How do you break the telephone barrier?
September 2, 2007 9:03 PM   Subscribe

How do I turn friendly acquaintances into real friends?

OK. I joined a social club that has activities at least once a week. I have been going long enough that I am well known, liked and accepted, and there are several people I regularly talk to when I see them at events.

However, I feel a little stuck at this point, because if I am not at an event, then I have no contact with these people. I am looking for friends in my life that I can call when I'm bored or lonely. I don't want to have to wait for an event to see or at least talk to my friends. But, and this may seem silly, I'm not sure how to break the telephone barrier. People just don't call me out of the blue, so I feel uncomfortable calling them myself. I could get most of their numbers from the newsletter, or from calling Information. But I would feel more comfortable doing what I figure most people do - exchanging phone numbers (or email addresses) when you see them in person. I did manage to do this with one girl, but I've been to over 20 events over the past 5 months and that was the only time I've done this. Maybe because it's hard to spend enough time at an event alone with one person that you would get to the point of exchanging numbers.

So my question is, what's the best way to go about getting phone numbers at this point? Can't I just go ahead and call people, say I got their number from the newsletter, start chit-chatting and maybe invite them to do something casual, or ask if they mind my calling to talk once in a while? Why am I afraid it's too forward or intrusive? Or that perhaps someone will misunderstand somehow and tell other group members that I'm a little weird or something? Or are they more likely to feel flattered instead, and I'm worrying about nothing? I feel like there should be a more natural progression; what should happen is you find someone you have something particular in common with, and then you exchange phone numbers in order to talk about it more or to make plans to do something regarding whatever you have in common. But that just seems to take so long to happen.

I guess it's difficult because I'm not a particularly talky person, so I have to come up with a bit of a script in my head before I can pick up the phone, all the while feeling nervous about how they'll respond. Plus I agonize over whom to call...I should start with a girl, but I have such a need for a male friend to talk to. But then I don't know which male to try first! So I wind up spinning my wheels, calling no one and feeling lonely. Maybe I should just call them in alphabetical order, since chances are I won't get a hold of them on the first try anyway.

How have you guys dealt with this sort of thing?
posted by serena15221 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
You've correctly identified your barrier. A good way to get over it that I've used in the past was, "I was thinking about getting a group together to go do activity X. (in my case, it was a wine tour.) Are you interested? Can I get your phone number/email address?"
posted by SpecialK at 9:05 PM on September 2, 2007

I wouldn't just call people out of the blue- that feels a little too forward. SpecialK has the right idea- start talking up people at the social events to see if they're interested in making outside plans.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:10 PM on September 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

I have dealt with and am currently dealing with exactly the conundrum you describe. I too have joined some social clubs recently and am enjoying meeting everyone and having a lot of activities to choose from, but I'd be lying if I wasn't also hoping to make some more solid friendships there too - as you put it, people to call when you're bored or lonely. I'll just lay out my conclusions of how to deal with these situations and you can take or leave what you think is helpful: This sort of stuff is usually a volume game, meaning you need to put out a lot of possibilities to find what you're actually looking for. Given that, I think email is the best way to 'warm up' to people you're meeting in this group. In order to get people's email address casually and in a low stress way, it's always good to have a 'reason' to do so. What I do when I'm talking to people is try to get a feel for other interests outside the topic of the activity group that you may share. That seems to be the key to "transitioning" the relationships - getting together to do other activities outside the group. It's sort of a classification issue - if you only see these folks in a group situation, they know you as one of their 'group people'. But if you hang out together outside it to do other stuff, you're approaching more of a traditional friendship. And from there you're pretty good to go. Really, really don't stress the technicalities of how you're going to connect with people (phone/email, etc.). Instead, focus on having those conversations with people where you come across something else that you both do, a point of recognition is reached, and you can say something like, 'oh, i'll email you the details of ______'. You'll get their email, send the info., and then you can casually suggest getting together or whatever. I think the key is to put the offer of an outside the group meeting on the table as casually as possible, because if they're not interested, you don't want the group dynamic to get awkward. I'll also say that you're not alone in feeling like it's hard to take the activity group relationships to a more solid friendship. People are busy and honestly, I think compartmentalize such relationships because it's just easier. But don't let the stress of each individual contact stress you out too much. Remember, it's about giving the other person something fun to do - if you're kind of doing them a favor that way (everyone likes fun stuff to do, right?) you'll be on your way to a more solid friendship. And also, the more people you try out, the more likely you'll come across some great relationships. Good luck! :)
posted by smallstatic at 9:20 PM on September 2, 2007

What SpecialK said. Also, if you regularly talk to them then maybe you can steer the conversation to "what did you do last weekend" or something that will give you an idea of what they might want to join you for.
posted by cali at 9:26 PM on September 2, 2007

A lot depends on how old you are and how old they are.
posted by davy at 11:48 PM on September 2, 2007

If you're in the right demographic, you can use Facebook, which many people are on these days. Just find them and message them after the event. This is especially easy if the event is already hosted by a friend of yours, then you can just browse your friend's contacts. It may be more difficult at a social club where you're not directly connected to anyone, or with a demographic that's older or less tech savvy. I would create a group on Facebook for your club and let people know, so they can join.

In any case, always have business cards on you, and get other people's cards, so you'll have their info. A good way to do this is to talk about what work each of you do.

When you do talk to someone, and find something in common, be sure to casually bring up the idea of doing something together, or organizing another activity, related to that area of interest. Then you'll have something concrete to email them about.

I wouldn't call people right off. Emailing or message on a social network is much less demanding and more respectful of their space.
posted by lsemel at 12:21 AM on September 3, 2007

Plus I agonize over whom to call...

That's a lot of the trouble right there. You've got to thinking of something that should be fun and exciting as a chore, something to dread. You're describing something that sounds more like a job search than looking for friends.

Don't call cold people. Look for cues in conversation that you share things in common, no matter how trivial -- if they talk about plans to go see a show and you like the same band, or if they mention a trip somewhere you've always wanted to visit, for instance. I agree with lsemel that yes, if your group is on a social network site like Facebook you can definitely use that as an entree. (However, I disagree about using business cards, which can seem more like you're making a professional networking move. If you want to be able to give them your contact information quickly, get something like a personal calling card. For instance, MOO cards are a nice and cheap option that you can make reflect your interests a lot better than a generic business card could.)

Start small and natural. Ask someone you've decided may have a few things in common with you if they want to get a bite with you after the meeting, or before. Offer to carpool or ride the bus together, whatever. If you hit it off, branch out into non-group plans. Take your time. I've made a few fast friends in my life but many have been more like courtships. Meaning, get too intimate too fast with someone and you risk getting attached to a flake or worse.

Once you've decided okay, this person is my friend, I find nothing really cements it like a good meal you make for them, or together. Giving someone food is such a primal cue that you like them. Don't agonize over that, either. Make something you really like and know you make well (only after asking about their likes/dislikes and making sure it works for them!). Make or get a hellishly good dessert. Once they see your place and meet your pets and eat the stuff you like to eat they'll have a much better sense of who you are. I should say that it's easier to do this with another girl since she's less likely to misinterpret it as a date. I tend to do group stuff with dudes like everyone meeting up at a show until I'm sure they get that it's not about romantic interest, then do the dinner thing.

That's my friendship rhumba in a nutshell. I hope there's something here you can work with. Most of all, don't get discouraged. Don't second guess people. If you ask someone out after a meeting and they say they are busy but to try again, take them at their word and follow up with an email or another request later. Don't be easily defeated or feel embarrassed if you take a chance and it doesn't work out. A long time ago I figured out if I was interested in being friends with someone and just told them so in a direct friendly way, it worked! It sounds strange and forward but most people like when someone else thinks well enough of them to say so straight out.
posted by melissa may at 1:21 AM on September 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Lots of my dates with friends have started off in-conversation, at the party or gathering where we meet, with one or the other one saying something like, "yeah, it's a great book store/restaurant/clothing store etc. - we can go together sometime next week if you'd like". Sometimes we set a date right then and there, sometimes we say we'll call. The "will calls" usually break down to 50/50 in terms of happening or not happening. But as melissa may mentions, a no-call doesn't necessarily mean no-interest. I'm an awful, awful caller, and sometimes I meet people I like who are a lot like me. We usually do manage to muddle our way to finally meeting one-on-one, eventually, but two bad-callers = missed connections a lot of the time. Most of us tend to be a bit better with emails, though.

Very often my friendships start up over books, with one of us offering to loan the other one a favorite book, which involves meeting to either deliver or return the book. If you brought a book that has been discussed between the two of you to someone in your group, they could choose to either return it to you in the group setting, or email or call (since you will give them that info) to return it over lunch, or drinks.

Also seconding melissa on just letting people know you like them, and would like to talk to them more. With me, I have a thing where sometimes I just feel extra comfortable with [new person], as though I sort of already know them, and already feel relaxed and "in-tune" with them... and when that happens, I usually say as much, and indicate that it would be fun to see them again. I can't actually think of a single time when this didn't turn into some sort of friendship.

Also, most of the above has to do with female friends. Most of my offline male friends tend to be much younger than me, or gay, and/or/also good friends of my husband's - all situations in which the friendship won't be misconstrued. I'd actually like to have more guy friends, but it's shakier territory for me, because I don't feel like I can say "let's have lunch!" or "I'd love to talk to you some more!" without it sounding like something that could be misunderstood, and I would feel like a fool trying to make it Perfectly Clear from the jump.
posted by taz at 3:24 AM on September 3, 2007

I don't think it's a volume game here! The opposite... if you just go through a list calling, there's not much flattering about it, it's a bit creepy, and the chances of whoever you end up managing to make plans with actually being compatible as a friend are slim.

If there's no one in particular you felt a friendship 'click' with, then maybe a good start is socializing on the way to or after meetings? Ie, 'wanna grab dinner at XX after?' That's casual likely not as disruptive to people's schedules, not a big commitment, and less worry what to talk about because it's directly connected to the activity.

If you did feel a click with someone, just e-mail and invite them to something that's concrete in nature but flexible in scheduling - a restaurant meal or offering to cook for them, to go see a movie you talked about, etc. It's not weird and even if the person doesn't say yes (which could just be because they're busy or whatever) and you never make plans with them at all, they'll look at you more warmly afterwards.

Generally there are more people who like to have plans than people who like to make plans, so if you become a plan maker, you'll probably find people to go along!
posted by Salamandrous at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2007

I would build off the group. For example, does the group have any informal activity before or after the "event"? I belonged to a group that would go out to a pub afterwards. (Even some non-drinkers came, and nursed a coke or something). This is where the attention shifts from the group's activities, to just sharing each others' company.

Or if some of you share a travel route, get into a carpool, or offer rides, maybe include a stop for coffee along the way.

These are the occasions that will allow you to get to know the others better, and vice versa. You will find out who's on your wavelength, or open for other activities.

I think it's best to interact with these people as a group first; singling out someone and cold-calling (or emailing) seems a bit creepy or desperate, unless someone has already extended an invitation to do so.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:41 AM on September 3, 2007

Sorry meant to add that real friendships almost always develop out of this sort of socialization. Be patient, participate, enjoy.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:45 AM on September 3, 2007

Seconding informal after-event gathering. If you're too shy to try to put it together then you could try to pick out the natural leader of the group (whoever either naturally speaks up, takes the lead, or is looked to--whatever, you know who this person is) and suggest it to them: "This was a good day--we should all go to [bar/coffeehouse] afterward."

Or ask whoever you like:
you: What do you usually do after these things?
them: go home, watch CSI. What about you?
you: I go to [bar/coffeehouse]. Sometimes they have [sporting event on TV/folksinger/bad poetry], sometimes I just unwind with [beverage] and [newspaper/sudoku/crossword] for an hour.
them: huh.
you: want to come?
them: ok.
optional: Think anyone else would be interested?
posted by Martin E. at 12:29 PM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: I appreciate your thoughtful, respectfu answers, and you do have some good ideas, but your answers are all so depressing.........I just had a great day today with all these guys, I felt like I could go home and call anyone if I wanted to, and now I read that I shouldn't.

Most of our events already end up with most of us going out to eat somewhere. So it's hard to ask someone to do yet another thing after that.

I've also carpooled with some of them (not that I call anybody about carpooling, or anybody calls me. The carpool spot is prearranged and mentioned in the newsletter.)

I wasn't talking about cold-calling people where I don't even know if they like me or not. I was only talking about people who are already quite friendly to me and with whom I feel comfortable at events.

I do have an e-mail list of those in the group who do have email; it's provided to all members who ask. Personally, I'd rather hear someone's friendly voice unexpectedly than get an unexpected email from them....

I can't even imagine handing out business cards at a picnic, hike or sporting event. Which are what most of the events tend to be this time of year. Plus I don't have a business card.

I do like what Melissa and taz said about being straightforward.

The difficulty, as I *did* say before, is getting anybody alone long enough to have a decent one-on-one conversation with them. It's just too hard to get someone away from the group. And I'm just not outgoing enough to invite a whole bunch of people out.

OK, here are my ideas:
On a hike, walk more slowly with someone, so we're in the rear and can really talk.

Park far from the event and get someone to walk me to my car.

Talk with someone in a group as if the other people aren't there and suggest some sort of plan. (I've seen plenty of people do that, now that I think about it. But I'm not comfortable doing it.)

Join the Board (I'm not ready yet.)

Or just go ahead and call someone, someone I had a good time talking to just the other day, tell them I got their number from the newsletter, and ask if they mind if I call once in a while just to talk, and maybe ask if they want to get together sometime. Is that really so off-putting? I guess it must be.

BTW, the age range in our group is mostly 35-50. That may make a difference, at our age people are a little wiser, more understanding I think and less easily surprised.
posted by serena15221 at 8:39 PM on September 3, 2007

Off the bat: if you had a good day with them, then go ahead and call them. I know that I'm not super approachable in groups, but am social, and am thrilled when I make a new friend.

Remember a lot of people have their friends come from a social group, be that a hockey team or whatever. You're at the early stages, it will happen.

That being said, how about trying to organize doing something while at or shortly after a meeting? Perhaps an open invitation to a movie or play, or something.

Or you could go the individual route, hanging out one on one. I would ask someone face to face if they wanted to do something. Or if you have something that you know somone would be interested in call them.

I think a point to remember is that you describe wanting friends, that means you need to make them. You are hanging around a group of people that you like, and who like you. now you just need to go a step further into the individual realm.

Maybe you need to stop analyzing it and just try to do fun things with people who would like to do said thing? If you're worried about calling/emailing then face to face at a meeting is the best place to start. If you feel a connection with these people (it sounds like you do), then call or email and see if they want to do a movie or something.
posted by dr. moot at 12:07 AM on September 4, 2007

I belong to a big social group also. We meet once or twice a month.

Months ago there was a new member present. We were seated next to one another at dinner. We hit it off and had a great time talking about books and travel and shoes and a myriad of topics. A week later she emailed me and asked if I wanted to see a movie that was adapted from a book we both recently read. Of course I accepted. I probably wouldn't have had the guts to email her. I question myself too much and don't want to obligate anyone.

She and I are now movie partners. We've probably seen a dozen or more movies together since I met her in December. We always do dinner and drinks beforehand, so we've had the time to cultivate a friendship.

My point: If you have something in common and have hit it off with a member of the group -- don't hesitate to shoot them an email for an invitation out someplace. If you continue to click, then phone calls when you're bored or lonely won't seem out of place. I find that at this age (I'm 35) calls to friends I know casually usually have a purpose. I only have one or two friends that I call to shoot the breeze with.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:12 AM on September 4, 2007

IANA35-50 year-old, but:

and ask if they mind if I call once in a while just to talk, and maybe ask if they want to get together sometime. Is that really so off-putting?

"Do you mind if I call once in a while just to talk?" sounds off-putting to me. There might be a nicer way to phrase it, but this way, it sounds more like you're looking for a therapist than a friend.

"Do you want to get together sometime?" isn't off-putting, though it does put the burden on the other person as to what to do, and when.
posted by ramenopres at 3:11 PM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Do you mind if I call once in a while just to talk?" sounds a little creepy/awkward to me too. Skip the self deprecation altogether, and have a little confidence. You said yourself that you like these folks and they like you too, so why wouldn't they be delighted to hear from you?

If you're genuinely happy to be talking with them, let them hear it in your voice - sincerity is a mighty attractive quality in cultivating relationships of all kinds.
posted by deliciae at 8:48 PM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

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