The COVID-19 pandemic has left many of us spending way too long in the company of only our immediate family or closest BFFs. As the world reopens – Delta variant or not – we may want to seek out new friendships – but are unsure about where/how to start.
Anxiety about friend-making is common. Many of us have a Hollywood movie friendship fantasy: Whether we’re in a new city or a new phase of life, we believe that “our people” will magically appear. Your doorbell will ring and – voila! – there they are.
Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. I recommend to my clients that they be intentional with making new friends and look for experiences and activities where they are likely to meet people with whom they share something meaningful in common.
Do we even know what or who we consider a friend? I have been looking at a lot of definitions of “friend” and “friendship”. Take a minute, pull out your phone and write – for just a minute or so – how you define friendship. Then take a look at what you wrote, it will tell you a lot about the kinds of people you want to bring into your post-COVID life.
Not only has COVID made our friend-making skills rusty, the older we get, most of us find it harder to make new friends. We settle into the comfort of friendships we already have and let our friendship-making muscles get all flabby. Most of us have lots of excuses not to make new friends, here are some I’ve heard recently:
“New people may not like me (and vice-versa).”
“I’m afraid I’ll be judged (never fear, you will).”
“I don’t know what to say (to a possible new friend).”
These are all valid fears, but they’re workable. To find good friend “candidates”, I recommend volunteering, joining clubs and meetup groups to connect with new people. It helps to have common interests with people you’d like to get to know.
What kinds of friends do you want? Someone to go hiking with? To attend Diversionary Theatre with? To go out drinking with? To discuss books with? Once you get clear, you can focus on meeting those kinds of people.
And think about your (potential) new friends’ personalities: Do you want someone outgoing or quiet? Physically active or laid back? Outdoorsy or stay-at-home? Good listeners or good talkers? Fun people or serious people?
Conventional wisdom has it that you should pick activities like a running group or a knitting club, to meet new people. But what about those of us for whom a good Friday night is about staying home with a good book? Or those of us who are introverts? How do we make new friends?
If you’re shy, introverted or struggle with social anxiety, social media can be a great way to connect with new people when face-to-face is too daunting. More than a few friendships have started over Instagram or Twitter, Facebook or Grindr. If you like someone on your (phone) screen, you might feel comfortable meeting them for coffee or a beer in real life.
Sometimes we have to make a lot of new friends, e.g., when you move somewhere new, you may not know anybody. In that case, consider making “transition friends”: people to hang out and do things with. These friendships may not last, but they’re good enough for now. Real friendships take time, but every friendship has to start somewhere, so your temporary friends might grow into more, if you give them time, attention and care.
Ultimately, there’s no perfect way to predict the success of a new friendship. You could join a volunteer group or a cooking club and meet absolutely nobody you like, or you could meet the best friend for the rest of your life at that random party you almost skipped.
As life slowly returns to post-COVID “normal,” it’s worth thinking about whether the friendships in your life are giving you what you need and want. If they’re not, maybe you should DM that interesting Twitter person and bond over a mutual love of hiking/board games/jazz/whatever. It’s my experience that true and lasting friendships give life a richness and joy that nothing else can come close to.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.