if only i’d known: there’s an art to making friends
It’s a warm January in the early 90s. Every radio station in Sydney is playing ‘Ice Ice Baby’ while every child between the ages of four and 12 is watching Agro’s Cartoon Connection. Standing in front of the television I change out of my pyjamas and into my school uniform for the first time. I can eventually relax as the Smurfs escape yet again from the grips of Gargamel. I excitedly pull on my socks and shoes, put on my hat and throw my school bag over my shoulder. Not really knowing what school is, I’m totally uninhibited by social expectations, and the fact that I don’t know anybody never dawns on me.
I skip enthusiastically into the crowded room of five year olds and choose a table at random. I start colouring pictures of zoo animals with purple and green crayons. I bond with the girl next to me over our incessant need to stay in the lines and whether or not pink is a girls’ colour. We decide it must be. Armed with that information I figure she’s a good enough sort and so I pop the question, ‘will you be my friend?’ She nods shyly and that was that. For the next eight years we played together, shared secrets and swapped lunches.
The confidence I exuded as a five year old diminished through my adolescence where I was more focused on meeting the expectations of people around me than being myself, always too worried people wouldn’t like me for who I really was. Too afraid to be who I actually was because being “in” (or at least not being “out”) was more important than being “real”. As Cady says of Gretchen in Mean Girls, ‘She knew it was better to be in the plastics, hating life, than not to be in at all.’
As I’ve come strolling into adulthood, however, I feel a lot of my five-year-old confidence returning. As I’ve learnt, your 20s are about growth and self exploration and as another of my close friends made the move interstate late last year, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d lost many of my childhood friends to the glistening lights of a new city and the realities of growing up. It also occurred to me that I had never actively sought friends but rather happened upon them in my everyday interactions. As I partook in the activities I enjoyed most, I met like-minded people with whom I’d forged strong ties and shared many milestones. Since work had become the centre of my life it had become harder to find the time to participate in the activities that have so often generated fruitful friendships. But I realised it was time to “put myself out there” and hope for the best.
There have been many articles written on why it’s harder to make friends once you’ve hit 30 and many of the reasons come back to time constraints. Regardless of which age it so happens that most of your friends have moved away/started to get married and have babies and thus have no time to hang out on Friday nights/have really demanding jobs whereby answering the phone is an insurmountable task/have a new partner to whom they have somehow become attached at the hip etc etc, making new friends can be a challenge. Below are some tips that I found useful when having to repopulate my life with some new people.
1. Start going along to more of those gatherings you keep avoiding. For me it was “big” gatherings. I’m an introvert who masquerades as an extrovert so anything beyond an intimate dinner is the equivalent of a rave in my mind and sucks every last bit of my energy. Once I started attending these “raves” I quickly found it was possible to have conversations in small groups even amongst a larger gathering.
2. If you meet someone you “click” with, exchange numbers and make the effort to actually hang out. It’s the platonic version of securing a first or second date and in essence it serves the same function – getting to know people better.
3. Catch up with all those people you keep meaning to see but never get around to actually seeing – old school friends, the girl you used to work with, your old neighbour, your sister, your cousin, your mother, whoever!
4. Take up a new hobby. If you’re time poor, look into something that is a low level commitment but you think you might enjoy. Something like an exercise class can be a good way to make friends AND get fit.
Most importantly be yourself because you’re undoubtedly awesome.
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