Awhile back there was a New York Times article that said, essentially, the key to making friends is “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.” And, personally, I’ve never found a better summation of the issue than that. Trying to make friends is a fool’s game. What you need is to enter situations in which friends-making happens naturally.
Which is something many people intuitively understand, which is why they’ll recommend that you join some sort of club or organization in order to make friends.
But here’s where the advice breaks down, because they’ll be like, “Go to meetup groups! Join a book club! Volunteer for something you’re really passionate about!”
No. This is the advice of somebody who’s not thinking strategically. Because the goal here isn’t to read more books or to help people; it’s to make friends. And if you’re going to do that, then you need to do two things: a) hang around people you actually like; and b) do it in a place and time in which friends-making is possible.
For me, that rules out most Meetup groups, for the simple reason that: a) they’re incredibly formal and awkward; and b) they’re full of lonely, friendless people. You don’t want to be having superficial interactions with other lonely people who’ve been thrown together by chance. You want, ideally, to be making your first steps into joining some sort of social group that will become your new community. A meetup group, unless it’s a very special place, is never gonna be a community.
There is a reason that one of my first pieces of advice on this topic was to stop hanging out with people who bore you. It’s because the key to making friends is selectivity. This is going to be an excruciating and terrible process, which means that the reward needs to be worth the risk. That’s why you need to sit down and think, “What kind of person do I actually like? What have my current friends been like? What sort of life do I see myself leading?”
I’m not saying that friendship should be aspirational (in fact, the idea sort of repulses me), and I’m not advocating any kind of social climbing. Ideally I’d like the friendship search to be free of status considerations. Indeed, I think this is uniquely possible when it comes to friend-finding, because when you choose a friend group, you are also choosing a set of values. For instance, I’ve spent much of my life hanging out with slackers, and for them it’s a mark of pride not to have a normal full-time salaried job. To the rest of society they might be at the bottom, but in their view, they’ve figured out something all the salarymen haven’t.
Anyway, I can’t tell you exactly where you’re going to find the people you want to be friends with. But I can tell you some of my experiences in this vein. For instance, because I write science fiction and fantasy stories, it’s relatively easy for me to go to geek events and science fiction conventions, and for awhile I thought this would be where I found the majority of my adult friends.
But over time I came to realize…I don’t actually get along that well with fan culture, because, on a fundamental level, I’m just not a fan. I don’t watch that much TV. I don’t play video games nowadays. And, more importantly, I just don’t want to talk about that stuff. There’s a limit to the amount of time I can spend talking about superhero movies and Game of Thrones and whatever else is on TV.
Not that my conversation is particularly highbrow, but what I do like to do, which is gossip and tell stories, often makes geeky types uncomfortable, because in geek circles you often don’t talk about your emotions or social lives. Which is totally fine, but it’s not for me.
So at some point I decided I’d stop prioritizing attendance at geek events, because although it’s a great place to make friends (many people talk about a feeling of ‘coming home’ when they first encounter fan culture), it’s not a great place for me.
However, this did make it harder for me, because the people I like to hang out with aren’t really joiners. Like, this ‘join clubs and organizations’ advice is difficult, because…this isn’t the 50s. Most people aren’t down with the Rotary Club or the Kiwanis or whatever we’re talking about. Most people, if they have any sort of community, have either: a) a professional community; or b) a loosely-organized circle of interconnected friend groups that nevertheless form some sort of distinct ‘scene’ (think Girls or Sex and the City).
And that shit is tough to break into! And there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed! Which is why tomorrow I’m going to post down-to-earth disclaimer about the advice I’m offering here.