How can an awkward guy make friends?
June 9, 2006 10:22 AM   Subscribe

How can an awkward guy make friends?

Here's the situation: I'm male, 41, single, in the SF East Bay. I moved here a couple of years ago, and have not yet been successful in making friends.

I work at home, so I don't have access to a work-driven social scene. Furthermore, I'm not a terribly good conversationalist, and I'm not great at dealing with strangers. When I put myself in a situation where I'm forced to (meetups and such from various online groups) I tend to just sit there, listening without contributing much and feeling awkward. I find that unpleasant enough that I don't put myself through that very often.

Once I'm more comfortable with people I open up, and I'm generally perceived as warm and funny and a good guy. I don't have too much trouble sustaining friendships once they're established.

I come across better in writing than in person. I've met various people online, but the ones I've clicked with live far away. I've met a few while travelling and that's gone well, so once I've interacted with someone one-on-one online for a while I'm evidently able to do so in real life as well.

I need to find some environment where I can interact with people in some limited way, on an ongoing basis, so that my comfort level increases to the point where I can open up and start talking. An example where I've had some success in the past is that I found a couple of local musicians who played every week or so and that I enjoyed: after showing up regularly for several months I was sort of let into their social circle and made a few friends. I want to try that again, though I haven't yet found anybody here I like listening to who plays regularly enough for this strategy to work well.

Please note that I am not looking for advice on changing the personality characteristics I've described above. I'm working on that, and having some success, but I would like to not have those issues derail the thread. I'm specifically seeking advice here on scenarios for friendship-making that play to my current strengths and minimize my current weaknesses.
posted by i wear the cheese to Human Relations (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Take group dance classes. Dancing pretty much forces you to interact with people. That is one of the best ways to meet both men and women. It helped me meet a great group of people when I was transferred to Detroit for a year.
posted by JJ86 at 10:32 AM on June 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

I think you need to develop contexts in your life where meeting people is a natural but secondary outcome. Taking a class, attending special events, becoming a member of a club or organization, volunteering. What is important is that you have a genuine interest in whatever it's about. This will provide natural points of interest, a certain innate comfort zone for you, and a greater liklihood of meeting compatible friends. And hopefully involve experiences that are intrinsically interesting.
posted by nanojath at 10:33 AM on June 9, 2006

A day late...
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:36 AM on June 9, 2006

If you haven't done it gropus related to your particular problem can be good. (Can be rubbish as well)
posted by lunkfish at 10:40 AM on June 9, 2006

Groups - excuse the freudian slip :)
posted by lunkfish at 10:40 AM on June 9, 2006

I come across better in writing than in person. ... I'm specifically seeking advice here on scenarios for friendship-making that play to my current strengths and minimize my current weaknesses.

Have you considered writers' groups, workshops and the like? Find one tailored to your skill level. If you're required to write fiction and you don't write fiction, well, then take it up as a hobby and consider it a means to an end. Point being, it's a setting where writing could be your primary mode of interaction; and theoretically, the rest would fall into place as it did with your musician friends.

The flip side of writing — book clubs — might also be worth considering. Maybe that setting would indirectly play to your strength: You'd rather talk than write, but maybe you can talk about writing.
posted by cribcage at 10:41 AM on June 9, 2006

If you're not scared of the nerdland, you might look into getting into some sort of gaming group. I have a lot of friends that do periodic LAN parties/SCA stuff/tabletop roleplaying games. They seem to enjoy it and it has definitely improved (some of them in particular) their social skills.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:53 AM on June 9, 2006

A day late...

I'm still trying to find occhiblu.
posted by trevyn at 10:58 AM on June 9, 2006

OKCupid is a good place to meet random people - it's not necessarily just for dating. It's free, you can IM, and it's got a fun geeky vibe.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:59 AM on June 9, 2006

This could describe me as well. Almost all of my long-term friendships have developed out of non-classroom groups that meet regularly and center around a common interest. Writing groups, book clubs, that sort of thing. These haven't been online groups (though they sometimes advertise for new members online in places like craigslist) -- they meet in person, and all the substantive communications take place in person. This has been the key for me -- once we're rolling talking about something interesting, then I forget (temporarily at least) about how awkward I feel, and face-to-face friendships slowly start to develop; it usually turns out, too, that most others in the group are a lot like me -- on the shy, awkward side, looking for friendship, community, etc.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think the group centering around a certain interest rather than socializing has been key. Groups whose focus is socializing and not discussing something interesting would scare the crap out of me. Only where there's a common interest to talk about (and the stated purpose of the group is to talk about that common interest) does it feel truly safe enough to participate in an authentic way.
posted by treepour at 11:00 AM on June 9, 2006

I also find that I express myself better in writing than in person, and I found that I improved a lot of my one-on-one relationships just by using email a lot. It might be intimidating to ask a person out for coffee, but since you like writing, sending a "Here's something funny that happened to me today, thought you'd get a kick out of it" message can be good. And I've found you don't even really need to be good friends with someone to do so, as long as you're an entertaining writer.

I've mostly stopped since the election, but I was sending out a lot of moral outrage messages about the latest round of outrage-inducing-whatever (which always also included poking great deals of fun at myself), and I would cc people I didn't know all that well but that I thought would enjoy the laugh. I never got a nasty "Stop writing me" message, and it gave us something to talk about when we ran into each other again.
posted by occhiblu at 11:00 AM on June 9, 2006

(treyvn, I feel so bad we missed each other!)
posted by occhiblu at 11:01 AM on June 9, 2006

I'm a big, big fan of Meet In. It's similar to meet up, but are not driven by special interests.
It's more like just hanging out.

No stress, no muss, no fuss, no bother.

See if they have a group in or near your city.
posted by willmize at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2006

What other people have said: Join a club. There's a reason socially awkward people gravitate to the sci-fi club. They get to play board games, which require social interraction, until they finally get around the wall they've built up and can start talking about other stuff.

So, find something you like to do and join a club where they do it. Any awkward silences can be filled up by actually doing what you're there to do. Show up each week, until you make friends.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 11:10 AM on June 9, 2006

Can you get a part-time job that isn't for the money, but to get you out and about meeting people? An example might be to bartend at a music club where you like the atmosphere. You'll be forced to interact with people verbally, but it's a little bit more structured than just chatting at a cocktail party. You can chat a bit, but you're not forced into awkward small talk.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:23 AM on June 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

I heartily second willmize's suggestion of It's pretty much tailor-made for you.
posted by solid-one-love at 12:05 PM on June 9, 2006

I'm in the same boat. I'm trying to branch out a bit, going to start taking some life drawing classes and generally trying to be a "joiner." It's a bit difficult where I live -- Denver -- because it seems like so much of the social scene is for people heavily into sports and sporting activities, and I'm more of a bookworm and computer geek.
posted by jzb at 12:09 PM on June 9, 2006

Another vote for Meetin. I'm a fan because you can go and hang out, doing stuff that's activity-driven - not necessarily just sitting around talking. From what you've described, you're fine once you have a bit of history with people. Meetin lets you do things like go to the movies, maybe go running or playing sport, go to shows ... and you see the same people around at different events. Like you said, interacting in a limited way, but on an ongoing basis.
posted by different at 1:16 PM on June 9, 2006

I'd say you should interact with people even if you don't feel comfortable. Your problem isn't that you can't find places to go where you can meet people, its that you don't engage in meeting people when you are in such places. Teach yourself how to take a risk. I recommend a book about romance called Intimate Connections, by David Burns. So much of what it says is applicable to general human relations.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:20 PM on June 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Join an amateur theatre group. These usually draw on a wide variety of people, and offer a lot of different roles. Theres the acting for the extroverts and showoffs, there's directing and stage-managing for the control freaks, lights,/sound/fx for the tech geek, there's set-building and painting, costuming and so forth for the practical and creative, theres box office, publicity etc for the general organizational types. Musicians, if it's a musical. A job for just about any type.

They seem to welcome anyone who's willing to pitch in and help. Working on a show can be big fun, and the parties were epic.

I found the age range was from 15 to 70, all manner of people from all income brackets and occupations. The very cool thing was that most got along very well together.

I met my wife at a theatre group (not right away, there were so many other people to meet first, you understand ;^) ). Good times.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:23 PM on June 9, 2006

In addition to the going-to-things-where-socializing-is-necessary-but-secondary suggestion (nanojath)...

If you have 2 or more friends now, throw a monthly dinner party. This can be as relaxed or as formal as you like (though I recommend relaxed). Here's the thing: ask your friends to each bring one friend. So then you have 5 (2 friends plus their friends plus you) or 7 (3 friends plus their friends plus you) or whatever. Also, tell your friends you are doing this to help you meet new people despite your shyness. If they know this is the purpose of the meal, they will bring people they think you'll get along with. And you're more likely to get along with somebody pre-screened by a friend.

If a dinner party seems too intimidating, then do a movie night, or a barbeque, or something. The point is, you meet new people in a relatively relaxed environment, and you won't feel as awkward since you'll already (by definition) know at least half of the people there.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:52 PM on June 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

You sound a lot like me - I really do not do well in groups as I similarly do not say much and it takes a lot of effort to show up (let alone engage in conversation).

What has worked well for me in a large city is Craigslist. More specifically, activities partners. What are your interests and hobbies? You can post an advertisement for an activity of your choice such as chess or biking. When you meet the inviduals who respond to your ad, it is typically one on one and you already have a shared interest.

Last summer I posted a craiglist activity partner ad looking for other cyclists and I made a few friends that way. If you don't feel like talking, that's fine - you can just bike. I've actually made a few friends this way in the exact scenario that you describe - you get to know them over time. A few of these friends then invite me to meet their friends or invite me to their clubs, and it is not as bad as trying to show up to those things alone. Give it a shot and pick something that you would like to do (go to a museum?) or an activity you would like to do more frequently.

Best of luck.
posted by Wolfster at 2:57 PM on June 9, 2006

Toastmasters is a great way to have fun practising speaking out. There are groups everywhere, of lots of different flavors, that meet at all sorts of times of day (breakfast, lunch, dinner ...) and they all welcome you as a guest while you check them out to find a group you feel you fit in.

Lots of other fine ideas ahead of me here -- the Craigslist idea sounds very good, specially in the SF Bay Area.
posted by anadem at 3:40 PM on June 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ah anadem... The whole time I was reading this post I thought to myself "Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters! Toastmasters!

Toastmasters is truly one of the best social clubs in the world. You develop top notch communication and leadership skills, while socializing with an extremely diverse group of people. It's also a great networking experience for anyone who is looking to make quality contacts.

To give you a bit of a personal anecdote, I am in a University sponsored Toastmasters group - Temple Toastmasters. I joined for two reasons: 1) to strengthen and develop my impromptu public speaking skills and 2) To meet other intelligent people. You'd be amazed how hard it is to meet other intelligent people in college. (Note: I am not a partier.) I like to think I have a lot of personality and can hold a smart conversation, but like you - I sometimes find it difficult to initiate conversation. At the TM meetings, we make it our top priority to speak to as many different people before and after the formal meeting, especially if we have guests ( make them feel welcomed, of course).

Membership to the club is nominal: $20-47 (depending on the club) to start, which pays for the first six months dues, as well as gets you a monthly TM magazine (a great read, might I add) and all of your guide books. After that membership is $27 every six months. ...A small price to pay to build quality friendships, while building your own personal communicative skills.

Feel free to e-mail me if you have any further questions:
mcnasby [at] temple [dot] edu.
posted by drkrdglo at 5:41 PM on June 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Fuck Toastmasters.

...Alright, that's a bit rude. But read the question. The poster writes:
I'm specifically seeking advice here on scenarios for friendship-making that play to my current strengths and minimize my current weaknesses.
He says that he doesn't feel comfortable talking with strangers. You're telling him, basically, to confront that fear — and maybe that's constructive advice, but it's specifically not what he asked. In fact, it's the exact opposite.

He says he's an adult. He also says that he's aware of his weaknesses and that he's trying to fix them, but that he's not interested in addressing that aspect in this thread. Let's have enough respect for him — particularly since he's asking strangers for help, which isn't easy under these circumstances — to refrain from second-guessing his judgment.
posted by cribcage at 9:18 PM on June 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everybody. There are a number of good ideas here, and I will be pursuing several of them.
posted by i wear the cheese at 7:14 PM on June 10, 2006

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