Okay, I almost hesitate to write about this topic right now, because I know a lot of you are gonna read it and be like, “What the fuck? He’s basically telling us it’s all luck.”
But I want you to read carefully and see what I am and am not saying. I do think having a vibrant social life involves a lot of luck, but I also think that if you know what you’re looking for, then you’re gonna be able to maximise that luck.
As I was saying yesterday, in my brief time writing this column, I’ve heard from others who have built strong and vibrant social lives out of nothing, and the same sort of stories keep cropping up: one woman met someone seven years ago on OKCupid, went out with them, just as friends, to a barbecue, and she’s still friends with some of the people she met at that barbecue; another woman found a friend on livejournal in 2001 and became friends with that person’s entire friend circle, such that even now, after the original friend is largely not around anymore because she’s had a child, my respondent is still friends with the remainder of the circle.
In my own life I’ve experienced this in pretty dramatic ways. I lived in DC for two years after graduating college, and even though it’s the place I grew up, and it’s a place where I still had plenty of high school (and college) friends, I never really built any kind of friend circle. I saw people one-on-one or in small groups, but it was always at an interval of a month or a few weeks, and it never turned into anything bigger.
Then I moved to Oakland, CA, where I knew precisely one person: my former college roommate, B. He’s a person I was very close with in college, but whom I hadn’t spoken much to in the intervening two years.
However I immediately began handing out with him five days a week, just chilling in his living room, shooting the shit. Gradually I became close with his two roommates as well (they more or less had to start liking me, given the amount of time I spent in their house), who were also his close friends. His one roommate had a circle of close college friends who all lived nearby: I got to know all of them. B also had a circle that included a lot of his coworkers, and he took me out to their Friday happy hours. I became close with them, friended them on Facebook, and they started inviting me to events. B was also part of the local folk music scene. I went out to a number of house shows with him, and I became familiar with people that way.
Now, five years later, I can look at my wedding invite list and see a whole slew of people I wouldn’t know if it wasn’t for B. Some of them he didn’t even know well: I was introduced to them as a second-order, by people B knew. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes somebody will ask how I know someone else, and instead of saying, “Oh, they’re the business partner of the husband of the roommate of my former college roommate,” I’ll just go, “Ehh, just through the Oakland scene.”
And I have numerous, though far less dramatic, stories like this.
General Principle #4 — The best way to find a social circle is to befriend an “includer,” somebody who finds joy, whether they know it or not, in integrating other people into their friend group.
The point I’m trying to make here is that not all friendships are equal in their fertility. Most friendships won’t make you part of something larger. Even if the friend does belong to some bigger social scene, they’ll often, largely for reasons of comfort or lack of confidence, fail to integrate you with that scene. Whereas a minority of friends are includers, and these are the people you need to know.
But that’s a general principle. Let’s get back to our lonely person sitting in a room. How can they use this advice?
Well we’re talking about social opportunities, and I’d say the number one social opportunity is an includer. If you befriend a person, and they start inviting you out to gatherings, brunches, potlucks, etc, where you don’t know anybody else (esp. ones where they’re not the host) then you’re probably dealing with an includer.
Now, I’m not saying you need to use this opportunity. Often you’ll go out with this person and find, well, you don’t actually like their friends. In that case, you don’t need to keep doing it. Just because somebody’s an includer doesn’t mean they’re including you in something you necessarily want to be part of.
But consider it.
And when you survey the people you know, think about who might be includers. I find that includers often fold in people from their work, and befriending a coworker who’s also an includer is often the best way to segue from a work-based social life into something broader.
(Note: you can’t turn someone into an includer. Believe me, I’ve tried. It’s just something that’s part of their normal psychological makeup. They derive some joy from including people. So if you’re friends with someone who’s not like this, don’t try to force it.)
Alright, so befriending an includer is the easiest and most common way of generating social opportunities, but let’s say you can’t do that. Let’s say you have just moved into town, because, umm, your partner has a job here. And you’ve no job. And you’re not into geeky stuff or some other social grouping that’s easily penetrable by outsiders.
In my next post, we’re gonna talk absolute rock-bottom basics.