During childhood and adolescence, it can be much easier to develop friendships. Whether because parents have set up play dates, you are a member of a sports team, or because you are living on a hall with 50 other freshmen, you don’t have to exert as much effort or be as intentional in making friends. Similarly, most teens are at the same stage of life and share similar schedules. Fast forward to adulthood where the rush of work, life in general, and overall personal transitions (e.g., relocation, break-up, job change, becoming a parent) can place obstacles in connecting with others—almost like you are on an island isolated from peers. The problem is that meaningful relationships with others can decrease loneliness and anxiety, increase stability and happiness, and allow individuals to share their burdens or receive emotional support during difficult times. In order to swim off your current island, consider expanding your social network with the following strategies and tips:
- Show up: Woody Allen sums it up best, “80% of success is showing up.” When you are invited to a party or neighborhood events, when you walk by someone’s desk at work, when you are checking out at a grocery store, stop and make the effort to say hello. A perfect icebreaker may be, “How are you today.” Social media sites, such as Facebook and Google +, can help maintain relationships, but in-person contact is an important first step. Another way to consider it is by being the friend you want to have, as you will likely attract friends based on what you personally mirror to others.
- Consider your Interests and Passions: Use the gym, church, volunteer organizations, political group, and other settings that parallel common interests where you can connect with kindred spirits who share common values and pastimes. Eventually, you will likely run into the same people week after week, thus providing the opportunity for superficial friendships to turn into real friendships.
- Consider Social Media and Current Friend/Family Circles: Your family and friendship groups already represent a built-in buddy system. Consider networking through them or asking if you can interact with one another on a more regular and consistent basis. Alternatively, online communities (girlfriendcommunities.com) and groups (e.g., www.meetup.com) provide opportunities for not only connecting with others but also identifying activities and events in your community that cover a variety of interests (e.g., gardening and poetry to running clubs and speed dating opportunities). Consider getting a dog, which would allow you to pursue new interests while also connecting with human beings in dog parks.
- Challenge Negative Self-Talk: Fear of rejection is a real source of anxiety and worry for most individuals. It can be difficult to put yourself out there and take a risk to meet someone new. Using affirmations and positive self-talk, such as everyone desires and deserves meaningful relationships, most people do not like the beginning stages of forming connections and find it awkward, and every relationship has to start somewhere in order for it to become emotionally deep. Insecurities are normal, but remember you have the choice and power of quieting those unhelpful and generally untrue voices.
- Start Slow and Be Patient: Remember, the goal is quality over quantity, and that every attempt at forming a friendship or connection isn’t realistic. For example, you wouldn’t expect to marry the person you first dated (although it does happen) or expect to be hired with just one submitted application. So reduce some of the pressures when you are making friendships. It is also important to acknowledge that friendships will blossom over time as you become more vulnerable, open, honest, and intimate with each other. Consider the metaphor of a burning fire. In order for the fire to remain alive and strong, it takes energy, effort, and time. Some pieces of wood may make the fire burn more intensely, while other pieces may not be as powerful or helpful. Choose your wood wisely and don’t let your friendship fire extinguish due to neglect or becoming too busy.