2 Jun 2014

No man is an island: about making new friends

We psychotherapists often hear the complaint that it was much easier to make friends when one was in high school, that when was is an adult it is much more difficult.

Let me be straightforward. It was never easy, either when you're sixteen or now that you are an adult, if you had not the will, the availability needed and some other skills that you can learn how to develop.

The first issue is will. Do you really want to make a new friend? Are you willing to listen to the other person but also to open up to someone else? Are you willing to search for new friends? Friends don't fall from the sky as you should know by now. The truth is, nothing comes from the sky except rain or snow. You have to work for it.

Now let's suppose you really want to make new friends. That you're aware that human beings need their own space but also need human contact.

Let's see what you should do.

1. Get out of your confort zone, home- o-work, work-to-home. Try to attend a long term cultural activity, a reading group, volunteer to work in a library, to enroll in a gym or dancing classes, practice a sport that implies regular attending, frequent an internet forum to share ideas and experiences with people with similar interests, learn a new language (attending classes, not on the internet), etc etc.

2. Be true to yourself. Think it over: what do I enjoy? Strange as it may seem, many people cannot answer this question. Try an exercise: if you'd wake up tomorrow morning with a new ability, what should that be? Would you like to know how to dance? Join a dance class. Would you like to be writer? Join a creative writing class. Do it right away. Make a search on the internet or ask someone, enroll, go the quickest you can to your first class. Don't think too much, just go. If it's a voluntary work, the same applies.

3. Let's assume you won your first battle again that comfortable inertia that has been pesting you for years if not decades (we'll talk about that later) and you've managed to enroll or join some group activity.

So, today is your first day in..... (fill in). Now you wonder: what shall I say when I make my appearance in .... ? Be true. Other people know well enough when we're not genuine. Introduce yourself, tell the others why you chose that activity and that you'd like to make friends with people with similar interests. Show yourself as curious and open to new experiences. Try to speak with most of the people present. Show a genuine interest in their lives and they'll be interested in yours as well. Human interaction is about exchanging. You'll find that you'll find yourself closer to a couple of persons, others will remain a bit more distant. Don't worry. We cannot please everyone - that's a childish and dangerous illusion. Not everyone has to like you and vice versa.

Let's assume that between you and another person the room there appear to exist a few affinities: it could be a smile, some mistake you two made in common, a similarity quickly perceived. Be alert to small signs.

4. Share thoughts and experiences with this person. You don't want to overwelm him or her with too much information in the beginning, but show openness and reveal something about yourself, preferably something personal and even slightly embarrasing. You'll see it's contagious.

5. On the first opportunity, invite that person to lunch, to a movie, whatever. But - this is very important - agree on a date the sooner you both can. Avoid vague phrases like "we should meet one of these days". It's the same as saying that you're not interested.

6. Sense of humour is crucial. Everyone enjoys laughing (except sick people). There's nothing like the sense of humour to bring together two persons. Between a woman and a man, a shared sense of humour is as important as sex itself.

7. After a first encounter, be it going to see a movie together or any other shared activity, it's important to keep connected. Send an email or text this other person saying how much you enjoyed it (if it's true, of course). And then comes all the rest. Some people say it's more difficult to keep a friendship than to make a new one and we're inclined to agree. Friendship demands close attention, availability and also the willingness to give your friends some slack. Nobody is perfect.

But then again, keeping friendships is not the subject of this post. The subject is making new friends.

Thus, let's move to the most difficult part. Some readers may be thinking: yeah, I'm aware of all that but the fact is that I can't make myself do what you suggest...

First of all: are you really aware? Of it all? Really?

In the second place: it's a fact that depression usually implies emotional withdraw - and we're not talking about schizoid personalities. A depressed person feels - that's the nature of his problem - that (s)he has nothing to say, that people don't enjoy his company, that she's afraid that being more forward makes men mistake that being on the hunt for a boyfriend, that he's afraid of treacherous friends...

The list of "buts" is infinite. Almost all of them are excuses for not daring, not taking risks, avoiding exposure. To sum it up, excuses for avoiding life and the joys and pains that it necessarily brings. We need affective bonds. All of us do. "No man is an island", as John Donne wrote.

Do you want to live or not?



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