What I learned about making friends

After dedicating the past several months to trying to make friends, I feel like I’ve pretty much reached the end. I tried a lot of new things, went on a lot of friend-dates, and met some interesting people. But I didn’t become friends with any of them.

I’m not saying I’m done trying now, but I’ve exhausted every resource I could think of, and I’m exhausted. I pushed myself way beyond my comfort zone of social commitments, sometimes going to more than one social engagement every day for a week. It was unsuccessful, and now that we are well into 2017, the New Year effect is dwindling and there are a lot fewer people who are also looking for new friends.

So I didn’t make any friends, and I didn’t really learn how to make friends either, but I did come to a few realizations about why making friends is so hard:

1.  Making friends outside of an academic environment is much harder than I realized.

I’ve been in academic environments my whole life, up until a few years ago. From going to an academically rigorous high school, to college, to working in a scientific field, to grad school, I was always surrounded by people with intellectual interests and a deep knowledge base. Even if they didn’t always have an abiding personal interest in those topics, it still provided an intellectual basis for conversation and a common experience on which to build friendship.

The academic environment is where I feel most comfortable, so being in those places was a big advantage for me socially. Now that I’m completely out of that world, I have a huge social handicap. I realized that I have no idea how to actually talk to people in the real world, or how to relate to people who are not interested in academic topics.

I never had a lot of friends when I was in school, but I had some great ones, and I was so careless with them. I lost touch with almost all of them years ago, and I took for granted that I would be able to make new friends. I never knew how hard it would be to make friends outside of school.

2.  A friendship has to be based on having some kind of commonality as well as having compatible personality types.

When I was younger I used to think that the most important factor in forming a friendship was having common interests. After I learned about personality types, I realized that having compatible personality types mattered much more to me than having the same interests, background, or beliefs, or being in the same stage of life. I like learning from people whose experiences are different from mine, and the way a person’s mind works is much more interesting to me than what they think about.

I met a few potential friends recently who I had nothing in common with. One was a single woman who owns a successful tech business and is a business school student. She’s very dedicated to her career and very passionate about the business world, which is completely foreign to me. Her other interests and hobbies were all things I know nothing about, and she knew nothing about any of my interests. We really had nothing in common, but we had some great conversations and I learned a lot from her. I think we got along so well despite our lack of commonality because of our compatible personality types— she’s an INFJ. We were both interested in learning new things and hearing from each other’s perspectives. I really wanted to be friends with her.

But our relationship fizzled out after a few get-togethers, because we just didn’t have any common thread to sustain our connection. All of our conversations consisted of telling or teaching each other things; there was no topic we could discuss as equals. I believe that if we had started with some common ground on which to gain familiarity with each other, we could have gotten over that hump to become good friends.

I now believe that a friendship has to start with some kind of shared experience or interest, whether it’s having a shared hobby, being fans of the same genre of books, going to the same school or workplace, or even just living in the same area and being aware of the same community events and happenings. You need to have something you can both talk about. Sadly, there were a few people I met who I feel I could have had great friendships with if only we had something in common.

3.  A friendship has to be based on spending time together in person, face-to-face.

When I posted a platonic personals ad on Craigslist, I got a lot of responses from people who were reluctant to meet in person and only interested in being texting or email buddies. Emailing, texting, and online friendships don’t do anything for me. I know a lot of people can form close friendships with people online without having met them in person, but I can’t. It’s hard if not impossible to really get to know a person without spending time together, and it’s hard for me to have an accurate gauge of whether I even like them. Someone’s online persona can be very different from their actual personality, and I’ve met people in the past who I thought I liked online, but really didn’t want to be friends with in person.

More than that, I just crave face-to-face interactions. I’ve never been very interested in web forums or message boards, because although I crave intellectual conversations, I want to have them with a real person while also getting to know the rest of that person’s life. To me, online interaction is theoretical and not much different from reading a book, and usually I would rather just read a book.

I agreed to exchange emails with a few people I met online, but they all quickly dropped off and stopped responding. Because an online friend is much more theoretical than one you see in real life, it’s easy to forget about them. You don’t feel their absence as much because you’re not as invested in the relationship.

4.  Having my husband as my only friend for the past year has set a high bar for what I expect to find in a friend.

My husband KJ and I have great conversations. It’s so easy to talk to him, he’s intelligent and knowledgeable about a wide range of topics, and he has (what I consider) a great sense of humor. And we’re both pretty quirky— or weird— whatever you want to call it. KJ is as weird as I am but in slightly different ways, so being with him has made me even weirder. Because we embrace each other’s weirdness and we can be ourselves with each other, our conversations start at the level where most of my conversations with other people end.

The downside to becoming even weirder is that it makes me less able and less willing to act like a normal person. I used to be a lot more skilled at assimilating. After having KJ as my sole adult conversation partner, I’m not only out of practice, but I also have realized just how much I like having conversations within the cocoon of our mutual weirdness, and how much I dislike trying to hide my awkwardness and quirks. Going out and meeting new people who don’t affirm my quirks is pretty uncomfortable. But I can’t rely on KJ to fulfill all of my social needs. I still want to have friends with different perspectives, interests, and opinions. It’s just so hard to find them.

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