Posted by Pascal on June 4, 2020 at 11:35
You may have noticed that the older we grow, the fewer friends we seem to have around us. In a way, this is perfectly normal. We have less time to make new friends, less patience for flakey or insincere relationships, and we are more private.
But it also means that we can have a harder time meeting people and building meaningful relationships. And just because this is a normal fact of life, it doesn’t mean that we can’t feel lonely. In fact, a recent study showed that almost half of Americans report feeling lonely or isolated. And that this issue is only increasing with every generation.
According to the World Health Organization, loneliness has real impacts on our physical and mental well-being. In fact, it may be just as damaging to our health as smoking.
So no, there is nothing wrong for finding loneliness difficult and wanting to make new friends.
And the good news is that it is possible. Let’s see how.
Ever since our hunter-gatherer ancestors started walking on two legs, humans have been organized in groups. Humans were not as strong as chimpanzees, not as big as lions, nor as fast as the antelopes they were hunting. Sure, they had big brains relative to their size, but nothing compared to that of elephants.
What they did have, however, was an ability to form complex, meaningful relationships with each other. Relationships that allowed them to trust each other and strive. Together, as a community.
Small groups became bigger tribes, people settled in cities, and built civilizations. All because of their superior ability to cooperate and communicate.
Nowadays, we can work remotely, order food online, and entertain ourselves on the Internet for days without ever talking to another human being face to face. But we still seek the company of others. We still have that inherited need for meeting people and making new friends.
Because our instinct is pushing us to it. It’s in our DNA. We have evolved to feel good around others.
And close friendships are, in fact, quite rewarding.
Our instincts may remain unchanged, but society sure is different from our earlier days.
Social commitments are simply not the same in metropolises where an endless amount of sources demand our attention and time. In small villages where everyone knew each other, being extroverted and open to strangers was not as important as it is now.
This explains why introverts find it harder to make new friends.
Fortunately, the following strategies can be useful for anyone looking to strengthen their friendships or make new ones.
Close friends rely on each other in times of need. Talking to someone you trust about a problem you are having can calm you down and having a relaxed conversation with a good friend can make you experience positive emotions.
But to get there, you need to build a foundation of trust.
Your new acquaintance needs to know that you are dependable and won’t flake on them at the first distraction.
And this is easier than it might seem: Don’t leave their messages on “Read”, reply to their texts, make time to see them (and don’t cancel at the last minute), be there when they need your help.
And do all that with consistency. Over time, your bond with this person will get stronger, with more intimacy and trust.
Making new friends means learning who they are. Remembering birthdays, activities they enjoy, foods they can and can’t eat, and when they have time to spend with you.
It also means investing time and money to do things with them.
It requires your resources and energy. Which you don’t have an infinite amount of.
So, spend them wisely. Look for situations where you’ll feel comfortable meeting people. If you are introverted, or generally dislike big crowds, try to meet in small groups. Join a book club, a sports team, or take a cooking class.
Without being too picky, be aware that not everyone you’ll meet will be a good fit for you. Maybe they have different values, different environments in which they like to hang out, or different schedules. Sometimes it’s better to focus on building a few, stronger relationships than many uncertain ones that leave you feeling lonely and uncomfortable even when you are with others.
You probably know that most communication is non-verbal. When talking, people convey various meanings through their tone of voice and body language, but also eye contact and facial expressions.
Blink, however, and you’ll miss them.
It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to build a friendship with the other person if you’re distracted by your thoughts. But it will make it harder.
By paying attention the other person, you’ll be able to respond appropriately to what they are saying, to match their tone of voice, to mirror their body language. To develop a genuine, authentic relationship.
And you don’t even have to be aware of what you are doing. Your brain will subconsciously process these subtle cues and you’ll know instinctively how to respond. It is in our biology, remember? All you have to do is to put down that phone and re-shift your focus to the present.
Being yourself around your friends is crucial in building stronger, more meaningful relationships.
But you won’t be able to show them who you really are if you, yourself, are not prepared to accept it.
We all have quirks, strange musical tastes, eccentric fashion choices, or an odd sense of humor that we fear getting judged for. And as long as we are uncomfortable accepting them, it will hinder our ability to make new friends.
But when you are being authentic and vulnerable around others, you are opening a possibility for deeper connections to form. Intimacy is built on those moments, when you show your true self to someone, and they reveal a part of theirs.
It is a slow, gradual process that takes years to complete.
And it all starts with you; acknowledging and feeling confident about your strengths and your flaws. Believing that, with all your oddities and goofiness, you can have a positive impact on someone’s life.
Knowing that you are, all of you, worth it.