How to Own the Awkward and Make New Friends
As kids, making friends seemed so easy.
All it took was recess and a quick game of hopscotch on the playground—boom, a friendship was born.
But as an adult? Starting any type of relationship—whether romantic or platonic—can feel like a herculean task, one that requires lots of time and energy, all of which already feels limited by day-to-day responsibilities.
If you find it hard to make connections as an adult, you’re not alone.
We surveyed the Shine community, and 92% of our members said they want to make new friends. It makes sense: Friendship can help us feel a sense of purpose or belonging, and can even decrease stress and help us persevere through rough times. Our friendships are a form of self-care.
But even though we know how important friends are to our wellbeing, we’re experiencing a serious friendship gap. 82% of our members said friendship is important to their overall happiness—but only 37% are actually satisfied when it comes to the friends they currently have.
The Shine community isn’t an outlier: While we’re one of the most connected generations (thanks, Internet), research shows that 30% of millennials (anyone within the age range of 23-38) say they feel lonely and 22% said they don’t have any friends.
So what does it take to actually build relationships?
It takes time and energy, but it also takes some confidence. Finding people to connect with means putting yourself out there—and that can feel daunting at first.
83% of our members said making new friends feels “intimidating,” and the majority agree that trying to meet someone new can be a bit awkward.
There’s no denying it: Things can get awkward—but the benefits of putting yourself out there make it worth the initial cringe-factor.
Here are some stress-free steps to help you find the courage to introduce yourself and strike up a new connection.
Think It Through
If you want to make new friends, one of the first things you should do is understand what you want a friendship to actually look like for you.
Rachel Wilkerson Miller, author of the upcoming book The Art Of Showing Up: How to Be There For Yourself and Your People, suggests grabbing a piece of paper and pen and asking yourself these three questions to get started:
●︎ What does friendship look like for me?
●︎ What am I looking for in a friend?
●︎ What do I have to offer right now?
Taking time to pinpoint what you want in a friend and how much time you are willing to put into a friendship can help you understand your own expectations, Wilkerson Miller explained.
For example: If you moved to a new city, you might be looking for people to explore with but not necessarily become lifelong BFFs. If you’re a new parent, maybe you’re looking for friends who are also new parents—or not! If you’re single, you might be looking for other friends who are not in romantic relationships.
“(It’s important to) really think about the ideas of friendship (you) have—maybe based on TV and movies and episodes of Sex In The City—and what’s realistic based on what you actually need,” Wilkerson Miller tells Shine.
Therapist Naiylah Warren, L.M.F.T., shared with Shine that it’s also important to understand that what you need from friends can differ depending on the stage in your life. What you may have been looking for in a friend at age 15 is a lot different than what you might need at age 30. Be open to having an ever-changing set of needs.
Embrace the Initial Nerves
Fact: Everyone feels a little uncomfortable when they’re meeting someone new—it’s definitely not just you. Things can be awkward, but expecting—and embracing—that awkwardness is one of the keys to building confidence as you make the first move.
“Understand that everyone sort of feels that way, and that’s why things may or may not be clicking,” Warren says. “There is a lot of anxiety in those moments, and sometimes it takes people time to settle into themselves.”
One way to ease those moments? Warren suggests making sure you’re building connections in a space that’s comfortable for you.
“Oftentimes we try to socialize in environments that don’t feel natural to us in the first place,” she says. “It also adds to that anxiety and it can make us feel more awkward and that makes a foundation of low self-confidence.”
Nix those worries by first making sure you’re in a comfortable environment. That might mean first striking up a convo on an app, like BumbleBFF (you can literally kick things off from the comfort of your own couch!). Or, socializing in places you’ve been to before for an extra sense of security (think: your favorite coffee shop, library, or park).
Get Comfy With Breaking The Ice
Ok, now that you’re in a comfortable environment, it’s time to actually make that first move in getting to know someone.
Breaking the ice is intimidating, but a great way to kickstart a connection is to talk about something you are passionate about. After all, research shows that people are happier when they don’t have to dive into the shallow waters of small talk.
“Talk about things that you care a lot about and that are most interesting to you," Warren says. "You’re most authentic when you talk about something that you know and care about."
Maybe it's that movie/TV show/play you saw and need to dissect with someone else, or that Instagram account you follow and can't get enough of, or your new responsibility at work that's lighting you up—if it matters to you, it works!
But don’t worry about getting too deep—it’s OK to keep things casual in your conversation. By doing so, you’re giving yourself an opportunity to see if your personalities click first, Warren says. If they do, then let the conversation go where it may!
What's often most scary about breaking the ice is not knowing how to do it. Warren has two suggestions: Break the ice by asking questions or by complimenting someone.
If you’re doing the former, try asking a question about something you both witnessed—like a speaker at an event. Asking about a book they have in their hands or a tote bag might also be a great conversation starter.
If you’re doing the latter, try connecting something you love to something that relates to the other person. Maybe that means complimenting their makeup if you’re passionate about makeup yourself, or tying your conversation to a band tee they might be wearing if you’re also a fan. “Whatever you’re interested in, always start with those things because you come off the most interesting and authentic,” Warren says.
Celebrate Your Vulnerability
Now that you’re warmed up to the idea of breaking the ice, remember: Regardless of whether your initial conversations lead to a connection or not, you deserve to celebrate the fact that you’re opening up and taking chances. Pat yourself on the back, treat yourself to something you love—however you do it, take time to recognize your effort!
“You have to be vulnerable in order to put yourself out there in the first place, and then be vulnerable when you’re maintaining relationships and building trust,” Warren says.
Your vulnerability is important and worth recognizing, but don’t forget to mix a bit of discernment in, too. Stay true to your authentic self and focused on what you’re looking for in a friend.
“Put yourself out there and say, ‘I’m open to these opportunities, but I also know what I want and what I’m looking for and what feels comfortable for me,’” Warren says.
Brush Up On Your Follow-Up Game
Once you make the initial conversation and break that ice, it’s all about the follow-up game.
Research shows that it takes around 50 hours with someone to consider them a casual friend and 200 hours before you might consider them a close friend.
Whatever you may be looking for, it’s important to remember: building a strong connection takes time, and that’s OK.
Following up with the people you do meet can be key to building upon your initial connection.
Maybe that means grabbing coffee IRL, going to events together, or meeting up to chat about that book. By setting up a plan, you’re well on your way to furthering a connection with this person, and that is ultimately how you can build lasting relationships.
It’s OK If it Doesn’t Work Out
Unlike those days on the monkey bars, sometimes your attempt at building any type of connection with someone doesn’t always work out—and that’s OK.
“The more you expose yourself to social environments that reflect you, the higher chance you have of finding people who also align with you in that way,” Warren says.
If this happens to you, it’s important to remember that it’s not a reflection of your worth. “[You have to know] that no matter how amazing of a person you are, there are people that might not be ready for the type of connection that you’re ready for, and that can be about a friendship or romantic relationship,” Warren says. “But it doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
Rejection can sting, but being kind to yourself can help you persevere. After all: You have to know how to treat yourself like a friend before you can build connections with someone else.
Practice self-care, give yourself time to regain your confidence, then put yourself out there again—it’ll get easier with time, and the reward of strong, meaningful connections is so worth it.
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