The introvert’s guide to making new friends

I’m a textbook introvert. I’m outgoing when necessary (normally when required by work-related situations) but there is nothing wrong to me with passing up a social thing that only promises middling amounts of fun for a night in with Netflix. Or bailing on a purely social commitment because I don’t have the emotional energy. Or leaving a party early. No shame.

wheat and sun

Now add life events to the equation: After living for my early adult life in the same small-ish college town in Oregon where I had multiple educational and work experiences that introduced me to a ton of people with little effort on my part, I moved twice, to two much different places.

Major move No. 1 was to the Washington, DC, where I lived for two years. Tip for those who have or will soon move to a new city: Don’t do what I did. I socially relied on my much more social significant other to meet people, mostly his coworkers. When he left the area to return to the west coast to finish grad school, I had those only barely loose social ties to rely on. It was easy to hide behind the business of my 9-to-5 and side work, and the financial commitments I had, than to take up the opportunities in front of me (a fairly robust college alumni network, forwarded contact information of people others’ knew of who lived in the area, etc.). And while I loved little more than relaxing with my Kindle after an overstimulating day in the office and on the metro, my minimal social effort sure led to moments of loneliness.

Now I live elsewhere, in Boise – and I also work from home. This is the first time when I’m in a new life situation without the safety net of a job or class. And it’s scary.

I’m clearly not great at meeting new people and know that part of me is fine with spending significant chunks of my time alone, so I don’t have the searing need to get out there all the time. But I know that this self-limited outlook on my social life isn’t sustainable or healthy. Friendships are important, obviously. In addition to helping you live longer in general, strong friendships can help decrease the risk for developing depression and help you feel happier in general (read more here).

But how challenging it can be to make new friends as an adult, as I and other folks I know well have found. It’s easy to insulate ourselves in our already-established relationships, and with commitments of work and family, not everyone may feel the need to pursue new friendships. For those of us new to an area, or looking to expand our social network, those distractions that keep others from perhaps being as open to meeting new people as compared to, for example, your first year in college can make the task feel particularly daunting.

As scary as meeting new people can feel, you have to embrace the fear. Get out there.

You’re not going to meet new people at home. You’re not going to meet new people spending nine-plus hours a day in your cubicle (and if you don’t work in a cubicle, congratulations). You’re not going to meet new people doing the same thing, even if the same thing is being fearful of the task at hand of meeting new people.

  • If you like to read: Join a book club.
  • If you like to workout: Join a running group or exercise class.
  • If you know a lot of things and like beer: Join a trivia group.
  • If you like skeeball: Join a pub sports league.
  • If you’re religious: Find a church and get involved.
  • If you’re way into your alma mater: Meet up with the alumni network.
  • If you’re passionate about a particular topic: Volunteer.
  • If you need direction: Join MeetUp.

These things will get you out of the house, an important first step. But it only get you halfway there: To cultivate friendships, you also have to talk to people.

Practice on folks at the grocery store, at the gym, on your commute (JK, ignore everyone), in the elevator at work. Make an effort to project a friendly demeanor. Be open to the possibilities that come when others chat with you. Learn from others about new things to do, places to go.

Be sure to introduce yourself to someone you connect with.

I know, I know. It’s hard to open yourself up to the possibility of social rejection. The vulnerability feels terrifying. And chatting with strangers is a lot easier in some places than others (DC comes to mind). But the opportunity to connect with other people will only present itself when you put yourself out there, physically and emotionally.

This stuff may seem obvious to hyper-social people, but I’ll admit that I’m still working on it. I’ve volunteered and have plans to continue to do so. I’ve joined a couple of book clubs. I’ve taken classes at the gym I signed up for. Have I developed a strong social network in Boise since I moved here four months ago? Nope. But I’m confident that things will work out.

What about you? How do you meet people? What’s been successful in the past?

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