5 Tips for Awkward People Looking to Make New Friends
Meeting new people sucks. Well, at least it does for people like us -- people who would rather eat a bar of soap than endure the awkward juggling of social rules and misreading of body language that comes with human contact. Confident, practiced people will tell you it's as easy as walking up to a stranger and saying hello, but it's not that simple for us. We don't have their charisma or their gift of being able to blow off the throbbing sting of rejection. For us, that throb is always there. And for once, I'm not talking about genitals. Mostly.
Unfortunately, we're programmed to be social creatures, and biology will eventually nag us until we break and fill the void with whatever poor bastard we trick into being our emotional caulk. The problem is: How? How the hell do you find them, let alone know what to say when you do? Well, there are a few basic things "normal" people know that we don't. For instance ...
Know Your Settings
This is going to sound like No Shit 101 to people who don't scream with unbridled terror when someone makes eye contact, but there are some places that just aren't meant for meeting people. You hear stories from time to time about "I met my wife (or best friend, or cuckold partner) at the grocery store. I bumped into her cart, and we've been together ever since!" Then we combine that story with Chad Suave's advice on just walking up and saying hi, and things get weird.
Because of our lack of experience, we don't recognize that those stories are the result of a social lottery -- as rare as being thanked for farting in an elevator. Everything has to line up perfectly for those types of encounters to happen because when you're pushing a cart full of ass wipes and home enema kits, the last thing you want to do is stop and talk to someone you've never met. But our untrained minds are telling us to go where the people are, and Walmart is just packed with mofos.
"Start the car, I found one! Go, go, go!"
It's not that there's a defined list of off-limits establishments. You just have to use your judgment on why those people are there in the first place. People at the post office are running errands and need to get in and out as fast as possible. People at the doctor's office feel like shit and don't want to be bothered by other sick people. The stripper is nice to you because you give her dollars. Ask your mom, she'll tell you. OH, BAM, I JUST FUCKING WENT THERE!
That's not to say that there aren't exceptions to the rule. You just have to sharpen your observational skills to pull it off. Let's say that every Saturday, you do your laundry at the local Brown Streaks Laundromat, and you notice that one guy always shows up right when you do. To pass the time, he sorts his Magic: The Gathering cards -- hey, you love Magic! Yeah, normally the laundromat isn't exactly the mecca of social interaction, even if you count the prostitution ring run out of the bathroom. But sometimes opportunities present themselves in odd places.
Hey, I noticed you're into both smoking and peeing. Me, too!
Which is why the best rule of thumb is ...
Live Your Normal Life
One of the most frequent suggestions I see people giving is "Go to a bar." There's nothing wrong with that by any means, but in my experience, they're basing that advice on what they like to do. Do you like going to bars? If not, are you into trying new things, bars being one of them? Then absolutely hit that shit up. Get ten kinds of sloppy and become a tornado of people-meeting fury.
But make sure that's something you'd enjoy doing, because the downside is that you're going to meet a different type of personality in an establishment that you've had no previous experience with. Obviously, I'm not talking exclusively about bars. It's the same with any social gathering you attempt. Bars are going to be filled with drinkers -- do you drink? Clubs will be filled with people dancing and looking for one-night stands -- do you like to twerk in public? Do you think you could be compatible with people who do? If so, have at it.
"Glad I met ya, Tammy. Glad I met ya."
For most of us, however, the safest bet is less about finding out where people congregate and more about opening our eyes to the people who are already around us. You go to the comic shop once a week to feed your insatiable desire to read, but only in short, cartoony bursts. Oh, look, there are other people in there who do the same thing. Talk to them. You share a very obvious interest.
Personally, I don't like to go outside of my house unless it's on fire ... and even then, I weigh my motion versus the likelihood of my doom. I'm perfectly content to sit in front of the computer from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed, working, watching TV shows, playing games. It's all done on my computer. Most of my friends are the same exact way, and that's why the majority of my friends are all online. The fact that we choose to communicate without physically being in the same room doesn't make our friendships any less real or powerful.
Plus, talking sans pants is a whole lot less uncomfortable.
I realize that the examples I've given so far are pretty specific, but the core is the same in all of them: If you're living your life in a way that brings you the most happiness, you are going to find other people frequently crossing your path, and those are the ones most likely to share your interests. The key is recognizing them and then interacting in a way that doesn't make you look like a serial killer.
Speaking of which ...
Conversation Isn't as Hard as You're Imagining (Except It Totally Is)
Chad is an enormous douche for even suggesting the "just walk up and say hi" advice. Mostly because he's right. In a way. See, what he doesn't realize (because Chad is such a stupid twat) is that the whole conversation part of making friends is the most terrifying thing for the socially stunted. We just know for a fact that we're going to come across as dumb or creepy, or we're going to say something offensive without realizing it. Before we even take the first step toward the person we want to meet, our nerves ball up and send a nuclear blast of adrenaline, warning us, "This is unnatural. It's weird, and you're imposing. Just stop what you're doing and sit back down."
Even if we grit our teeth and muscle past the warnings, all we can do is hope that the conversation plays out the way we've rehearsed it in our heads for the last half hour. If that tanks, we're screwed, because the only backup plan is to turn and run -- which to be honest is pretty goddamn funny from a bystander's perspective.
Especially if you steal their giant flag before taking off.
What we fail to realize is that even though planning a conversation (or the basic subject) is a good idea, we can't put that whole responsibility on our shoulders. Conversation is a 50-50 exchange, and that should come as an absolute relief to you, because knowing that fact instantly takes half of the pressure off of you. If they haven't given you the finger and walked away spouting racial slurs, they've pretty much invested in the exchange. They're giving you a chance.
Planning the whole talk in advance never works out the way you picture it, because while it's true that you can steer a conversation, the only way to control it is to not let the other person talk. In which case, maybe you actually should obey your brain and sit your punk ass back down. Work on that first, because that's probably a big reason you don't have friends.
Yeah, you mull that over. We'll all be over here making fun of you. Dick.
What it boils down to is that your job isn't to entertain them with fantastic stories and overwhelming charm. You're inviting them to share something with you. You're making a connection. And that requires mutual input. "Hello" is just your way of saying, "I'm inviting you to talk with me and take a peek at each other's worlds. Here, put on this helmet. It's weird in mine."
But no matter what, please keep this in mind ...
Don't Fall into the "Shopping for a Car" Mindset
We all have fairly specific traits that we look for in other people. It doesn't matter whether it's for a partner or a general friend. I could never hang out with a person who interrupts others when they're speaking. If they don't like video games, their other qualities need to be pretty damn strong to make up for it. And I always think that people who never laugh are secretly robots collecting data for the government.
The problem ends up being that you start to look at people the same way you look at buying a car, comparing what you're investing in the relationship to what you're getting out of it. On an emotional level, that's not only fine, it's smart. You don't want to be friends with someone who constantly takes from you but never gives back. But on a realistic, human level, it's easy to forget that this car gets an equal say in who gets to put their sweaty ass on its sweet rhinestone seat covers. You're not shopping for Herbie the Love Bug. You're shopping for the sane version of Christine.
Christine, nooooo! What did you do?! They were INNOCENT!
It's so easy to forget that the only way I can keep it fresh in my mind is to reverse the roles and imagine that the other person is also shopping around for a friend. For instance, you're sitting in a library when some stranger walks up out of nowhere and introduces himself. Until that very second, you hadn't even noticed him, and now he's right in front of you, offering up an invitation into his big ol' floppy thoughts.
What are the chances that this guy perfectly fits your idea of "friend"? That what you're looking for just showed up out of the blue and presented itself to you with zero effort on your part? Because in your situation, you're not the person at the table -- you're that dude.
Wait, you're not going to try to sell me insurance or Bitcoin or something, are you?
That's not to say that you shouldn't be picky, nor is it saying that "beggars can't be choosers." It's just that the "car shopping" mindset is easy to fall into and difficult to escape. The ability to overlook some minor rust and dings could net you something that you'd have the time of your life ramping over shit with. And just like shopping for a car ...
It Takes Time
Here's my personal biggest problem with meeting new people: I am impatient. When I want or need something, I go out and get it right now, consequences be damned. Now, given, my job here at Cracked has made that much easier (my Twitter account is full of weirdos and freaks whom I love to death), but it wasn't always like that for me.
I don't think the impatience is all that uncommon. When you realize that you need to make new friends or find a romantic partner, it's generally because you're feeling lonely. And when you start to feel lonely, your brain tells you that there's something wrong and you need to solve it right now. It's an emotional itch that needs to be immediately scratched. Unfortunately for your asshole brain, that's not the way relationships work.
"What sounds good tonight? A writer? Or maybe I'll pick up a movie buff who likes to cuddle."
There's a pretty lengthy ramp time involved, because at their core, relationships are a buildup of trust. The more you trust, the more you share. The more you share, the stronger the relationship becomes. That's not something that happens on Day One. So you're not deciding to "go out and find some friends." You're deciding to start the long arduous journey that will eventually, hopefully lead to friendship.
If your goal is a quick one-night fuckathon, fine -- go to a bar, find the drunkest person with the least inhibitions, and offer them your bathing suit area. But if you're looking for something more substantial, it's going to take time. That can be pretty off-putting. What you can't do is give up on it because the work sounds exhausting -- the payoff is your own emotional stability.