Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

How to Meet Single Friends

Now that you know where to meet single friends, you and your pals from the soup kitchen, the reiki center, or your group for cryptozooligists from Laguna Beach must be bonding over lattes at Starbucks, calling each other to pet sit, and borrowing each other's Juicy Couture, right?


You mean Singletude has handed you four different opportunities to meet your bosom buddy and you still haven't sealed the deal?

Well, don't despair. You're not alone in your, uh, aloneness in the middle of the crowd.

I have a single friend who's diligently pursuing a career in law and is surrounded by new classmates (read: prospective friends) semester after semester. Whenever I catch up with him, he has a story or two about some of his fellow students. He chats with them before and after class and even by AIM but complains he's lonely because he can't seem to take these acquaintances to the next level. This guy is intelligent, humorous, loyal, insightful, patient, and understanding. If you were going to build yourself a customizable friend, you'd want him to be the template. But he's shy and sometimes doubts himself, and it's hard for him to know how to transition a casual social contact to a friendship.

Initiating a friendship is, in some ways, like asking someone out on a date. You have a finite window of time to make a positive impression, establish rapport, and get his or her number without seeming like a loser, a weirdo, or the second coming of Borat. Even though your interest isn't romantic, it still makes you vulnerable to rejection. You're holding open the door to someone who didn't ask to come in and doesn't know what's inside beyond what they've glimpsed over your shoulder, and there's a chance they'll say no thanks to your invitation to find out. That's hurtful, whichever way you cut it. So it takes guts to get a new friendship off the ground, and it also takes some savoir faire.

The guts I can't help you with.

Here, then, are some steps to scoring that friend date with grace under pressure:

1. Make It Personal

Presumably, you and your future friends have convened for a higher purpose than dishing about your cousin's wedding, your trip to Cancun, or your souped up but eco-friendly SUV. You have lofty goals of rehoming the homeless, communing with the divine, or deconstructing postmodernist fiction.

It's your job to bring the discussion back down to earth, and when you do, make it personal. You don't have to preface every statement with "this one time at band camp," but if it makes sense to interject an anecdote about something that happened to you, do it.

When singles are evaluating potential social connections, the most useful tool you can give them is insight into who you are. They won't get that by sticking to a syllabus. As you chat before, after, or even during a workshop, lecture, performance, outing, or other event, reveal things about yourself whenever appropriate. These tidbits can be as lightweight as where you're from and what you do for work or as serious as where you stand on politics, religion, and who's going to be America's next top model. What's important is that you open up about yourself and help set the tone for an informal, friendly environment where everyone can interact on a personal level.

Be sure to engage other group members by asking them about themselves, too. Ask the woman on your left where she got her adorable handbag because you've been looking for one just like it. Ask the guy with the Yankees cap what he thinks the odds are of a win in the game tomorrow night. Most people will be flattered that you requested their opinion or complimented their style and will be happy to not only expound on the answer but follow your lead into an actual conversation. As you chat, it will be obvious if there's a congenial vibe between you that could be the basis for a friendship. This "vibe" may seem as mysterious as the continued popularity of bold print disco clothes, but it's based on the not-so-mysterious commonality factor that you're both sizing up as you...

2. Match It Up

Research shows that like attracts like. People pick friends who are similar to them. So if you're trying to form a bond with someone, emphasize what you have in common. If someone in your group mentions an author, band, or actor you like, let them know you share their taste in entertainment (unless it's, say, Tom Cruise or the reunited New Kids on the Block, in which case it would be better for everyone if you kept it to yourself). If someone else has a view on health care that jives with yours, support their position. If someone reminisces about a childhood experience that you also had, chime in. The more common ground you establish with someone, the more likely it is they'll feel an affinity with you.

The opposite principle holds true as well, so you'll want to minimize the differences between you and your would-be friends. This does not mean you should misrepresent yourself or be dishonest, but you might avoid jumping into debates with both feet. Some people try to impress others by poking holes in their arguments, but if you're overly critical of group members' beliefs, such tactics may backfire and leave your one-time friends fuming about how they'd like to poke a hole in you. All friends have differences that affection bridges, but wait until the bridges are built before you burden them with loaded questions. ;)

Instead, play up your commonalities and think up ways to explore them together because now you're ready to...

3. Take It Outside

This step crosses the divide between social acquaintances and friends. Unfortunately, it's the step that tripped up my legal eagle friend because it's the most slippery. This is when you cast aside the crutch of your book club, charity, bible study, or what have you and see if your friendship has what it takes to go the distance in the real world. It's also when rejection threatens and your dedication to the cause is tested, so it's at this juncture that a lot of beautiful friendships cue the violins and bow out before they've debuted.

But yours won't be one of them. :)

First, keep in mind that you don't have to make the transition all at once. You can start by using your group activity as an excuse to meet outside of it. For example, if your group has any kind of educational or performance focus, it's tailor-made for practice sessions. If you're in an acting workshop, invite your prospective friends to rehearse. If you're taking a college class, suggest that you be studdy buddies. Learning to swim? Get together on a day you don't have lessons and time each other on laps (water wings optional). Afterwards, have a chat over coffee or lunch and get to know each other better.

Or maybe you don't have a reason to meet up, but you live near your new acquaintances. If so, ask them if they'd like to car pool to your next group activity. That will give you a chance to socialize apart from the group and see how the two (or three or four) of you get along. Better yet, if your group meets on a rotating schedule, volunteer to host a meeting at your house and then round up everyone for dinner or drinks afterward.

If you take these baby steps before the last big one, both you and your friend-to-be can take the friendship for a trial run, so to speak. Eventually, it will seem like a natural extension of your extracurricular meetings to call your new sidekick just to talk or ask him or her to go shopping or shoot some hoops. Since you've learned by now that you two have plenty in common, it won't be a stretch to plan an afternoon you'll both enjoy.

On the other hand, if there are no baby steps available to ease you beyond the confines of the group, your commonalities will anchor your invitations. For instance, let's say you meet a kindred spirit at a pottery class and find out she loves antiques, just like you do. Tell her about the grand opening of an antique shop in your neck of the woods and invite her to go with you. Or maybe you bump into someone cool at a event for small business owners. If you know of an upcoming seminar on small business management, inform your new friend and arrange to grab a bite to eat beforehand so you can talk shop.

See, that wasn't so painful, was it? Not even a bruised ego, right? :) Taking that last step doesn't have to be a leap of faith if you've taken intermediate steps first.

And if your growing friendship doesn't take root immediately, don't give up. You know from experience that singles are twice as busy, right? ;) If your new friend turns down a few invitations because he or she has other commitments, don't assume it's an excuse. Sometimes, too, people need a little convincing to give a new friendship a try. Especially as they get older, many singles are more selective about their friendships since each one requires a substantial investment of time and emotion. Be persistent (but not a stalker) and demonstrate that you're serious about pursuing a friendship.

So now that you know where and how to meet single friends, the only question left is who to choose for the position. Oftentimes we latch onto whoever happens to be available and regret it later. In the next post, Singletude presents some traits of a good friend...and some traits to avoid like "the Rachael."

Have you tried any of the above strategies to turn acquaintances into friends? Were they successful? What other tactics have you used to make friends?

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