how to meet new friends

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.

Required Reading for Women Looking For New Friends!

Rachel Bertsche called me nearly two years ago wanting to get my take on how to meet new friends.  She had recently moved to Chicago for marriage and soon realized that while she had met quite a few people at work and through her husband, she hadn't yet been able to develop local friendships that felt consequential.  Especially compared to the BFF's she knew from childhood and college. (No matter our age, the dilemma sounds familiar, huh?)

She told me she was blogging about her journey along the way, and working on a book about her personal project to find a new BFF by committing to one-year of friend-dating with a new potential friend every week.

That book is now published.

I just finished reading it.

And I wish I could make it required reading for my entire community of women who value new friends. Seriously.  Reading this book will revolutionize your expectations, inspire you with ideas, and renew your commitment to the initiative you've undertaken!

MWF SEEKING BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

One new friend date every week for a year: Fifty-two dates!  And that's not just showing up at a restaurant fifty-two times to hold conversation with near-strangers.  That would be impressive enough, but she also had to figure out how to meet those people, acquire their contact information, initiate the invitation to go out, coordinate schedules, meet somewhere, and then also follow-up with all of them!

Add to that the fact that if she wanted to actually develop some of them into friends then she'd have to schedule them in many more times on top of still meeting new ones every week!  Crazy!

Her book, while lough-out-loud hilarious, is also incredibly informative and inspiring.  Her voice is that of a late-twenty-something, but her journey and life lessons will be valuable to you at any age.

You'll resonate with her fears and self-doubts, her wish that she didn't have to put this much energy into it, her loneliness for her long-distance BFF's, her disappointment (and acceptance) that she seems to always have to be the one to initiate, her surprise at how flattered and willing other women are to meet with her, and her joy at how much her world expands along the way.

She describes all her dates--some you'll groan at the awkwardness of the encounters, others you'll wish you had met yourself.  You'll be amazed at how courageous some of her actions were when she asked for set-ups from friends, picked up on her waitress at a restaurant, and joined several book clubs and classes to meet more options; but you'll also see that courage doesn't mean without fear or personal discomfort as she vulnerably shares those, too.

Included at the end of her book are all her statistics of how many potentials she ended up meeting, how many turned into second dates, and how many she now claims as friends. And importantly, along the way you'll get a better sense of why some worked and didn't from someone who has done it enough to teach the rest of us now.

I dog-eared many pages, underlining all along the way. Here are but a few:

"Most people lump bestfriendship in with love, one of those you-know-it-when-you-feel-it intangibles.  But I can't continue blindly on this quest looking for something I can't define.  I'll wade though the year like Goldilocks--this one was too grumpy, that one was too old."

"In all these cases we vowed to get drinks "one day" and never did. So I remind them. "We talked about getting drinks together, which I'm finally making good on." That's not desperate, that's follow-through."

"According to psychologists Debra Oswald and Eddie Clark's research, there are four necessary behaviors to make a friendship stick. Self-disclosure, supportiveness, interaction, and positivity."

"The next day, I'm on a post-date high. I'm so pleased with how my evening went that I'm not even fazed when Hilary texts me to bail on yoga. Something about dinner plans she couldn't change. I should be disappointed--our first follow-up and she's already canceling--but I'm too encouraged by the fact that my Judgy McJudgersonness was off base.  For the past seven weeks I've been sizing up prospects before we'd even met: She lives in a fancy neighborhood, must mean she's trendy and too high-maintenance; she posts smiley faces on Facebook, must be a saccharine dud. The fact that Hilary turned out to have big-time potential makes me think that my having so many preconceived notions of who my BFF would be is exactly why she doesn't exist yet."

"I thought overtures of friendship would be received with suspicion rather than appreciation, so I hung back for fear of being the weirdo. Now I think I was wrong. It's not that people are less civilized now, it's just that we think they are, and so we act accordingly. We don't reach out unsolicited for fear of being rejected. We don't talk to new people because we assume they don't want to be bothered. But as I continue to pursue friendships, I'm constantly surprised at how receptive people are."

"After months of being the initiator, invitations now come my way, too.  I'd been waiting for the tides to turn, for my friendships to become universally reciprocal, and in the past few months the shift has now become obvious."

"'It takes a lot of work,' I say. 'You've got to say yes to all the invitations that come your way.  The more you say yes, the more invites you'll get. You have to follow-up with all those meetings where you say 'We should totally get together!' instead of just saying it to sound nice. And signing up for things helps. Oh, and asking for setups. You know, basically all the things you do when you're dating.'"

You can buy the book here.  Subscribe for her blog here.  Go to one of her book signings here.

It's worth it. I promise.  If she can do all the asking and dating, the least we can do is learn from her so we don't have to do it 52 times ourselves!

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SAN FRANCISCO EVENT INVITATION: And if you're anywhere near San Francisco-- I'm co-hosting an event with her in two weeks (during the Super Bowl-- since my 49-ers aren't in it anymore!) at Book, Inc on Van Ness.  She'll read from her book and sign copies, and Ill host some fun speed-friending to ensure it's also an afternoon where you meet some other awesome women!  Hope you can all come!  Sunday, February 5, at 4 pm at the Opera Plaza Books, Inc at 601 Van Ness.

p.s.  Just in case my opinion doesn't rank high enough for you when it comes to purchasing new books-- I thought I should let you know her book has been featured in the likes of People magazine & O Magazine, recommended by Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) and Jeffrey Zaslow (author of The Girls From Ames), and it's been selected as one of the lucky books to be available at Target.  Like I said, it's good.  :)

p.s.s.  She tries GirlFriendCircles.com-- I love her description of it! LOL!  I may have to change the table tent concept now!  :)  She also tries and loves speed-friending.  Weird reading about myself as a character-- but I'm honored!  A hearty welcome to all of you who have joined our friend-making community since reading about us in her book!