Solitude goes well with winter. For me, it’s a great time to read Good Omens for the umpteenth time, sip a Manhattan, and listen to the rain. With spring just around the corner, though, solitary activities can start to seem a little lonely. Some people want a date, and some just want a new friend. That’s not as easily said as done, so let’s see what we can do about helping you meet someone new. As a note, I’m going to use the word “relationship” throughout this article. Unless it says otherwise, what I mean by that is any social relationship, whether it’s platonic or romantic.
Authenticity Is Key
Authenticity is so important. What I mean by that is being honest with your values, what you want, who you are, and what you like and dislike. You can hide it for a while but not forever. Even if you could hide it forever, that sounds exhausting. Why would someone want to be in a relationship where they can’t be relaxed and honest about what they like and who they are?
Authenticity also means being honest about why you want what you want. Do you want to meet someone because you value others and their company? Do you want to meet people because you want others to value you? Do you want people with whom to share your time? The answers are important, as they dictate how you should approach meeting people. It’s okay to want to be admired, but if that’s your primary goal, relationships become one-sided. In that case, maybe it’s not a friend you’re really looking for, but a fan. That’s fine, but be honest about it.
People Like People Like Themselves
It’s one of those truisms of psychology that people like people who are similar to them. This doesn’t mean that best friends are clones of each other. It means that they tend to be similar in their major values that underlie what they do. See why authenticity is so important? Being honest with yourself helps you to seek out people whose major values and interests align with yours. If you’re a hardcore Marvel fan, you’d probably be fine hanging out with a DC fan because you both share a love of comics. The best man at my wedding could quote Lebanese poetry even if he was just getting back from major surgery while I dislike most poetry. That’s okay because we both love art. He is, however, dead wrong about the best Beatles album being Abbey Road when it’s the White Album. That’s a scientific fact.
Approach It Agenda-Free
If you go into a social situation with an all-or-nothing mindset (i.e. “I must unlock the ‘Friend’ achievement tonight, or this is a waste of time.”), it puts a lot of pressure on you to avoid failure. I don’t know about you, but if I feel pressure to avoid social failure I feel anxious and might act a little pushy. Have you ever been around someone who you thought tries just a little too hard to fit in and be your friend? It feels uncomfortable, doesn’t it? They’re more interested in collecting you as a friend as if you were a new Pokémon, rather than getting to know you for you. It’s tough to relax and be yourself around people who are needy like that.
One of my favorite Internet authors is Dr. Nerdlove, and in his book Simplified Dating he talks about this neediness as “The Anti-Sex Equation.” Since many of the skills needed for finding a date and finding a friend overlap, we might expand it to be the “Anti-Friend Equation”. If you can just have the expectation that you will talk to people, and you don’t worry about the outcome, you’ll likely be more relaxed and approachable.
One final note on being agenda-free: This also means that you give others the freedom to choose to be around you or not, as well as giving relationships time to develop if the person does want to be around you. Relationships take time, and no one person will get along with everyone.
So how does the above information help you? Once you’re clear on your values and who you are, find a way to turn what you like into face-to-face group activities. You like reading? Join a book group. You like music? You like video games? You might like other games, so try a board/tabletop game night at your friendly local gaming store. Groups are a great way of meeting people who share similar interests as you, so you have something to enjoy together right away.
Learn About Them
For a lot of people, small talk sucks. It is, by definition, talking about things of no real importance. It does have a use, though. It’s a way of screening for people with whom we want to be friends. The best conversations are ones both people find interesting, so use small talk to begin finding the things you have in common. This is the time to listen and learn. It’s tempting to talk all about ourselves but resist the urge. Ask about them. People love talking about themselves. Plus, if they ask a bunch of questions in return, it’s a good signal they’re interested in you, at least in that moment.
Enjoy the Process
Are you the type of person who wants an end result without thinking of the middle steps? Lots of people want to play an instrument, but fewer really want to practice that instrument. Similarly, lots of people want a friendship or a significant other, but they don’t want to actually have to meet people and make small talk. The process is important, so learn to enjoy discovering people and their interests. Learn to discover your mistakes. Know that not everyone will want to be your friend (or more), and that’s okay. The process is like a good video game: maybe frustrating while you learn the basics, and we hope for a good ending, but it’s also fun to get there.
Raffael Boccamazzo (AKA “Dr. B”) is a doctor of clinical psychology and clinical director of TakeThis.org. He also runs a private psychotherapy and psychological assessment practice in the Seattle area and works with several local groups as a social skills coach, often for older teens and young adults with high functioning autism spectrum diagnoses. In his spare time, he cooks, acts, and plays oodles of different tabletop and video games.
Feature image credit: zita952/ deviantart.com