I used to feel so alone in the city. All those gazillions of people and then me, on the outside. Because how do you meet a new person? I was very stumped by this for many years. And then I realized, you just say, “Hi.” They may ignore you. Or you may marry them. And that possibility is worth that one word.
– Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors
(Thanks again Starbucks for another post-worthy quote!)
Staring college this year – just like starting any new chapter of life – has been a huge adjustment. On that first warm September morning, as my parent’s car pulled out of the campus, I was met quite quickly with new freedom, new class structures and expectations, new living arrangements… yet all of that seemed to pale in comparison with the task of finding friends in the sea of new people waiting just outside my dorm-room door. I’m one of the lucky ones, my nervousness manifests itself in the form of chatter; it takes weeks of friendship before I feel comfortable enough to let a few moments of silence go by without saying something. This trait makes it easy for me to make friends, the nervousness almost becomes helpful(even though I do tend to say some fairly cheesy and stupid things) but I always wonder about other people. I have several high-school friends who have had difficulty getting out there and meeting new people because of anxiety and it just makes me wonder; does it really have to be so hard?
It seems to me like little kids have got it all figured out. When you’re in preschool or kindergarten, you don’t worry about looking cool or getting rejected – you just want to play! Most kids will walk up to anyone and start a conversation, because they don’t have the reservations we do, they don’t go into situations expecting them to be awkward. Unfortunately at some point in our development we stop being everyone’s friend, we are trained be be selective; to reject people and to expect rejection… but why? Instead of becoming anxious adults who have to analyze every interaction, play hard-to-get but not too hard; it’s exhausting and I just have to wonder… why can’t we simply be honest? If you want to be someone’s friend walk up to them, introduce yourself, ask them how they are, ask them if they maybe would like to hang out sometime… why not even just point-blank ask them if they want to be friends? I mean, it worked in first grade…
Introducing yourself can’t be the key, however, because anxiety or not even adults know that you have to approach someone in order to start a relationship. So, what’s this key I promised? Its simple; change the way you think. Stop expecting a situation to be awkward, stop worrying about rejection! Yes you may be rejected, but worrying about that possibility does nothing to help you in life. What we forget as we grow up is that relationships are supposed to be fun, not awkward, and we have nothing to lose from walking up to someone and asking them to play! The worst that can happen? They say no and we move on to the next “kid on the playground”… eventually we’ll find someone to play with.
One of my best high school friends became my friend because she approached me, asked me if I’d like to eat lunch with her, and then gave me a hug. Sure, I was a little unsettled at first by how uninhibited the interaction was… I mean, I had just been hugged by someone I met maybe a moment ago. But we ended up having a really good lunch because the tension wasn’t even allowed into the interaction – she just plowed on as if we’d already known each other for ages.
I’m not saying you’ll be best friends with everyone; people have different interests and not every friendship is the perfect match. However, if you put aside adult anxieties and learn to approach people like a kid again you’ll have a much better chance at meeting the people you connect with… because you won’t be afraid to just walk up to them and say hello.
So, a challenge: this week why not try walking up to someone you’re not friends with yet (at school, at work… wherever) and introduce yourself without anxiety! Channel your inner five year old and invite them over for a “play date” (or coffee, or lunch, or something more grown up… you don’t have to take the metaphor too far.) You may get rejected but, more than likely, you’ll soon find yourself with a new friend!