Monday, March 11, 2013

An Introvert's Guide to Making Friends

I didn't really have friends in high school. It's taken me a little while to realize I even have friends now. I had someone tell me once that among our group she considered me one of the popular ones, because everyone liked me and what I did influenced people. That came as a complete shock to me, because I still think of myself sometimes as being the person everyone tolerates but nobody really likes. I still think there aren't any situations where I could be called popular (other than many that particular one), but at some point I went from having no friends to having a bunch of friends. They may be scattered all over the country, but there are many of them, and I'm very grateful for them.

Making friends for an introvert is not always an easy process. Heck, meeting people isn't always an easy process. Here are a few of the tips I've picked up along the way that worked for me, along with a few lovely pictures illustrating me doing these things. Because I hear using pictures in your blog is a good thing, and since I have zero camera skills, the only pictures I have are of me hanging out with friends anyway, so they make for good visual aids.

Anyway. On to the list.

1. Pursue something you love in a place where there are other people doing the same thing.

Probably 90% of my close friends are people I met while we were doing something we both loved, like participating in a young writer's group, watching movies, or doing theater. Meeting someone like this gives you an instant common bond, for one thing. For another, although sometimes it's hard to get introverts to talk, usually they just need the right subject. Once we start discussing something we really care about, it's getting us to shut up that's the problem. Even an introvert like me can get into great discussions with complete strangers when it's centered around something we both really love.

I'm not close friends with all these people -
goodness, that would be a lot of close friends -
but I like them all, and I enjoy whenever I get to spend time with them.
I hardly ever go into these situations looking to meet someone. It's usually more like, "I want to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Hey, this other person is too! We can probably talk about our novels together." But even if I never meet friends doing that (and often I don't), the process should still be rewarding. You don't want to feel you've wasted your time if no friendships develop. (Besides, taking up a class or activity you don't really care about in an attempt to meet people means you don't really have a common bond with anyone there, and that's not helpful to you if you struggle with finding common ground in the first place.)

2. Be prepared for some uncomfortable socialization at first.

Even if you've found an activity to enjoy and people to do it with, the step from that to friendship often involves awkward group interactions first. It doesn't have to always, but be ready for it. You can always pursue hobbies around other people and then leave them and go your own way, and if you do that consistently, don't be surprised when nobody reaches out to you.

The first show I did in college was with a group of people who had all started the theater program around the same time as me. I could have just done the show with them and then gone straight back to my dorm from rehearsal. We would have been on good terms but it would have only ever been acquaintance terms. Instead, I tried to take them up on offers to hang out. It became a regular thing that we would go to rehearsal and then go out to dinner afterwards. Many times in those early days I had nothing really to say to anybody, and I felt awkward, and I would much rather have been home by myself. Several times I did bow out. But I hung out with them enough to send the clear message, "Yes, I am interested in being friends with you. Yes, I would like to spend time with you."

It's very tempting for me to skip out on group get-togethers
where virtually the only purpose is to hang out with people...
but if I hadn't gone to them, I never would have gotten to know these people,
some of whom are my very favorites.
This step isn't always necessary. Sometimes you can jump straight into interaction you're comfortable with. But sometimes you just have to agree to go to the office party or join everyone for coffee after yoga because immediately saying, "We're in the same class. We probably like the same stuff. We should hang out all the time now!" creeps people out.

3. Seek out one-on-one time with people whose company you enjoy.

You've found a common interest, you've probably done some hang out time... now comes the part where introverts can really thrive as long as they're not shy about asking. If you've enjoyed a co-worker's political debate or think you have the same sense of humor as a classmate, invite them to hang out together one-on-one.

Sometimes people see asking for one-on-one as creepy, which is unfortunate. There are a couple ways to make it a little better, although some will still be creeped out no matter what.

First, you can center it around an activity you already know you both enjoy ("The mall is having a used book sale on Wednesday. I'm going - you should join me!"). This can be a little less off-putting to people than asking them to sit down and have a direct one-on-one conversation with you. I have definitely done this.

If you both happen to love the same Broadway stars,
you can go see them in a touring cast together. I've done that too.
Secondly, you can just be super duper honest. I have done this as well. It usually goes something like, "Hey, I think you're a really cool person and I've enjoyed the couple times we've talked. I'd love to talk to you some more. Would you like to grab lunch on Friday? I'm trying to get out and meet some new people but I get awkward in big groups (slightly self-deprecating laugh goes here)." People usually sympathize with the attempt to get out there, they're flattered that you selected them, and now the cards are out on the table. If they're uncomfortable with your introversion, they're probably not people you'd want as friends anyway.

Also, if you have a topic in mind, that makes it easier. One of my earliest memories of spending time with my fiancé is when we had a platonic dinner date to talk about worship, as he wanted to be a worship leader and I had some personal issues with worship. He struck me as a reasonable and sympathetic person (as he indeed turned out to be) and I wanted to know what he'd have to say. It was a great conversation that turned into a great friendship that turned into a great relationship.

Me and some my very favs hanging out together at another fav's wedding.
Group gatherings are not quite so scary when you're at least friendly
with most of the people there. It gets better. :-)
The process of making friends is still difficult for me. I still have to push myself to do actively social things. And obviously, you're not automatically friends with people once you hang out with people one-on-one. However, once I get past the initial hump of "how do I even MEET people?" I find that the rest is much easier to figure out.

How about you guys? What tips would you give introverts looking to meet people or build friendships? I covered just the tip of the iceberg here - share your own thoughts in the comments!

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