The Magic Takes a Magician
While we may have found it easy or difficult of find friends as young children, most of us need a refresher course when either work, our immediate neighbourhood, or school is no longer supplying us with a sufficient quantity of people to pick from.
Friend Making Refresher
The first and most important thing anyone needs to make friends is a supply of new people.
Places you can find new people:
- Neighbourhood groups, online and off (HOAs, strata councils, town councils, neighbourhood watch groups, and social media groups for specific cities, towns, even neighbourhoods, buildings, or streets)
- Local volunteer agencies, for specific interests and causes, and those simply there to be a volunteer for whoever needs one
- Parks, recreation centres, libraries, coffee shops, grocery stores, diners, bars (if that's the crowd you're looking for)
- Sports teams, schools, and activities for children (drop off and pick up, volunteering, planning or decision meetings)
- Sports teams, schools, and activities for adults (cooking or music or art lessons, softball, curling, ski clubs, boat clubs, choirs, night classes, continuing education classes, hockey teams, dance classes, etc.)
- Service organizations and clubs (Zonta, Kiwanis, Elks, Rotary, Soroptimist, Lions, Masons, Eastern Star, Oddfellows & Rebekahs, Foresters, etc.)
- 'Things about me / my family' groups on social media or in real life (due date or twin / triplet groups, daughters of Norway, Filipino community centre, extended family groups, parents of many, parents of only children, adult children of alcoholics, survivors of __fill in the blank__ abuse / disasters, etc.)
Now that you've found some people, how do you make friends with them?
Be Regular and Predictable
One of the reasons barflies make friends is because they're regulars. You don't have to be at a bar to 'be there' (wherever: coffee shops, parks, rec centres, ski hills, etc.) around the same time, the same days of the week, so you start encountering the other people around there at the same time, the same days of the week... and they become familiar strangers.
Strike up a conversation
This is, for many people, the heavy lifting. They so much want to make friends, that they either overshare a really unnecessary volume (or private) information. Take it slow, and take it easy. It will work out or you'll find someone else. This one person isn't (see Finding Your Village assignment results) going to be your Only and Forever friend.
Have a few stock, low-key conversation starter in mind... the weather, which child out there is theirs, if they're from around here, what they think of prices these days... anything, really, that anyone 'in this situation' (where you're talking) is likely to have something to say about.
Remember, you're not getting married to them tomorrow, you don't need to know their position on spanking, abortion or the current governing party --yet. Start light.
Be Welcoming, Inviting, and Compassionate
Share your breath mints or gum, compliment them on something they have control over (not their hair colour, eye colour, skin colour, height, weight, etc.) like how flattering the colour of their shirt is on them, or their cool shoes. Comment that you're glad to see them here (again, if you've met before.)
Mention a low-friction activity that you're doing later this week that they'd be welcome to join: a walking group, a regular time you go for coffee, a community choir or team sport they could come and watch with you --not your choir or your team or at your house. It's still too early, unless you find yourself talking for an hour and a half every time you meet... Extend the invitation, give them the place and time, and maybe (if you chat for a long time) remind them about it as you part. Remember: low-key, low-friction. When you go, look for them, but don't worry about whether or not they come. Have your own reasons for being there, and enjoy yourself either way.
And listen. Everyone wants to feel heard and understood... use some of your compassionate listening skills to convey that you get it, that their experience is real. No need to agree with their position, or even feel the same way, just acknowledge how they do feel. Remember you're not their therapist or their mom --keep this light, too.
For example, they remark that they've just come from the body shop and found out how much it's going to cost to repair the hit and run damage their car sustained in the parking lot a few days ago.
"Ugh, that's the worst... who has time to talk to insurance adjusters?"
"What a nuisance. Do you know how long it will take?"
You're not delving into their darkest secrets, or helping them handle the loss of their spouse of 81 years. You're just 'being with' them in the situation they remarked on. Remember: you don't know them well enough to go heavy yet.
Even if you have a wonderful side hustle (or main hustle) product you're sure they'll love and use every day for the rest of their lives, don't.
Even if your sales manager insists that it's perfect and wonderful and ideal, don't.
Let people just be people, without also pressing them (gently or not) to buy things. Wait until you know them really well to even before you ask them if they want to buy your kid's fundraising thing. Then you'll know that they're already completely tapped out with 27 obligatory fundraisers of nieces and cousins and neighbours already, or if they really have no source of car stickers or chocolate covered nuts. They may sell from a competitor, or be married to someone who also sells what you have. Don't risk it, it's alienating.
And you want friends... not collectives of obligations, guilt, or transactional encounters (you give this, they give that, someone's keeping score so it's all equal.)
High Intention, Low Attachment
Find a way to 'be a friend' to others in order to make friends, rather than trying to make friends for your own use. There's a great networking motto that works really well here, too:
You'll get a lot more out of friendships --and a lot more friends-- by being a good friend than you will trying to get one to give you good friendship first.
It's the difference between attracting and dragging. It takes less effort on your part, and is far easier for potential friends to move through the process from 'I found out you exist' to 'I want you in my life.'
You really want to make friends. That's natural and completely fine.
You can't need it, though. Not now (right now) from this person in front of you now.
Any emotional attachment to 'winning' this friend right now feels, to them, sticky and icky, and not at all friendly.
Let go of the desperation. It smells bad to people and it makes them move away.
You can't 'get' people to make friends with you, using fancy tricks or bait or buying them things. You might entice them to hang around, but you will only get parasites who are there solely for what you're trying to pull them in with.
As soon as the bait dries up, they'll be off to someone else to hang off of, often badmouthing your stinginess to everyone around you.
Broaden Your Scope
A lot of people say 'there's nobody like me, so I can't make friends.'
This is unnecessarily interfering with the range of potential friends --and how un-village-like a group of 12 people all exactly the same age in exactly the same situation really is.
You don't need people your age.
You don't need people with the same number of children.
You don't need people the same gender, or sexual orientation, or economic status, or anything else.
If a village had only 31- and 33-year-olds each with twin 18-month-old children, it would die out —rapidly. In order to thrive, a village needs the elderly wise aunties and grandpas, the young and strong adolescents, the robust, experienced adults, the children to keep the village alive into the next generations, and children of various ages so all the parents aren't in the same position with the same needs and problems as each other.
You can be friends with people 30, even 50 years older than you. They have a lot of wisdom and experience, and like to have people who can still see well enough to read fine print, or help them with their technology...
You can be friends with people who don't have children. They're a refreshing source of non-child conversation about the world, and often have lots of time and interest in doing things with kids around (or without.)
You can be friends with people who are still children, young teens and young adults, who benefit from your experience and time with you, while you can help them feel effective and useful in the world by using (or hiring) their strengths and talents (moving boulders or furniture, fixing your technology or keeping you up-to-date on the latest slang, music, fashion or social media...) They also tend to have a lot of patience and time for younger kids, and your kids will adore them simply because they're older and available, even if they never actually babysit.
If you're interested in an online village of parents who genuinely like and respect their children, and who are stretching toward goals similar to yours, you may find ThriveParenting, AP Life and Respecting Children, a helpful place to meet and chat about your struggles and successes, at least until you find enough real life people to build out community.
©2023 Linda Clement and Raising Parents Inc., all rights reserved
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