It’s hard to _try_ to make friends; what’s more productive is to find situations where friendships will form naturally

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.

Don’t listen to all the terrible clickbait friend-making advice out there

Most clickbait advice is written by people who’ve never actually tried it. Either that, or they’re terribly unobservant. That’s the only explanation I can give for all the articles you’ll find if you google “How do I make friends as an adult.”

Don’t click through! Don’t even give them the satisfaction! All of those articles are like, “Go to meetup groups! Find people you like! Invite those people to chill! Keep making plans with them!”

Which sounds great, until you think: “Is this how people actually make friends?”

Because it’s really not. Most friend-making happens slowly and unconsciously. You see someone around a few times at a party or some big gathering. You find yourself drawn into conversation with them. Then maybe you’re going on an outing of some sort, and they tag along. Perhaps you’re in their part of town and you text them to see if they want to get coffee. Then maybe a few months pass, during which you run across them only occasionally. Maybe a few years pass, and you move to a new town, and they’re in that town too, and you reconnect. You get really distraught over something, and they’re the only person on Twitter so you talk to them over Direct Message for a few hours. Then one day you’re looking for brunch plans, and you text them, and they’re surprisingly down! You have a great time, and maybe you go to a movie afterwards. You start texting them more often. They become your go-to stop when you’re lonely. Maybe you carpool to work or something. Or you park your car in their garage when you’re out of town. They come to you crying about some shit with the guy who broke their heart, and you tell them they’re amazing and he’s an idiot. You tell them about all the guys who’ve broken your own heart. They invite you to parties, you meet their friends.

And then there’s the ebb of friendship too. Maybe they move a few miles away. Or they get a more stressful job. Or you do. Maybe they get really into roller derby, and you don’t hate it, but you’re just not into it. Suddenly all they can talk about is roller derby, and they can’t hang out, because they’re always derbying with the derby girls. You’re like, hey…that shit is dangerous. But they’re like ohhh that’s good old cautious Rahul–he’s so staid, he’s just totally not down to snort cocaine all night and throw trashcans into the street like us derbiers are. And now you only see them once a month. Or once every six months. Maybe at some point they’re only a picture on Facebook.

But imagine how this would go if you followed the clickbait advice. You’d go to a friend’s housewarming. You’d meet someone cool. You’d be like, “Oh hey you’re awesome, let’s hang out!” Then you’d text them, “When you wanna hang out?” And they’d comb their schedule, and you’d find a date maybe three weeks from now, and maybe you’d make it, and you’d sit across the table from each other, being like, what the hell do we talk about, we are two strangers! Or perhaps, because you don’t really know each other, you’d feel no need to be good to each other, so you flake out, first one and then the other. And you try to reschedule, but it never really happens.

And you’d think it was your fault! Or theirs! You’d be like, wow, this was such a boring person! Or such an asshole! And you’d keep trying to follow this terrible, time-consuming, and self-defeating advice until, if you were lucky, you connected with someone who was charismatic and together enough to do the work of friendship for you.

The problem with clickbait advice is that it’d have you believe that the way you make friends as an adult is in some way essentially different from how you did it in high school and college. But it’s not. Adults aren’t that different from teenagers; we simply live in a different social environment. And the trick isn’t to flail our arms and brute-force our way through our environment’s limitations: it’s to find ways to change that environment.

Which is why, although I’ll have plenty of advice here about person-to-person interactions, my primary lesson is that the main thing you need to do is find groups of people to interact with.

General Principle #2 — You’re not just looking for individual friends, you’re also looking to be part of a community.

Okay, but that leads us to a piece of fallacious clickbait advice that I’m going to attack tomorrow. This idea that you just need to “get out there and join some groups.”

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The first step to gaining friends is to stop hanging out with people you don’t actually like

Loneliness activates some panic reaction in us. We don’t sit back and think, “Hmm, what do I do?” In fact, we often don’t think about it at all. That’s because the implications of loneliness (“I am so worthless that nobody could possibly love me”) are so catastrophic that if we were to confront them, we’d need to destroy ourselves.

For this reason, our response to loneliness is often driven by instinct. Most commonly, this leads us to cling to whatever group of people we can possibly find. Often, this is the first group of people we stumbled upon when we came to a new city.

Personally I hate foreign travel, precisely because of the sense of loneliness, but I have a friend who loves it: she’s spent years living in Argentina. And not on a study abroad sort of deal. She just packed up and went there. And during her travels she always seems to form magical and intensely meaningful connections with people.

So I asked her, “What’s your secret? How do you do it?”

And she said, “Well, the main advice I can give is: if you don’t like a group of people, don’t hang out with them.”

I laughed, since that seems sort of obvious, but she clarified that oftentimes when you land up in a country there’ll be other expats there who’re also terribly lonely, and you’ll gravitate to each other. But now, because you’re together, you’ll have closed off the space into which somebody new would’ve come. The main thing, she said, was to dare to be alone and to trust that something good will happen.

Years passed before I realized how true this advice was. It’s a really hard thing to explain, because on some level it’s not intuitive. How can having friends prevent you from making other friends? Sure, this group of people might mostly spend their time talking about football and office politics, but they’re nice, aren’t they? And they seem to really like me! Why should I give up on what’s basically the only pleasure in my life? And it’s not like I’m in an exclusive relationship with them. Surely I can find other people at the same time.

And the reason is…well…it’s basically a matter of time. Oftentimes these groups of people are closed-off, self-sustaining bodies that fulfill all the emotional needs of their members. Thus, they have activities often enough that they’re gonna fill up a lot of the time when you could be meeting new people. Secondly, finding new people is uncomfortable. It makes you feel really bad. And if you’ve got this other group to fall back upon, you’re gonna do it.

Which isn’t terrible! Not at all!

But…it’s self-defeating in the end. Because if you don’t really connect with these people, you’ll never become close with them. And they’ll sense it. Over time, you’ll have to work harder and harder to stay connected with them, and you’ll still be left with nothing, except you’ll also have wasted years.

Sigh.

What a sad image! So that leads us to the first of (what will hopefully be many of) my general principles.

General Principle #1 — Don’t hang out with people who bore you, or who you, for whatever reason, don’t really click with. In this case “good enough” really is worse than nothing.

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(Note, I’m not talking about getting rid of toxic friends. That’s something different! I’m talking about ditching people who, although they’re perfectly fine, are just not your people.)

Okay, so now that you’re considering dumping this group of friends, I’m gonna get more into the specifics. But one thing you might’ve noticed from these three posts is that I always talk about friends in the plural. Isn’t that weird? I mean most people aren’t greedy. They don’t want to be social butterflies. They just want a few close friends. And, for this reason, most friend-making advice is geared around making a few close friends (“Find someone you like. Invite them out for coffee. Sit awkwardly with them for an hour. Go home and cry into your pillow because it was so awkward. Then do it again.)

I think that’s bullshit, and that making friends one-by-one is a terrible and self-defeating idea. Tomorrow I’ll talk about why.

[Note: This blog is part of an ongoing series on making friends, which I call “The War on Loneliness,” and I’d love your input. Share your own stories, experiences, and feelings in the comments! Or if you want to be more anonymous, email me at rahulkanakia@gmail.com. Please let me know if you have any questions you want answered. And if you like this, consider sharing the link. Or click through to the Medium or WordPress versions and share or recommend that instead.]

I’m not an expert in making friends; I’m an expert in fighting loneliness

Yesterday I closed by writing about loneliness. Now, I could wax poetic about the nature of this loneliness, but one of my favorite passages in all of literature (it’s from Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal) puts it much better than I could:

Being alone is not the most awful thing in the world. You visit your museums and cultivate your interests and remind yourself how lucky you are not to be one of those spindly Sudanese children with flies beading their mouths. You make out to-do lists—reorganise linen cupboard, learn two sonnets. You dole out little treats to yourself—slices of icecream cake, concerts at Wigmore Hall. And then, every once in a while, you wake up and gaze out of the window at another bloody daybreak, and think, I cannot do this anymore. I cannot pull myself together again and spend the next fifteen hours of wakefulness fending off the fact of my own misery.

People like Sheba think that they know what it’s like to be lonely. They cast their minds back to the time they broke up with a boyfriend in 1975 and endured a whole month before meeting someone new. Or the week they spent in a Bavarian steel town when they were fifteen years old, visiting their greasy-haired German pen pal and discovering that her handwriting was the best thing about her. But about the drip, drip of long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don’t know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to sit in a darkened flat on Halloween night, because you can’t bear to expose your bleak evening to a crowd of jeering trick-or-treaters. Or to have the librarian smile pityingly and say, “Goodness, you’re a quick reader!” when you bring back seven books, read from cover to cover, a week after taking them out. They don’t know what it is to be so chronically untouched that the accidental brush of a bus conductor’s hand on your shoulder sends a jolt of longing straight to your groin. I have sat on park benches and trains and school room chairs, feeling the great store of unused, objectless love sitting in my belly like a stone until I was sure I would cry out and fall, flailing to the ground. About all of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.

When I read this passage, several years ago, I cried, because I knew exactly what that felt like. When I wrote yesterday about the three categories of adults, I wrote with authority, because I’ve been in all of them. And sometimes the switches between them have been so rapid that they’ve taken me utterly by surprise. I’ve gone from cities where I knew hundreds of people to cities where I knew nobody. I’ve had the small, intimate group of friends that fell apart and left me with nothing. And I’ve sat or stood for hours in parties and in convention halls where everybody knew everybody else, and where nobody wanted to know me, and I have wept. I have felt, sometimes for years at a time, as if my friendship was something so worthless I couldn’t even give it away, and I’ve had the other experience—I’ve turned down friendship overtures from desperately lonely people who I just didn’t click with.

But I’m not an expert at making friends. I’m really not. I’ve met experts. People who start off as the funniest and wittiest people you’ve met in your life, and then, in a second, focus on you such an intense wave of compassion and interest that you feel connected to them like you’ve felt connected to few other people on this earth.

That’s not me. I’m sometimes witty, but I’m also frequently tongue-tied, and I still embarrass myself all the time. I can’t even say that I’m good at making friends. It gets harder and harder as you get older, and I’m only thirty-one. If I ever move (I currently live in San Francisco), I’ll have to start over just like anybody else, and I might once again feel the loneliness that Zoe Heller wrote about.

What I am is an expert in fighting loneliness. And in my years of struggling against this enemy, I have learned a few things, and my intention with this series of blog posts is to try to convey them to other people in an orderly and systematic way.

These posts are intended for a person who wants to expand their social circle, make more friends, and make better, more intimate friends. Some of the advice will be things you’ve heard before (yes, joining some sort of organization is often a good way to meet people). Other advice will be radically different (for the love of God, don’t go to Meetup groups—you can’t build a robust social network by socializing only with other lonely people).

A lot of this stuff will be just as applicable for people who have lots of friends. The holy grail of friendship is intimacy: finding a person who you feel an enduring bond with; somebody with whom you can share your feeling and rely upon. For years I knew how to make casual friends but not how to find intimates. However in the last year or two I’ve started to crack the code on this question, and that’s why I finally feel qualified to write this post.

My next post is going to sound like a misnomer, because it’s about the importance of ditching friends. More specifically, it’s about the biggest barrier to making the right friends…

Anyways, more on that tomorrow.

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How to make friends as an adult (even when you’re not particularly interesting, attractive, or charismatic).

 

So far as I can tell, most adults have no roots in the area where they live. They didn’t grow up there. And, if they went to college, their college was in some other place. They often relocated to their current metro area either for a job, graduate school, or with the aspiration of leading a cool and awesome life. They often work hard, but not quite hard enough to disguise the emptiness of their lives. During the day, they’re friendly enough with the people they work / go to school with. After work, they might go out to a happy hour with those people. Then, if they’re lucky, they go home to a significant other. Otherwise, in the evenings they exercise, go on dates, watch Netflix, play electronic games, or browse the internet.

It’s only in the residuum of their time—their weekends and the few weekday evenings they spend with friends—that these adults diverge.

About one third of adults have a large, diverse, and vibrant body of friends that includes both nodding acquaintances and very intimate friendships. They have a friend circle large enough that they won’t spiral into loneliness if they lose one or two people. On weekends, they have things to do (or with some effort they can drum up some things to do). They’re not immune from loneliness, but objectively speaking, they have it pretty good. Many times this group of friends is a loosely-organized group whose nexus is the friends they made in college. But often enough the group has a different basis. Sometimes it’s made of people they met through work (either at their current or at previous jobs). Other times it’s something that grew from a hobby (pen and paper roleplaying or folk music, for instance). Sometimes it’s anchored by formal membership in a group (often true with political activism), but more often it’s not. There is just this sense that there is an ‘us.’ They have community, is what I’m saying. One third of adults have some sort of community.

Another third of adults has close friendship, but no community. What I mean is they have between two and ten people they call “friend,” and that they see at least some of these people regularly. However, the group is fragile. Often it’s held together by a few people who do a disproportionate amount of effort. If they had children or moved, it’d fall apart. Now I’m not saying that this tranche of adults suck at life or that they’re less interesting or gregarious than people in the first group. Sometimes when you have a smaller group of friends it’s a matter of time or inclination: these adults might be working demanding jobs that leave them with little free time, or they might just be introverted and find it difficult to be around new people. Oftentimes people with little groups of friends aren’t even unhappy. What these groups are characterized by, frequently, is a large amount of intimacy. Everybody in the group knows each other well, and because of this, they can meet each others’ emotional needs. However, what worries me about these groups is their fragility. They’re closed off, which means they have no ability to replace the people that the group loses through natural attrition. When people with small groups of friends experience disruption, they have nobody waiting in the wings to replace the friends they’ve lost, and they find themselves falling into the final group.

And, finally, maybe somebody out there will dispute this, but as far as I can tell, one third of adults have no friends. Oh, they might not characterize themselves that way. They’re not freaks. Perhaps they made close friends in college or high school, but those friends live in other cities now. And they might have friends on message boards or in an online game. Many of them have significant others with whom they’re very close. These connections are all absolutely real, and if they satisfy, then I’ve nothing further to say.

But oftentimes these adults are lonely. They know they’re missing something real: the tangible, physical experience of another person who enjoys your company. They’re missing laughter and teasing and jokes. And they’re missing intimacy. Somebody who’ll visit when you’re sick. Somebody who’ll notice when you’re looking withdrawn. Perhaps these people have a friend or two from college who lives in the same town, but it’s hard to make schedules mesh, so you only see each other once a month. Perhaps they’re part of a meetup group, but those people are only one step up from strangers.

This is the loneliness that drives people to suicide, and it’s this loneliness that I want to try to combat. Oh, I’m not saying that the other two groups don’t have something to learn from me, but I am so tired of walking through this city of mine (San Francisco) and seeing so many desperately lonely people. And when I see these people in the streets and in the bars, I always find myself thinking of the other people: the ones who never make it onto the street. The ones trapped in their apartments, because they know—right down to the core of their bones—that they have nothing to offer anybody.

Okay, so this was my intro post for what I hope’ll be a new series here that I’m calling “The War On Loneliness.” Tomorrow I’m gonna write a little bit more about my intentions and about how I expect this is gonna go.

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I’m trying to take this blog in a slightly new direction, and I’m interested in what people have to say, so if you’ve any additions to make or disagreements with what I’ve said, please leave a comment here or email me at rahulkanakia@gmail.com. I’d also ideally like to have an advice columnist aspect going on here, so if you’ve any questions or issues, send me an email!

I’ve learned the absolute best way to get invited to parties!

d795e10cd46b2a21e65379c958b437b4Throw some.

There it is. That’s the sum of my advice.

But in case you need clarification, I love parties. I enjoy hanging out with my friends. I like intimate dinners and casual chilling. I’m even down with spending a friday night alone. But if I’m not going to parties and meeting new people, I just feel depressed. I start to feel like my social life is closed, and my life is over.

About two months ago, I started to get that feeling again. I’d just started dating someone, and while that was good, I felt like I was spending too much time with people who I already knew. So in order to correct this, I decided to throw my own party! A Garden Party! I had it in my garden, and I invited everybody that I knew. I prefer daytime parties, because no matter how many people come, it’s always a success. Two to eight people? It’s a brunch. Eight to twenty? it’s a gathering. Twenty or more? It’s a party. You’re never at that awkward stage (so long as you control how much food you make) where you reveal that you were expecting more people than arrived.

Anyway, the Garden Party went off well and a good time was had by all, so a few days ago, I had my 30th birthday party. That too was good. It was fancy dress themed! We’ve got some amazing pictures, somewhere (I really do need to find those pictures).

But the unintended consequence of all this is that I’ve been getting way more party invites than I normally do. What I hadn’t anticipated was that when you invite someone to a party of yours, they feel bound to invite you to their parties, even if they don’t come to yours.

And since I am shameless, I will definitely go to the party of someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in the last seven years. No better time for reconnecting than the present, am I right?

Other nice thing about throwing parties: you can see who wants to be your friend.

I don’t use parties as a litmus test for friendship. I think friends of mine, even good friends, can have good reasons (health or other engagements or even just not feeling like it) for not coming to a party of mine. One of the nice things about friendship is that you feel secure in the other person’s affections, and they don’t need to constantly prove themselves to you. However, when someone you’re _not_ close to comes to your party, then you can be like, hmm, this person maybe wants to be my friend. It’s not a promise, or anything. But the possibility is there.

I’m not quick to make friends. I’ve realized that, on average, I tend to be acquaintances with someone for like 3-4 years before becoming an actual “I have your cell phone number and we sometimes make plans to hang out just the two of us” friends. Not saying this is the best way to be–it is simply my way. And because of that, I have a long list of acquaintances who will maybe someday become my friends, and throwing these parties has been a good way to sort through those people a little bit.

Trying to avoid feeling angry and bitter after having negative interactions with people

Baby__disgust1This weekend I became briefly irritated with a friend of mine and snapped at them. And when I walked away from the interaction, I felt appalled and angry and immediately started to try to justify my anger by thinking about all the ways that I was in the right and they were in the wrong, and all the ways I was patient and nice and respectful and they were awful and disrespectful. And I feel like that’s something I always do. I turn a brief moment of anger into a referendum on someone’s character and on my relationship with them.

I think the reason for this is that there’s something really terrifying about having even a mildly negative interaction with someone. Not only do I worry that they’ll dislike me and feel bad and think of me as an awful person, but I also worry that I might actually be an awful person.

And I think a part of me feels like if I can preemptively prove to myself that they are awful, then I can avoid feeling bad about myself.

Really, though, the whole thing is pretty unnecessary. It was a moment of anger. There’s no need to make it more than that. If it becomes a pattern or if it results in a chill in our friendship, then we’ll hug it out. Or if it’s indicative of some larger pattern of poor behavior on their part, then I should address it. At no point, though, do I need to feel angry and bitter and bad about things. And although I know that on an intellectual level, I find it difficult to avoid the bitterness and anger.

Right now, I think perhaps my method for coping with the anger is actually what’s exacerbating the anger. There’s something so immediately satisfying about thinking, “I’m not a bad person, they’re the bad person.” But after I think that, then the anger becomes righteous. It’s not an institution inside of me. Whereas if I refused to anchor the anger to those kinds of thoughts, then it would probably dissipate faster.

You know what is weird?

You have these friends, right. Your friend friends–the ones you can call and make plans with. And they have their friend friends–who they call and make plans with. And oftentimes you end up doing things with their friend friends–partying, going camping, going to the beach, etc. You spend a LOT of time with their friends. So much so that you become friends with their friends.

But you never really cross over into that place where you’re independently making plans. Sometimes you do, eventually, when your interstitial friend goes away. Or maybe you never do! Maybe when your interstitial friend goes away, you stop seeing those people entirely. Both are an option. I don’t think it’s either happy or sad. My perspective is that if I want to see someone (and they have the time to be seen), then I will see them. And if I don’t, then it was because the interest wasn’t really there.

With regards to scheduling my social life, I have ten rules (that I admittedly sometimes break)

RotI am a big fan of rules-of-thumb. (If I was a more sophisticated talker, I might call them heuristics). And I have several rules of thumb with regards to how I schedule things. Now I’m a bit embarrassed to reveal these, I’m sure that almost everyone who reads this post is going to be able to think of times when I’ve done the exact opposite, but still, these are the principles that I attempt to live by.

  1. Don’t schedule more than a week in advance – I hate it when you’re trying to see someone, and it’s like booking a trip to the dentist: the nearest appointment they can give you is a Tuesday afternoon three weeks from now. If you know that you can never see a person when you want to (because they never have any immediate time available), then it puts a bit of a damper on a friendship, because it’s like, “What’s the point? The most I’ll ever get out of this person is a few hours a month.”
  2. Keep some free evenings – In my opinion, a person’s best and closest friends are the ones who’re comfortable texting you to be all, “Hey, what’re you doing right now? Want to hang out?” And guess what? You’re never going to make any friends like that if your answer is always, “I’m busy.” That’s why I try to keep some space in my schedule (including Fridays and Saturdays, sometimes). Admittedly, this means you spend some nights alone…but that’s not really the worst thing in the world.
  3. Don’t shop around for better plans – Like everyone, I’ve had the experience of committing to a dinner with a friend and then being invited to something way better, like A ZEPPELIN RAVE! YEAH, YOU HEARD ME, A RAVE ON A ZEPELLIN!!! WOOHOOO!!!! And, like everyone, I’m tempted to ditch or reschedule my friend in order to make the zeppellin rave. Sometimes I succumb to that impulse. However, I do my best not to. In general, I try to prioritize people and relationships over experiences. The Zeppellin Rave might be amazing, but no one really expects me to be there, while my friend is actually trying to be with me.
  4. Try not to commit to more than one party in a night – This is usually not a big deal for me, since, honestly, who has the energy to bounce from location to location? But sometimes I will have an afternoon thing and an evening thing and a night thing. In general, though, I don’t like it. First of all, it’s rude. It’s like, okay, you’re here, but you’ve got one foot out the door. Secondly, it cuts down on spontaneity! How’re you going to meet someone new or experience something new if you have to leave after just an hour or three?
  5. Avoid meeting people in bars – I understand going out for happy hour, since sometimes it’s a nice, chill environment. But I will never understand peoples’ desire to go out in a big group, at night, to a bar. It’s noisy and expensive and you never meet anyone new. You’re basically just drinking whilst looking at other people who are also drinking. What I especially don’t understand is the bar crawl. You spend an hour in one bar and then go to another bar where you do exactly the same thing! Now if you’re going out to dance or to scam on chicks and/or dudes, then I understand (and might participate), but in most cases that is not what is happening. It’s just sitting around and drinking. No. I’d rather do that in someone’s apartment. I also don’t like the sense of expectation that surrounds a bar night. You get all dressed up and you go out and you’re like, “Wow! Now something is supposed to happen!” But it never does.
  6. If it’s the first time I’ve been invited to do something with a particular social circle, then I force myself to go — In most cases, I really like the idea of meeting new people, but once the event is an hour or two away, I always think to myself, “Oh my god, I really don’t want to do this.” In these cases, I usually try to overcome that inertia and make myself go out. On a practical level, you need to go at least once or you’ll stop being invited to things. Also, on an emotional level, it’s never going to be a good time to be around new people. But once I see them at least once then the barrier is broken and from then on I’ll be much less reluctant to see them.
  7. Accept most invites – As a corollary to the above, I’ll go to pretty much anything that people invite me to, and I’ll meet pretty much everyone who wants to meet me. I imagine there might someday be a point in my life where this becomes impossible, but right now there doesn’t seem to be any sense in turning away anyone who wants to know me better.
  8. Avoid flaking out – There is, of course, a sliding scale on this. If it’s the sort of thing where no one is specifically expecting me to come, then I’m more likely to flake out. But yeah, I do at least try to come to things that I’ve said I’ll go to. And I like to think that I never practice the last-minute flake out: the kind where you cancel just an hour or two before (or after!) you’re supposed to show up.
  9. No 45-minute meals – This must be an American thing, right? I hate leaving my apartment and getting in my car and going somewhere (sometimes ten or twenty or forty miles away!) and then the meal is over in less time than the commute.  But it can be kind of difficult to avoid. For a long time I thought that eating slower was the solution, but I’ve discovered that restaurants are pretty good at ushering you out after 45 minutes, even if there’s still food on your plate. Sometimes I have to crouch down low and guard my plate, as if I’m an ex-con, in order to stop the waiter from taking it. The solution, I find, is to eat either at pubs or at places where you order at the counter, pay upfront, and take your food back to your table.
  10. Avoid making Schroedinger’s plans – Similar to shopping around for better plans is when you keep everything in a state of uncertainty until the last minute, because you’re waiting to see what else will turn up. You know, when your friend is like, “Hey, want to do something on Friday?” and you’re like, “Yeah, maybe. Let me get back to you.” I feel this temptation quite a bit, because I know that come Friday, people will be texting and stuff will come up. But on further inspection, it’s kind of crazy. Here’s someone who wants to chill with you, and you’re putting them on hold in favor of nobody: a plan that doesn’t even exist yet. Additionally, there’s an element of rudeness. Why should other people have to put their planning on hold just because you can’t commit?

Hmm, I feel like there are more, but since ten is a nice round number, I guess I’ll stop here.

I know what it’s like to be unable to talk to people

97-talking-to-strangersOftentimes when I give advice on how to be social, I can feel people thinking, “Oh, but he doesn’t understand. I have crippling social anxiety. For me, talking to people is torture.”

And it’s true that I can’t look into your heart and know how difficult things are for you. I’ve certainly never had a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Never had a panic attack or anything like that.

But for most of my life, I found it very difficult to talk to people and to make friends. I remember that when I was a reporter at my college newspaper, I would frequently blow my deadlines because I found the thought of calling people up to be so nervewracking that I’d put it off until I knew they’d be out of the office.

When I was in college, part of the reason I took up smoking was so that I’d have a reason to stand by myself for hours without looking completely out of place. Back then, I used to go to the same parties week after week and see the same people week after week, and I’d still find myself completely unable to talk to them. The only way that I knew how to socialize was to get incredibly drunk, night after night, and pray that somehow I’d punch through the glass wall that separated me from other people. And sometimes I was lucky. Sometimes, I’d find that magic drunken state that allowed me to talk to people, and I’d briefly manage to form a connection. Because of this, I literally cannot remember how I met most of my college friends.

But once I was sober, I couldn’t remember how any of it had worked.  When I was sober, I couldn’t talk to anyone. I’d hug the wall, completely silent, or stand at the edge of a conversation without ever saying a word. And then, when I couldn’t tolerate the loneliness anymore, I’d leave. And for the whole walk home, I’d berate myself about how terrible and awkward I was.

I also had incredible trouble with basic communication tasks. Like, I had an absolute blockage about calling people up and making plans. I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I’d wait around for them to get in touch with me. And when they didn’t, I’d spend the night alone. For some reason, text messaging also made me incredibly anxious. I just couldn’t do it. Something about sending out a text just seemed so bold and so forward, and it felt like I was taking such a huge liberty with another person. I remember that it felt like a huge victory, during my senior year of college, when I was finally able to text a friend of mine to say, “Hey, want to do something tonight?” And I remember that for years, that friend was the only person who I felt comfortable texting.

I don’t know what accounts for these feelings. I think it was just a sense of unworthiness. I felt like I had nothing to offer other people, and that there was no reason for anyone to want to choose to be with me, which meant that I mainly socialized by hanging around on porches or lounges or in parties and seeing whoever happened to be around. All of which meant that my romantic life was a complete shambles. I never had any romantic relationships in high school or in college, and I didn’t go on my first real date until I was twenty-five years old.

After school, I was just lost. During the two years I spent in DC, I had basically zero social life. The only people who I regularly saw were one friend from college and one friend from high school. And whenever I went to a party, I’d get so outrageously drunk that I’d feel embarrassed to ever see those people again.

Coming back from that was a very slow process. Even during my first years in Oakland, I found it hard to talk to new people and solidify new friendships. It wasn’t until I was in Baltimore and was completely on my own that I made an effort to figure out how to talk to strangers and how to turn acquaintances into friends.

Anyway, I’m writing this down so that you know where I’m coming from. I’ve gotten in trouble before because of things I’ve written about introversion and about social anxiety, and the truth is that I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and I don’t know to what extent shyness and anti-social behavior are innate character traits. Some people are okay with being shy, and that’s good for them. But other people are not okay with it. They desperately want to connect with other people, and are stymied by their own shyness. But instead of doing something about it, they say, “I am naturally shy. This is who I am.” And I don’t think that’s a helpful belief.

Because I know that it is possible for a person to change. For me, it took many years (more than a decade), but I’ve eventually reached a place where I am more comfortable in many social situations than most people are. Perhaps I’ll never be a charmer, but I am more socially adept than most people who never had to struggle with shyness.