Monday, October 10, 2011

Top 5 tips for fostering new friendships

I've talked to a few women recently who have admitted to feeling lonely. I've written about this before, but I'm back on it because the more I've written about it, the more conversations I've had and a sense of loneliness appears to be a common experience for many women.

My experiences with making friends, is, well, I've always managed to make a few friends wherever I've been.  I've moved around a lot - both as a child between countries and many different schools, and as an adult. I've been the newbie as both a child and adult many times. There have been some contexts which have been very hard - living in a suburb where all the mums worked full-time, made it very tough to make friends when I was at home full-time with small babies.

And I don't feel I'm great at it, because I've seen some women who are incredible at initiating friendships and I've often been on the receiving end.  However, for someone who is naturally shy, I've learnt how to just jump in and give it a go. I find it hard work, but I make myself do it, because the alternative isn't much fun.

Last time I wrote about this topic, I suggested that we need to be careful that we're being realistic about the type of friendship we're looking for.  But aside from that, I've been reflecting on what else you can do to foster friendships.

So here my top 5 tips for fostering new friendships (please add your own suggestions - I love hearing them):

1.  Learn to be confident and comfortable in your own skin.  For many years I felt embarrassed about my childhood, my insecurities, my failures, my stay-at-home 'mumness'.  I think it sometimes came across as rudeness when there were aspects of my life that I felt uncomfortable to share with others.  I also think that once I became more willing to be open about things I was worried about/insecure about, it became much easier to connect with other women.

2.  Remember they are going to be your friend, NOT your psychologist (you can pay money for one of them).  So, on the flip side of point 1, don't share every insecurity and failure straight up.  For your own sake you need to be confident that you can trust the other person with your 'stuff'.  And for their sakes you don't want to completely overwhelm and freak them out!  Sharing all your deep neediness in early interactions can be scary for others and push people away.

3. Avoid using gossip as a connecting point.  Why not I hear you cry?  It works so beautifully - women have refined the art of gossip from a young age.  And a common enemy is so 'connecting'.  But if the only thing that unites you in a friendship is a negative putting down of someone else, it's going to be hard for your new friend to trust that you won't do the same thing to them when they're not around.

4.  Listen carefully.  Remembering a past conversation you had with someone - so you can ask them questions the next time you see them - is super important.  Asking questions about someone else is the easiest way to keep a conversation going.  It shows that you find them interesting and like talking to them.  I like people remembering stuff that I've said - it makes me feel valued.  I do find it a little creepy when people can quote back vast chunks of stuff I've said, but hey, I still prefer to be heard, than talked over and forgotten.

5.  Initiate, initiate, initiate.  Don't be passive.  Don't sit around and say 'O I have no friendships' and do nothing.  Think of excuses to invite people to your home.  Think of excuses to start a conversation.  Think of reasons to get a group of people together that you're vaguely connected with.  Work out  common interests, so that your friendship becomes about sharing something you have in common.
'O, you like the Tour de France?  Want to come around to my house and watch it with me?'.  'You like knitting?  Want come and knit with me at my place?'.  'You have a kid.  I have a kid.  Want to go to the playground?'.  'You like op shopping?  I don't know many people here because I'm new, perhaps we could go op shopping together sometime?' 'You like coffee?  I like coffee.  Maybe we could get a group together and go out for coffee one day?'.

If so many women are feeling lonely and feel disconnected, you need to assume that eventually your gentle efforts at connecting with others will be reciprocated.  Women sometimes appear more connected than they often feel and even if they are connected, are often happy for a fresh friendship.  And frankly, if the person is too busy or not interested - take the hint!

9 comments:

Vanessa Murphy said...

I like your point 2, however one of the difficulties I feel is being comfortable with triviality. In the past 3 years I've experienced the death of several family members (newborn son, mother, grandmother) and faced other trials (sickness in kids, husband lost job) - actually all but one of these happened this year. When I meet new people or talk to anyone for that matter, i find it really hard to put those heavy budens aside and talk about the weather (so to speak). Friendships are awkward, yet I feel desperate for them too. I appreciated your post.

Sarah said...

Fantastic post!

I say YES in regards to Point 5 about initiating. Somehow I just need to get past the fear that it's like asking someone on a date. Some things I've found helpful are (a) if you're the new person and someone says, "Let's have a coffee sometime," pin them down and set a time. Say "Yes, I'd love that. I'm free Friday afternoon. Does that suit?" Otherwise you never end up having that coffee, and (b) Invite people over in groups rather than just one person. Then the conversation is less likely to dry up and you'll feel less awkward.

I'm the creepy person who will quote stuff back to you. Sorry, I just know how it feels to answer the same questions from the same person over and over again. It feels like they never listen to you so I try to listen.

In regards to the friend being the shrink, I had that happen when I first met someone who is now one of my dearest friends. She told me a LOT of personal stuff during that first conversation, and I'm fine with that, I was just more concerned for her. It's nice that she trusted me, but I could have been the town gossip!

And frankly, if the person is too busy or not interested - take the hint! I've stopped pursuing friendships with women who are really popular, busy and have stacks of acquaintances. Maybe I shouldn't because they could, in fact, be really lonely, but from my vantage point, it looks like they are too busy for me.

Jenny said...

Vanessa, I just wants to say that my heart breaks for you - what a tough run you've had. I think after what you've been through you're going to want to share lots and share it quickly - of course. Frankly, if you share your deep stuff and the other person finds that too hard, my guess is that they aren't going to be the kind of friend you need right now anyway. And for me personally, if you were willing to be open about the hard stuff, I would find that very connecting and would feel privileged that you were willing to trust me. I'll pray that God provides those kind, listening ears for you.

Jenny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deborah said...

I've learnt that you're not always going to find people that you just click with and get on easily with. When this happens it is wonderful, but at other times you have to work hard at making connections, at making friendships work where you don't have much in common, and not just sit around and wait for the perfect friend to come along.

Anonymous said...

Jenny this is a great list for those who are well enough to follow through on your suggestions. But for those who suffer from depression, these ideas might seem impossible. It can be physically and emotionally hard enough just to get out of bed and face the usual routines. There often just isn't enough energy left in the tank to do anything extra.

I really hope that you don't take this as a criticism of your post Jenny. I appreciate your blog and the honest way that you write.

Jenny said...

Yeah - thanks Anonymous - that's a fantastic and helpful point. These 'tips' really only apply when you've got the energy for friendship making. I should have written that in the original post. Not taken as a criticism at all - I love the comments part of blogging because it makes it much more of a discussion rather than a monologue.

Louise said...

Hi Vanessa, it has taken me a while to write this because, like Jenny, my heart breaks for you. I remember how terrible it felt about ten years ago when my baby daughter, dad and grandfather died, I had a miscarriage and in the midst of it we moved house, community, school, church, job ect. Friends were very important to me during this time and I had friends who listened to me about the same things over and over again. I also found myself telling everyone from the postman to the fish and chip shop lady. I had one friend though who after a very difficult event wanted to talk to no one and wanted to not be asked about it. I was reminded we are all different and need different things. It's can be hard for our friends to know if they should say something and if so, what to say. I too found triviality very hard to bear during that time of deep grief. One of the things I had to keep remembering was that people wanted to make me feel better. When they said insensitive, hurtful or ignorant things (this was usually people I didn't know that well) their intention was what I needed to think about. I didn't feel better when they said my baby was probably better off dead but I tried to remember they wanted me to. By the time my dad died I stopped talking because we moved and I thought I'd put my friends through enough already. I then found I needed to pay someone to listen to me (with the advantage they didn't say dumb stuff!) I then slowly began to be able to be a friend and find and accept new friends. There are some seasons in life that are very hard to bear and I hope this one will be over for you soon.

Sarah S said...

I think it's easy to have a default assumption that if we are new to a context, then other people should look after us and initiate, because we're new and need care. But I've come to the conclusion that this is a wrong assumption. The old people are established and stable in their lives (to a certain extent) ... it's up to the new person to set the agenda of a new change. When I changed my expectations it made me much more comfortable about being the only initiator. And thanks to God, in time people realised that I wanted to be involved with them and started initiating.