My Social Skills Suck or How to Make a New Friend

When did making a new friend become so hard? Most of my clients say they do not have many friends here. I am in Charlotte, NC, where many have re-located. People say things like “My social skills suck.” They find the idea of making new friends daunting.  When we break it down in therapy, it usually turns out that making a new friend is not as hard as people think it will be. However, I have noticed certain common thought patterns that people have about making a friend which serve to keep them stuck. The first and over-arching obstacle people create is repeatedly telling themselves how hard it is going to be. So, let’s see how you are making it hard on yourself.

First, you are likely emphasizing your age group. You are likely saying things to yourself like “It’s so hard at my age.”  Now, keep in mind that I see adults of all ages, from 18 up to the 70’s, and beyond. People in all of these age groups are having this thought. So, maybe this isn’t really about age. Sure, you need some friends in your stage of life who can understand your struggles and can more or less match your physical energy and abilities. But not all of your friends need to be in your stage of life or chronological age, do they? Must it be that the different age person who is your next door neighbor or gym member or work-mate is NOT friend material? I hope not. How sad the would be to eliminate them on that basis when the different ages have so much to offer each other. That kind of friendship is special and uniquely enriching for both parties.

What else are you doing to make it harder? If you are like most people, you are picturing a beautiful circle of friends, out there somewhere. You are focusing on that as your end goal – having an entire network of friends – perhaps like the one you had before you moved or before lock-down. You are focusing on that idyllic circle and are imagining that everyone else already has their circle and that you are on the outside of all those circles. In reality, many people are looking to make new friends. In Charlotte, we have entire neighborhoods of newcomers all from the same state, say New York, who gravitate to each other in order to make new friends. We also have new meet-up groups being created all the time, some of which are dedicated to transplants who are new-comers. Being a generous-hearted lot in Charlotte, we have new volunteer groups being created all the time, many of which are comprised of transplants and newcomers. Also, many established organizations such as faith-based groups, social clubs and volunteer groups have ongoing offerings expressly for new-comers, to welcome them and see they are enfolded into the community. These are evidence of how many people are wishing to connect and to make a friend. So, instead of visualizing complete and closed circles of people with their arms tightly linked, and you on the outside, would you start visualizing a circle of people approaching each other with outstretched hands and you being one of them? This is more likely the reality: There is a space for you and an opening for you to move toward that circle.

How else are you making this hard? You are likely focusing on needing to make several friends at once, and all right now. Friends are usually made one at time, not by suddenly adopting or being adopted by an entire group. When we talk about how could you make ONE friend, people tend to feel lighter. One can not easily picture befriending an entire group at once. I bet you can easily picture making one friend in that group. In reality, you will soon be introduced to someone else through them. That is more natural and common and, therefore, is easier to imagine.

So, now you should be able to do some specific and productive visualization of the process of finding a friend, visualization of moving, flowing processes, instead of getting hung up on overly-large, out-of-reach, vague yet static end-goal pictures.

Another common way people have of turning the process of new friendship into a chore, is they tend to think they have to go out and find someone, “a stranger,”  by plucking them out of thin air. It’s hard to visualize a faceless person you have not yet met. Instead, let’s look at who might already be in your life, perhaps on the periphery of your life, who is a known acquaintance. I suspect you could name right now a couple of people already within reach who have potential. Maybe you would like to close your eyes right now and do a little scan of people in your life with whom you are acquainted, who seem interesting enough that you might enjoy getting to know better. Visualize now for a moment. …How was it? I bet at least one person came to mind. Are you open to reach out to which ever one stands out the most? (Hint: Usually, in session, people get a little burst of energy, at this point, just identifying that person who is already right there and is a good candidate.)

Here is another way people have of creating pressure for themselves when they are imagining connecting with an acquaintance. They say “What if we have nothing in common…nothing to talk about?” We talk about how each interaction stands on its own, no expectations and no obligation. Each piece of time you have elected to spend together, has the potential to go somewhere, but also has the potential to be a perfectly satisfactory time, on its own, even if it goes nowhere. So, “is this going to lead to a friendship?” need not be in the forefront of your mind. It only causes pressure and detracts from enjoying the present moment, just as being pre-occupied on a date about whether there is going to be a second date detracts from the pleasure of that time. No, each moment (or hour) of contact is a stand-alone connection with another human being.  Even if it is not going to go anywhere, would you find a way to enjoy this person’s company for an hour or two?  “Yeh, but what if I am not enjoying them at all?”  Well, then, are you open to find even a topic or two to shoot the breeze whilst enjoying your snack or meal or beverage?  Even if one has wildly different beliefs and world views, most humans have had similar emotional experiences. It could even be fun to find some point of connection with someone who is very different from you. If you can visualize this, it will remove the pressure to make something happen. It becomes manageable, and even sounds enjoyable. Enjoying the process, even if it doesn’t lead to some other future outcome, becomes the new, more manageable aim. So, maybe you would like to picture yourself hanging out with some particular person and making up your mind to enjoy the time with them whether or not something more comes of it.

Here is another common pattern I see. People get uptight thinking about how they will deepen an acquaintance relationship and convert it into a friendship. They are thinking about the end point they want, for example, a close friend they can confide in and who will be there in the rough times.  What people forget is that it takes hundreds of hours to create that level of friendship. They forget how many hundreds of hours they spent with their previous friends, which friendships were usually built in by virtue of being in the same school, hobby, church or workplace. Without those built-in commonalities, it might take more effort to get together and to continue to get together to see if something will develop. When I ask people if they are up for that, they are usually willing to try it, at least with one person in their life. As with the point above about no expectations and no obligation, this present hour IS the contact. It may or may not lead to this person becoming a close friend. Would you like to enjoy yourself, whether it does or does not? In all likelihood, if you make a decision to do that beforehand, you will indeed enjoy yourself, even if that person is not close friend material for you. Maybe this person could be friends with you in some more limited way. I wonder how open you are to that.

Lastly, I see people complicating the make-a-new friend process by thinking about what demands will be put on them. “I don’t want someone who is going to be too needy or clingy and expect me to care-take them.” To this I would say, you will attract, generally, people of your own level of functioning. If you are resilient and enjoy being a responsible person who wants to grow and improve without behaving in overly-reliant ways that burn people out, then you will attract and be attracted to like-minded people who want to do the same. Just as people generally attract those of more or less similar physical attractiveness, people likewise tend to attract those of similar mental health. That has been my observation. So, as you work on your own mental health, to raise yourself to a higher level of you, you will likely attract those who are also taking good care of their mental health and are functioning pretty well.

But, Dr. Lisa, my social skills still suck. Ah, yes, well, let’s visit that in next (blog) session…

So, Dear Reader, would you like to experiment with any of these ideas and see how you make out?  If you decide to try something out, please shoot me an email and let me know how it went!  

Here’s to your friendships, old and new!   Dr. Lisa


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