September 17, 2007 9:18 PM   Subscribe

Help me stop meeting more acquaintances and start meeting more close friends

I graduated college recently, and the change has made something obvious to me: my not-so-hot dating life and my good-but-needs-improvement friend circle are one in the same problem. I didn’t have a really hard time meeting interesting people in school, a small number of whom became friends. But even so, I didn’t make things stick as often as I’d like. My school friends are all great but aren’t confidantes, the kind I could call at midnight to get burritos and bitch about life with- I only have one of those, and he lives far away. I think this same lack of sticky-ness is keeping me from getting laid sometimes too, and so I’m asking something very specific. I don’t need someone telling me to join a club or post personals on craigslist or something; I’ve done those and they’re good but not the answer.

What I need to figure out is how to make deeper relationships, especially now that I’m not in school. I have mad small talk game for an introvert, but what transpires between the “hey, you’re into X? me too!” part, and the “omg bffs 4ever”/”I lurve you” part is a mystery. I don’t need a lot of acquaintances, I have them already and they’re nice. What I lack is about 2 or 3 really close friends. I’m not great at bonding without structure (like dorms and classes) and I’m just picky, a typical INTJ, and I don’t find myself really drawn to many people. I usually conclude that I'm cool and the people I know are cool, so it’s a lot of random bad luck, but there has to be something I haven't thought of that I can do to up my chances of finding and connecting with the people who could be best friends and lovers.
(That said, I am open to any new advice for meeting people, as long as it's a little more out of the box than "join a club")
posted by slow graffiti to Human Relations (19 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
I`ve found that shared bad experiences can turn acquaintances into closer friends. And shared dislike.
posted by Sar at 9:45 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oddly, shared dislike has been shown to be important for promoting group cohesion. I think there's a better study but I can't find it.

I too have been in a similar position to you. I made a few very close friends in grad school and then a few more at my next job. I can only think of two things you can do. One is to meet regularly with your friends - a lot of the transition from acquaintance to good friend seems to be due to shared experience, so going out once a week with a few friends for a couple months will tend to bring you much closer. This is obviously easier if you have a shared activity to do together.
I think this works even better if the activity is something intense or something where you have to depend on other people. I recently found that working on an art project with a bunch of acquaintances and then setting it up at Burning Man really accelerated that transition from acquaintance to friend. A friend of mine reported a similar effect from crewing on a square-rigged ship for a month.
Not sure if that's helpful or applicable to your situation, but that's my two cents.
posted by pombe at 10:00 PM on September 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

The fact that you recognize it as something to work on is, I think, a really good thing - making friends takes some effort, like anything else, especially once you leave school.

What Sar and Pombe said seems right.

I'll add this: It may be obvious, but you don't *meet* close friends. Close friendships don't just happen right away. They take energy, intention, and, especially, time. Don't write off those acquaintances just yet. There's pithy saying that says something like "The only way to make an old friend is to make a new friend, and then wait a long time for that friend to become an old friend"... but pithier. With a bit of weather, some of these casual acquaintances might surprise you.
posted by ManInSuit at 10:36 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Make more friends, period. It is a numbers game.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:12 PM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm having this problem too. I think I've identified one problem: I don't feel comfortable inviting people over to my place. It's easier to further a relationship if you can have people over for dinner, movie night, a craft project afternoon, or whatever. So I'm working on fixing up my place so that this is easier to do.

This realization was the result of an earlier realization, which was that I needed to go ahead and not wait around for other people to invite me to do stuff. If everyone's waiting on everyone else to call, nobody gets called, right? But I have a tight budget, so $10 movie tickets, $30 dinners, and $50 concerts are out. Fun stuff at home is the answer, I think.

We'll see if it works.
posted by wintersweet at 11:13 PM on September 17, 2007

Shared efforts or experiences are often the basis of long term friendships. I've known people who traveled together in tough places, under very adverse circumstances, who really have saved one another's bacon, and therefore, earned mutual respect and the right to wake one another up at 3:00 a.m., anywhere they can be reached, with terrible sob stories, for life. So, travel with a group, particularly if it involves adventure travel, or group activities like volunteer scientific expeditions.
posted by paulsc at 11:18 PM on September 17, 2007

I have a tight budget, so $10 movie tickets, $30 dinners, and $50 concerts are out. Fun stuff at home is the answer, I think.

Also, if what you're after is BFF status - what sort of BFF has never been to your house? Inviting someone over is a lot more intimate than meeting them at a restaurant. (This goes double, of course, for the getting-laid part of your question)
posted by ManInSuit at 11:42 PM on September 17, 2007

It is a numbers game to an extent. Not every friendly acquaintance of yours is going to have the space for another close friend in their life. But even those who would be amenable to friendship probably aren't going to make the first moves... or maybe any moves.

I think there is an idea that it is natural that people should just make friends somewhat effortlessly. I don't think this is true. You have to make plans and time for things to work.
posted by grouse at 12:29 AM on September 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

if you have a small group of good acquaintances, why not invite people over for dinner and a dvd, or a football game, or something?

i've cited it before, although i can't remember where, but there was a study done that showed that the more you opened up to someone, the closer they felt to you in turn. inviting people into your home is one way to open up. other things you can do is take the small-talk into a more personal direction--talk about something you're really passionate about. that's always attractive and engaging.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:22 AM on September 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cultivate your acquaintances and you will soon have a lot more close friends. You have to tend these little budding friendships. If you meet someone at a party, and they seem cool, and you have friends in common, you're not going to wake up in six months with a close friend.

Poke them on facebook and send them a message that "(friend in common) is a weiner...shhh!" or "hey, nice meeting you the other night, I see your profile says you like ___. Awesome, me too!"

The tricky part is translating that into a friend-date. This is the way to get face time with your new friend. Say you both like poker. Invite them over to a poker game at your house with four-five other people. Ask them if they're down for a match of online poker as you try to sharpen your skills, etc. If you can't seem to meet in person, text them occasionally and ask what they're up to this weekend. Tell your new would-be friend you need a wingman/woman. Tell them you need someone to come watch the new Harry Potter movie. Just get some hanging out action in there.

It's like dating after that, only with way less emotional pressure. If you're compatible and you both have fun, the chemistry will be there and you'll hang out more. If the person didn't have a good time you might have to push and prod a bit more to hang out again, but most people will hang out with someone a few times before deciding whether they really get along or not.

Here's the key though. Follow up. A few days after, call/message/email/text the person: "Hey Joe, thanks for coming to the movie, I hate going by myself" or "Cindy thanks for coming to the bar, I can't believe I got that phone number." Make sure that person knows that you LIKE them, enjoy their company and want to spend more time with them.
posted by SassHat at 4:57 AM on September 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

How about contacting some of the other (as of the time I'm writing this) 24 users that marked this as a favorite question?

If any of us are anywhere near you invite 'em out for coffee, drinks, whatever. Worth a shot anyway.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 7:43 AM on September 18, 2007

In my experience (and reiterating what others have said), there are two ways to go from acquaintance to serious friend: spending a lot of time together (and getting lucky, since not everyone you spend a bunch of time with will actually be friend material) or a crucible. By "crucible" I of course mean a difficult situation which polarizes people; it doesn't have to be major, but it should be somewhat exhausting. On the bad, and not recommended, end, major disasters make a pretty good one.

Some of my closest, lifelong friends are people I had spent a bunch of time with, and then we spent the better part of two days in a cramped room together, acting as a communications hub for people with family and friends in New York to try and get in touch with them back in Sept. of 2001.

...But that's not really something that comes up every day, and I can't recommend it from any stance but "and I got good friends out of it". I do recommend smaller-scale 'trials' - road trips, camping trips, volunteer work, mountain biking, marathon tabletop rpg or strategy gaming sessions, learning to dance, repainting the house, moving someone across state lines...

Anything that will leave you a little drained, either physically or emotionally, so you (and your prospective friends) are more likely to let down those barriers that keep people out and make a deep connection, is the sort of thing I'm talking about here. And yes, I can personally recommend all of those activities, too.
posted by ziz at 9:23 AM on September 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: INTPLibrarian- I didn't ask the question intending to meet MeFis, but since I seem to have touched a nerve, why not? If anyone reading this lives in the San Diego area, my email is in my profile.

grouse and ziz seem to be on to something.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:42 AM on September 18, 2007

First, a similar question was asked a few week's ago (see: How do you break the telephone barrier?).

Unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer, but this is something I've spent a bunch of time thinking about recently.

I think part of the issue here is that if you don’t have a preexisting circle of friends that you hang out with on a regular basis, it’s hard to invite a new person to do something with you casually. E.g., it’s one thing to invite new person X to poker night at your house with your preexisting friends A, B, and C (per SassHat's suggestion above). It’s quite another to invite a new acquaintance over for dinner when it’s just you there. The crux of the issue is how to cross this gap, how to create opportunities to spend more time with new people that you meet in various settings casually so you can get comfortable with them and see if there's enough chemistry/shared interests/compatibility to advance to the "friend date" stage.

If anyone has good, simple, practical suggestions for this, please post them! I'll definitely keep an eye on this thread...
posted by dyslexictraveler at 10:25 AM on September 18, 2007

It’s quite another to invite a new acquaintance over for dinner when it’s just you there.

So invite more than one at a time.
posted by grouse at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2007

Best answer: I have about 6 friends at what I refer to as the "Grosse Pointe Blank level". If you haven't seen that movie, the main character goes to his high school reunion after disappearing at prom 10 years previously (to become a hitman). He end's up killing a guy and his best friend, who he has not talked to in the intervening years, helps him hide the body, with no questions asked until after the deed is done.

So I have six friends who would help me hide a body, but other than that, I have really only 3 other friends at all. A lot of smile and wave acquaintances, but I tend to keep my social circles small.

This sounds like what you want to get to, at least partly. It doesn't sound as if you are as introverted, cynical or distrusting as I am though. I'll just tell you how I did it.

All but one of my friends I met in high school and college. This is because those venues offer access to a large group of people in your peer group, organized--for better or worse--into cliques that make it easy to identify and find people that share a common interest. These disparate groups also make it easy to form bonds, as it has been mentioned above that the quickest way to make friends is to establish a common enemy.

But finding people isn't your problem. It's finding the right people.

First off, don't be afraid to be choosy. You know what quirks you can live with and laugh at and which drive you nuts. A good filter: Let's say that the potential friend comes up in a conversation in which they are not present. One of their shortcomings, odd habits, etc. is brought up. Do you join in the gossip, laugh and change the subject, or defend them or their quirk ("He's messy, but really busy; she's a little tactless but always gives it to you straight...")? If it's anything but the latter, their perceived shortcoming is something that will bother you more and more over time.

Secondly, push each other's comfort zones. I can't really advise you to break the law, but maybe you could break a few social mores. Throw yourselves into each other's confidence, do things that either become something you don't talk about again, can tease each other about later, or give you in jokes. While disaster was listed above as a test and a social mucilage, it isn't the only option. Do something ridiculous. Urban exploring, cow tipping, driving 40 hours to see a 2 hour concert.

Don't be afraid to frighten them. Make it clear what pet peeves they can tease you about and which ones are completely off limits. Do anything for them (I let a friend crash at my house for a month as he looked for work. I told him he could stay as long as it took, but made it clear it shouldn't take more than 3 months. If it did, he could still stay, but I'd start short-sheeting his bed and drawing on him with Sharpies). Forget debts they owe and never forget debts you owe them.

Don't be afraid to fight with them. I think I've punched or been punched by 3 of the 6 good friends. This is more of a stupid college guy thing, but you can interpret it as simply allowing huge, screaming arguments once in a while to clear the air. Then buy each other drinks/coffee.

Be willing to get each other in ridiculous amounts of trouble, and equally willing to get each other out again. Cover for their indiscretions, but let them know when they are being idiots.

Like I said, I'm a judgmental, cynical, sarcastic bastard. I don't always agree with my friends. But I respect them.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 10:54 AM on September 18, 2007 [17 favorites]

Oh, and just walk up to people. "Joining a club" is not actually that great; you just end up talking about the club. It's like work friends; you go out and all you talk about is work.

See someone on the bus reading a book you like?

It can be scary, but I've always looked at it this way: If you don't try at all: 0 wins. If you try, even if you only win 1 in ten, that's still infinitely better than no wins at all, correct math be damned.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 11:04 AM on September 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

...and one more makes 43 favorites. who knew there were introverts on mefi? next I should ask a question about developing "mad small talk game"...

In addition to the great comments by ziz and others, I'd offer another method that sometimes works for those of us without so much game... hang around your circle of acquaintances long enough, and eventually someone is bound to need help with something. You, smart devil that you are, can graciously volunteer your time/talents/muscle etc. and the rest is magic.

Instant bonding. Plus, everyone owes you favors. It's great.
posted by Chris4d at 9:49 PM on September 18, 2007

Response by poster: I think JeremiahBritt understands best what I'm trying to get at. My existing friends come over for dinner once in a while, and it's not like we don't help each other with little things, and we worked on projects at 2AM together while we were in school. Most of them I've known for 3 years or more. Still, it would be weird if I had some crisis and called them; it's just understood that we are not at that level, and I don't expect us to be. While we definitely got closer with time and effort, we're never going to hide bodies for each other.

There are over twice as many favorites on this as responses. Someone needs to write an honest, grounded book on this, clearly (and if that book exists, by all means post it).
posted by slow graffiti at 10:31 AM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

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