repeatedly for other reasons.

To give yourself the best chance of this happening to you, work on yourself to widen the range of people with whom you can achieve compatibility. Characteristics that improve compatibility include generosity, assertiveness without aggression, kindness, respect, courage (feel the fear and do it anyway!) and fairness.

Characteristics that limit it include shyness, insecurity, attention-seeking, willingness to speak badly of absent others, class consciousness, bigotry, a tendency to take things personally, a tendency toward high drama, a tendency to believe It's All About Me, aggressiveness and general insensitivity.

Obviously there are loads more in both categories. You can learn a lot about what works and what doesn't by watching other people interact. This takes a long time, but at least it will give you something to do until your friends turn up.
posted by flabdablet at 5:38 AM on November 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Making friends, real friends, isn't something that can be taught, especially if you come off as needy. You have to genuinely like the person and not just go through the motions.

It also helps to not be hyper vigilant and constantly worrying about whether someone likes you/doesn't like you.

Also, you have to be patient. Friendships are based on enjoying spending time together and talking and sharing. Especially between women.

And don't forget---the person has to feel liked by you, and you genuinely have to like them. You can't just use people to fill a hole in your life because you are needy and lonely. You have to bring something genuine and honest to the table. Especially if you want to build real friendships.
posted by discopolo at 5:47 AM on November 28, 2013

Accept that people liking you or not liking you is in general out of your control. I have behaved horribly and for some reason people still liked me. I have behaved wonderfully and for some reason they didn't give me the time of day.

Now just show up and be yourself. Don't spend so much time/effort reading every little thing people say/do or their body language or whatever. Stop thinking every little body twitch they make has something to do with you, because it really really doesn't.

Then just show up at the communities, you know, when ever it works with your schedule given your other school responsibilities etc.

Instead of taking from the interaction, watch people and try to give them what it looks like they need. Do it without fanfare or self-interest. I became good friends with someone who I had known superficially for years only because one day I showed up at the gym feeling bad, and I said I was feeling bad and he said "everyone feels bad and isolated sometimes, even if on the outside they seem fine." At that moment, he gave me understanding and empathy and we became friends.

And after interactions which I find imperfect I always spend a long time worrying and feeling disappointed.

Perfection is an illusion. Control is an illusion. What made the interaction "imperfect"? No really, challenge that limiting belief. Perfect = they liked me; imperfect = they didn't? Hogwash. Don't be so harsh in your judgment of yourself. You're fine.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:26 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Possibly your problem is trying to make friends out of an undifferentiated group of people. If you're showing up at the weekly meeting of your local Spam Appreciation Society and your goal is to turn the entire group into your circle of friends, you might be missing some of the social clues of what is really going on there. Possibly the entire group is really tight-knit and they all spend all their time, even outside the meetings, hanging out together as a group. But, more likely, it's an amalgam of sub-groups of people who hang out together a lot, plus a variety of individuals, all of whom come together as a bigger group only once a week to swap Spam recipes. And the generic projection of a desire to become friends with everyone at once is what can come off as needy or desperate and, rightly or wrongly, turn people off.

So, instead of focusing on making these clubs or societies your circle of friends (because they may not all be friends themselves), focus instead on the few specific people in each group that you click with and try to develop friendships with them. Looking at individuals instead of groups of people should help you get some specific ideas on how to make friendship happen. If there's someone at the Spam meeting who mentions how much they love Tofurky, and you also happen to love Tofurky, use that as an opportunity to invite that person out to share a couple of drumsticks.

So, first, pick a person or two you'd really like to become friends with. Second, find opportunities to talk with them at group outings. Third, invite them to do something outside of the group. Repeat until something sticks, either with that person, or the next one.

And then I'm going to diverge from the pack a little on the idea of spontaneous, organic friendship. The three closest friendships in my life have come from the two most awkward, ham-fisted, deliberate and blunt campaigns for friendship ever mounted in the history of friendships. I'm an over-thinker, too, and way too sensitive to rejection, but there were these two women who I really, really liked. I especially liked their friendship with each other, and I wanted in on it. So I just started always being there, at events I knew they would be at (we were also in interest groups together), at parties I knew they'd attend, and at one point, even stopping by the big group house they lived in. It was really really hard for me because I knew I was doing it all "wrong." At one point one of them even said--more or less to my face!--"Gee, have you noticed how Looli is just, like, always around now?" Gah! Busted! But it worked. There were specific things I liked about them, and I knew they would like me if they got to know me. But I also knew that I had no idea what the right way to make friends was so I was just going to do it in my own bad way because being friends with them was worth whatever social embarrassment the process was going to cause me. I'm am still best best friends with one of them, twenty years later.

So that's my final bit of advice: if being smooth and low key and suave is outside your skill set, when you find someone you want to be friends with, just ignore the critical voices in your head and go for it with whatever awkward, stilted tools you've got. You've really got nothing to lose!
posted by looli at 10:14 AM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

"I don't feel like I have a core group of friends at university who I can always count on"

Making a group of dependable college friends is much harder than making one dependable college friend first. (On preview what @looli just said about focusing on specific people.) I'd focus first on making a best friend at college, which means you must BECOME the type of friend you want to have.

@flabdeblet, above, gave you a spot on list of Characteristics that attract or repel friends. There's an art to female bonding. You want to attract women friends who are generous, who give people the benefit of the doubt, who remember to follow-up on the small details of your life that you share with them, and maybe most importantly - who don't try to cope with their insecurities by gossiping and undermining other women. It also helps to generally be fun to be around, and to demonstrate that you're the kind of friend who can listen and keep secrets without judging. There are certain ways that women signal that they have these qualities - it comes down to nuances that are hard to enumerate, but I'll try.

So here are some reasons I've chosen not to deepen my friendships with certain otherwise lovely women I've known who are great but who I've just found not to be BFF material. 1) When I told Friend A there was a person we know who did something cruel to me, and she did not make the time to really hear me out. She also gossips to me about her very close friends, which is a turn off. 2) Friend B stayed in a book club to which I invited her, but I later quit going to because there was too much mean gossiping going on, but which she enjoyed, ugh. That tells me she is ok with women treating other women like crap, and I'm clearly not ever going to be a priority for her; good to know! 3) Friend C is never vulnerable around me, and acts like everything in her life is perfect despite evidence to the contrary, so it is hard to share anything with her because I never see the real her and she does not act like she needs a friend in the sense of natural give and take. A big red flag for me is the woman, like Friend C, who is well over 25 but has no real female friends from any season of her life - there is usually a good reason: she is simply not friend material.

Here's a plan. Make a short list of 10 friendly college women you know. Cross off the 2 women who are the proverbial "friend to everyone is the friend to no one," you know, the ones who are really popular and extroverted, and are like an open book with their thoughts who have the same level of instant, oversharing intimacy with all of their friends and acquaintances. Don't waste time trying to make a woman like this your BFF, she's not available and will be disloyal. Instead go for one of the more introverted, caring women you know who don't need to be the center of attention at all times and who never gossip. Who are the 3 kindest women on your list, based on behaviors you've seen? Focus on spending time with them, then try to select one over time to be a BFF.

Now you've got to spend time with her one-on-one and your paths have got to cross a lot - college is a really fertile time and place for that. Invite a group of 3 other women like her out to the bar for a Girls Night. If it goes well, it could become a thing. If it starts to go somewhere, find out when their birthdays are, and celebrate them as a group. Make a study date with them at the library, etc. Be the planner. Jot down notes about the things these women share with you so you can follow-up later with a text or by bringing it up in private conversation. "Hey, that guy Noah you mentioned is having lunch over here today, meet me here next week at the same time, u can scope him out" - "How'd your test go?" - "I have this zit on my back that feels like a tumor, don't judge - LOL." Be light, be fun. You know you over think, now it is time to do some inviting and some calculated reaching out. Good luck.
posted by hush at 10:51 AM on November 28, 2013

I know this and I try to show up as much as possible, I don't seem to have bonded with people in my communities.

when you're talking to people focus really hard on what they're saying, try to figure out what they think is important, and ask them about that. i think some concepts from improv comedy can be a good framework.

this kind of always being around but never moving past acquaintance into friend: i suspect you look like you're listening when other people are talking, but you really think about what you want to say next. then when you talk it's about something different and doesn't really follow the flow of a conversation. this is consistent with feeling self-conscious.

I've read other questions on this and know that there is sort of a formula which goes like: regular unplanned interactions + listening, sharing, and laughing = friendships...

it's not just unplanned, but planned. get the phone numbers/emails of the people you want to be friends with, and then invite all of them to a low-stakes social thing, for example: happy hour, playing pool, gaming night, knitting party.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:17 AM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

How do I turn people I am in communities with into friends?

For some people or even many people (like me; I'm an introvert which perhaps explains it), the category of people in "one's communities" is separate from the category of "close friends". This doesn't mean the memberships of those categories overlap - they probably do, although they don't have to. Close friendships, in my experience, arise out of strong one-to-one interactions, wanted by both sides (not everyone wants them, many people prefer just to focus on group relations for instance), that are increasingly personal, regardless of the group context (although having a good group context can make the initial stages of the friendship building a lot easier and more likely).
My point is that the universe of close friendship building may largely be a separate trajectory from the group relations building. Of course they are not completely unconnected- one thing I have done poorly at in the best (and have tried to improve) is when a close friendship building is going well but I flunk (disinterested/awkward) at the the group activities the developing close friend invites me into. (But flunking at the group activity didn't torpedo the friendship, it just caused a bit of awkwardness/adjustment)
posted by Bwithh at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older I would prefer not to spend time with my friend...   |   How can I get help from my work colleagues? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.