hard to meet new people

You Answered: The Most Challenging Part of Making New Friends

This post is written by Katrina Emery, a member of GirlFriendCircles.com who lives in Portland, OR.

One of the most popular questions in GirlFriendCircles, that our new members answer is “What specific aspect of making new friends feels the most challenging to you?”

I read through all 750+ answers (I promise, I did!), and am here to report with your answers. Because this friendship thing is hard, we all know that. There are aspects of it that we all struggle with, so while 750 of you out there may have commented about how hard it is to make new friends, you’re not the only ones. Solidarity, sister. We’re here to figure it out together.

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Top 5 Challenges:

#1: Time.

Let’s be honest, this one’s a bit boring. Everyone’s got time constraints, we all know we’re busy, there are a million apps promising to fix that, and none of them do. But we’re all here because we know that friendship is important anyway.

#2: Meeting People Initially.

The hardest part for a lot of you is the simple act of figuring out how to meet someone. You’ve carved out your time, but aren’t sure where to go. Or you’ve figured out where to go, but can’t tell what to say. Many of you also noted how hard it is to break into an established circle of friends. And a lot of you mentioned how hard it is to combat shyness and gather the courage to speak up.

“Just meeting people can be a challenge--and it sometimes seems that everyone already has friend group and isn't really looking for new friends to add.” - D

“The most challenging aspect for me is the initial putting myself out there. “ -T

#3: Moving Deeper.

Lots of commenters said how much they hate small talk, and how difficult it can be to move past an initial meeting into something more meaningful. Shasta would describe it as moving circles, and it’s tough to bump folks up from acquaintances to something better. Even someone who can blaze through the first two challenges might get stopped up here. There were so many thoughtful and poignant comments around this topic, which shows that we all spend a lot of time really thinking about this.

L says, “It’s that invisible wall that seems to stand between friendly chit-chat with other women and becoming actual friends - how does that happen?”

And J put it nicely: “Keeping a momentum of friendship other than “Hey how are you?” back and forth all the time.”

And another L noted, “The actual approach to making new friends is very hard. I've met people who I thought "OK, I could totally see being friends with this person."  However, I never make the transition to friendship because I don't know how.”

#4: Finding the Right Kind of Friend

This was an interesting category to me. A lot of commenters mentioned that they were looking for a certain type of friend--one who fits with their own idea of what they’re looking for, or one that shares all the right interests.

One commenter, A, summed this up nicely: “Finding people I like.”

This makes sense. We all want people we like, who understands where we are in life. Because we’re all going through struggles, and we think that no one can help unless they’re going through that same struggle. Many commenters wrote about how challenging their own situations were, and their barriers to making friends. And here’s what I noticed: they were all different, and often contradictory. Having a demanding job, working a weird schedule, not working at all, working as a stay at home mom, having teenage kids, having kids under 3, being a single mom, being single with no kids, being married with no kids,… everyone mentioned how hard it was for them. Which just goes to show… it’s hard for us all. It really is. We’re all kind of freaked out by it.

So, what if, instead of looking to make friends who are in our same situation, we branch out and open up? Don’t get me wrong-- I know this is crazy hard. And I understand many times it’s a matter of practicality rather than preference. But it might be worth it. Here’s what M. had to say about it:

“[I’m challenged by] making new friends with people who are different from me — like a whole lot different. They have a different culture, different ways of doing things, different dialect...this has been a challenge for me for so many years. I feel like I don't "click"...but this year, I am determined to be more open and welcoming.”

To sum up...

#5: Fear.

Other than time (though, we could make an argument for that), this one sums up all of the above challenges. They’re all about being afraid of being judged, of being not enough, or too much. That’s why I thought #4 was especially tragic. We’re all looking for a specific kind of friend and telling ourselves that those who don’t fit our categories aren’t good enough for us, while being inwardly terrified that we’re not good enough for other people’s categories.

“When opening up to new people I feel vulnerable to judgment from others.” -A

“Being vulnerable and wondering ‘will they like ME?’ “ - S

“Reaching out. Initiating. Suggesting a get-together and having the other person say no or cancel. Rejection in all of its many forms.” -C

“Feeling like I am too much. Being fully accepted. Feeling like I’ll let others down.” -A

First, let’s all take a moment to congratulate ourselves on admitting that stuff. Good job!

Now that we’ve done that, let’s congratulate ourselves on being here, wanting to do something to tackle those challenges. It won’t happen immediately, but the more we reach out, send an invite, risk chatting to a new person, or move past our shyness to be a little vulnerable, the better we’ll get at it.

And while you practice those things, read up on the Friendship University-- it’s loaded with all sorts of tips to tackle these challenges and more, such as:

Making Time for Our Friendships, with author Samantha Ettus

Friend-Making Overwhelm? 5 Strategies for Starting Right Where You Are, with author Sam Bennet

The 3 Requirements for Starting Friendships or How to Make a New BFF with our own Shasta Nelson

How to Connect with Others: The 4 Laws of Authentic Conversation, with author Michelle Tillis Lederman

Because if there’s anything that reading these 750 comments taught me, it’s that these challenges aren’t so unique, after all.

I Just Want to Fit In! The Insecurities of Not Belonging.

One of the hardest parts of life is feeling the fear of not fitting in, whatever that means. As a kid I wished I could afford the ever-cool Guess jeans and Ked shoes instead of the $14.99 Jordache's and Payless Shoe Store wanna-be's that my mom bought. Later, my idea of fitting in would include wishing I'd start my period, need a bra, and kiss my first boyfriend when it seemed everyone else had already passed into the land of adulthood before me.

I can laugh now at the silliness that seemed so important at the time. It also causes me pause to consider what my Keds are now-- what feels important now but might look silly to me down the road?

Now I have been gifted with the maturity to realize that my value doesn't fluctuate on how others view me and that "in" means a thousand different things to different people.  But to know I don't need to fit in everywhere doesn't mean I still don't want to. I blogged a couple years ago about how our greatest fear in life is rejection, and even just feeling the possibility of not belonging is enough to tap all our insecurities.

Sometimes my maturity is overridden by an insecure teenage girl that still just wants to fit in.

Do I Belong Here?

Yesterday, I was at a Women 2.0 Pitch Conference geared for female founders of tech start-ups.  The irony isn't lost on me that a conference where I should feel like I fit in perfectly can still stir up all my little inner critical voices. Fear really isn't all that rational.

So in the spirit of transparency I'll admit I felt out-of-place. Yes I was a woman. Yes I had founded a start-up company.  Yes it's doing well and growing. Yes it's in the space of technology. Yes by all intents-and-purposes I belonged there.

I've blogged before about how difficult conferences can be for many of us (Pushing Through the Nerves to Meet People and The Mistake that Cost Me a New Friendship) but it can be in any setting where we may not already know a lot of people, may have a lot to learn, and may be surrounded by lots of amazing people that cause us to question our own amazing-ness.  There's a thin line between wanting to be inspired and called forward, and yet not feeling overwhelmed and incompetent! Put us in that place where we start wondering if we can reach our hoped-for-success and we're automatically in a very vulnerable place.

I was surrounded by people who had all earned MBA's.  Seemingly all from Stanford.  And suddenly I felt like I would never know the right people, be a part of the powerful network, or be able to learn fast enough everything they already seem to know. My insecure little girl kept whispering "let's just go back home where we feel safe and comfortable." You see, my expertise is in personal development, relational health, and spiritual growth-- not in funding rounds, code engineering, product shipping, user interface design, and market research. In some worlds my skill set could make me a rock star, in this one I was just very aware of everything I lacked.

And therein lies the challenge with fear--we'll never get where we want to without feeling it since it pops up anytime we leave our comfort zone. And obviously our comfort zone, while not scary, isn't bringing us want we value. We want to keep moving forward... but that always includes leaving our comfort zone. UGH!

For most of you in my female friendship community-- you crave deeper connections.  But unfortunately that requires you to meet strangers first.

Then follow-up. And do it again.  And wonder if they liked you too.  And wonder if it's their turn or your turn to make the next move. And then you have to risk sharing pieces of you, getting vulnerable.  And you have to find a new way of being with someone new. It's not without fear and insecurity that we walk that path.

Whether it's you wanting local meaningful friendships or me wanting to know how to best grow my company so that you can all make more friends-- we both will feel the fear of the unknown.

And we will eventually have to value the potential as greater than the fear we feel.  We'll have to feed the dream, starve the fear.  We'll have to weight the outcome as worthy of the path.

I Have to Believe I Do Belong.

At the conference yesterday they had a red chair there for the Sit With Me campaign designed to validate the role of women in the technology field. Men and women around the world are sitting in red chairs as their way of saying "we need to sit together, we want all voices and talents involved!"

On a form I was asked "Who are you sitting for today?" And while the obvious answer is for women in general, I specifically wrote that I was sitting for all those who weren't sure they belonged at the table, no matter their insecurity, perceived obstacle, greatest fear, hidden truth, or lack of credentials. I sat in that chair and whispered to myself "I do belong and so do thousands of others."

I sat in that chair and whispered that hope for you. That whatever chair you need to sit in-- that you would know you belong there.  No one else has to tell you that you do.  You just have to sit.

Kinda the way Rosa Parks belonged in the front of the bus.... Belonging can't be given to us, we just have to know it.

In some ways I was out of place, but in other ways I belong there and have much to offer that world in ways that no Stanford-MBA-serial-entrepreneur ever could. They're needed. And so am I. We all belong not because we're the same, but because the world needs all of us, contributing our best. Blessing the world in whatever way we each can.

If you're afraid of meeting at a ConnectingCircle or going to some event with strangers, I invite you to show up, sit in a chair (even if it's not red!) and remind yourself you're putting action behind what's important to you. There is room for you!

It's not without insecurity and doubt that we will contribute, step out, participate, engage, and sit-- in order to stand for what we believe in. It is even with those fears that we will do so.

And it's because of what we hope could be the outcome that will make the fear worth it.