I wanted to start this post with a little story about myself. Before I begin, though, I don’t want sympathy (not that I deserve it anyway), but rather I want to explain the experiences I went through in order to get to where I am today. It was the way the first 18 years of my life went that allowed me to be who I am today; outgoing, confident, and a very good friend. This post will be your crash course in making and keeping friends if you have difficulty doing so. Even you don’t, this should help in becoming a better friend to those you already have (which is always ideal for everyone involved). Alright, now for my story:
I had a very interesting childhood; my parents divorced when I was 2 years old, so luckily I didn’t have to go through the major stress that can put on children old enough to understand. However, it put my mother in a tough financial situation, and essentially her and I were forced to move every year, as we rented and went lease to lease. By the age of 13 I had moved 11 times. Needless to say, it was incredibly hard to not only make, but especially to keep friends. I was constantly forced to break outside of my shell and go meet new people; otherwise I would be alone. I don’t regret this experience, it is just much different from most people I talk to who have a friend or two that they have been friends with since they were in second grade; I don’t have that. What this experience forced me to learn, though, is to be myself first and foremost, and second to let down all my barriers. With some long-lasting friendships, it is easy to be content with the amount of friends you have, and basically not try to make any other friends. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is completely different from how I had to grow up. If I did that, I would have NEVER made friends.
Once I got to high school, it became more difficult for me to make friends for a few reasons: I lived 15 minutes out-of-town, in a different school district (so no neighbors went to school with me), I wasn’t extraordinarily good at sports, I wasn’t extremely good-looking, or very funny. So being outgoing didn’t get me as far as I would have liked. I really only have one or two actual people I would consider friends from my high school years. As a teenager that young, it is hard to join a clique when no one knows who you are. However, it is not impossible to make friends.
College was a different story; it was a chance for me to start fresh and shed the feeling of not being able to make friends. Everyone is college (especially the dorms) is forced to open up to other people, since at best there are around 10 people from their high school there (I had none, since I moved to SLO from Oregon). I took the opportunity to get ahead early, and I introduced myself to every single person in the dorms. It goes without saying, I had a huge group of friends within weeks. Not only that, but I brought people together that normally wouldn’t have hung out, and I made a couple very close friendships as well. Since than, I have never turned back. I am always the first person in a room to put my hand out to be shaken, and will never hesitate to spark up conversation with someone I just met.
So, now you’re probably like, “great, you made friends, but you didn’t explain how in any way.” You’re right, but like I said, I wanted to frame a background of my experiences with friendships so you would understand how I know so much about making friends and keeping them throughout the years. Since I like lists so much, I will give you the 3 different ways I have come up with to make friends, and the 5 different steps to keeping them:
1.) Pick the ‘low-hanging fruit.’ When trying to make friends, you want to start at the easiest places possible: school, work, church, neighbors, etc. These places require NO extra effort to be surrounded by people who you at least have a LITTLE in common with. So start there; introduce yourself to everyone in your classroom (by getting to class early), everyone in your workspace, everyone at church, or the neighbors on each side of your house/room. Once you know their names, you can say ‘hi’ to them each time you see them and begin to have basic conversations about where they are from, what are their hobbies, etc. Remember, a person’s favorite word in ANY language is their name, so repeat it often; subconsciously that person will start to like you more. Also, make sure you smile; it lowers the guard of the person you are talking to. Finally, ask QUESTIONS. Don’t blabber on about yourself, but instead ask as many questions as you can without sounding or feeling creepy about it- when a person talks about themselves, it builds trust between the two of you, which is the first step to friendship. When a basic trust has been formed, and commonalities discovered, it is time to ask the person to hang out; go see a movie, go to lunch, go play basketball (or sport of choice)… whatever. It doesn’t really matter, but a lot of the time, you have to be the instigator, because most people won’t take that next step. All while this is happening, be yourself and open-minded, and if the two of you have stuff in common, you will be well on your way to a friendship.
2.) Become involved with your community. A great source of friends is at any sort of club or organizational meeting. First of all, these groups will be formed because all of the members have something they enjoy in common (such as skiing, etc), so it’s the easiest icebreaker in the world. Second, these people are obviously looking to do more than this particular activity; they want to do it with other people, so there’s an EXCELLENT chance they are looking to make friends. So, it’s kind of a slam dunk, but it’s the second on the list because you usually have to pay to join clubs or organizations, or at least travel to get to the meetings/activities, so it involves more time commitment from you. However, these are usually the easiest friends to make. Take for instance, the Central Pacific Ski Club, in San Luis Obispo (where I went to school). I now have over 30 people I consider within my close group of friends from that club alone, and I’m a pretty horrible snowboarder to be honest. It doesn’t even matter your interest level in the activity of the club, but more so your ability to be outgoing and meet as many people as possible and attend as many events as you can. If you do this, and you are yourself, you will make friends without having to be awkward or try extremely hard.
3.) Throwing a ‘hail mary.’ Sorry for the football reference (so glad the lockout is over btw!), but it seemed appropriate for this tip. A hail mary is a last second, desperation play made in a football game. It is listed here for those who are just having NO luck making friends with the other methods. Basically this tip consists of: going to the mall, bars, parks, or any other public places. Once there, you locate some people you think you might want to talk to for whatever reason, and approach them. You might get the usual “Oh, I have to get going” after about 2 minutes of conversation, which is TOTALLY fine (wouldn’t you feel awkward with someone coming up to you trying to spark a conversation?). However, with enough efforts, you will eventually find a person or even a couple of people who are willing to sit and talk with you. I have literally started talking to someone at a park who was playing with their dog, ended up talking for 2 hours, then deciding we should hang out sometime and exchanging contact information. It just takes time to find the person who you’ll hit it off with. So, be patient, ask questions, be friendly, smile, and most of all be yourself.
Alright, so now you have a friend or group of friends, which is awesome, but you need to maintain friendships to make them meaningful and long-lasting. Here are the steps to doing just that:
1.) FACE TIME. No, not the iPhone’s ripoff of Skype, but actual face time! If you ever expect to keep a friendship going, you absolutely have to see them every once in a while! It doesn’t have to be everyday by any means, but once a month… a couple of times a year… something like that. There is no magic number, but it’s hard to keep wanting to hang out with someone who you NEVER get to hang out with, simple as that. So what do you do when you have face time with your friend(s)? You have as much fun as possible! The more positive the memories you make with them, the more they will think about you when you’re gone and invite you to things/make efforts to come see you. Go see movies, go see a show, have a party, go hiking, go to the beach… I’m not going to list all the possibilities. Just have fun. Don’t sit around in a house watching TV or playing video games just because you have some time off from work.
2.) Communication. This is CRUCIAL to friendships. When you aren’t seeing your friend, constant contact via email, Facebook, text, phone, or Skype/Facetime is going to remind them you are there. It is an effort, yes, but very important if you want to have things to talk about when you see them, as well as have them even remember you. You shouldn’t take it personally when someone doesn’t make an effort to contact you, because chances are, they are just as busy as you, plus they might have other friends they see everyday. So, to overcome this, just sending them a text every once in a while, posting a music video they might like, etc, are all acceptable things to maintain contact with your friends.
3.) Honesty. Lying to friends doesn’t work. It’s really stupid too. Just don’t do it. If you get caught lying to a friend, you will immediately lose their trust. Even if they don’t show it, they will begin to think of you as someone who is unreliable, and therefore a bad friend. This brings me to the next step:
4.) Reliability. No one likes a flake. If you say you’re going to be somewhere or do something, DO IT. If you don’t think you will be able to, or you aren’t completely sure, then let them know that, so they aren’t expecting you. Life is not like Facebook events, where RSVP’ing to an event uses ‘yes’ as ‘maybe’, ‘maybe’ as ‘no’, and ‘no’ as ‘no way in hell.’ When you say yes, maybe, or no, that is what people will expect, unless you allow them to view you as a flake. Don’t be one.
5.) Beeeeeeee Yourself! I really hope I don’t have to explain how to be yourself, but I will give you a couple of tips at least. If you don’t like a particular genre of music, don’t pretend you do. Don’t try to be funnier than you really are. Be able to laugh at yourself, though. If you are passionate about something, let your friend(s) know; they’ll appreciate it, and maybe even share the same passion. Don’t try to dominate the conversation if you’re not comfortable being the center of attention (there can only be so many ‘centers’ anyway). Finally, if you’re down about something, let your friend(s) know, and then LET THEM cheer you up; it makes everyone feel better.
OK, so I realize this was probably my longest post, and I’m sorry about that, but it’s something I really wanted to share. I think friendship is something that can be overlooked, especially once you get into the ‘real world,’ post college, but it shouldn’t be. Friendships are the most enriching part of a person’s life, because they can last forever. If you take anything away from this post, just remember to be yourself NO MATTER WHAT, and introduce yourself to as many people as possible; you can never have too many friends. I hope this helps, now go make some friends!