How to make friends when you're really shy
Being a card-carrying shy girl from a small town, I was wholly unprepared for talking to people and making friends when I first moved to NYC six years ago. As a result I spent a lot of lonely nights in a city of millions. I remember once when I was 19 I accidentally went the wrong way and got lost on the subway in Brooklyn, before I was even really aware of what Brooklyn was. I got out at the Carroll Gardens stop and sat all by myself.
I had no idea where I was or when I was going to get home, and then I had a really sad thought. It didn’t matter when I was getting home since no one was waiting for me, no one was going to call me, and no one knew where I was. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve been to the darkest, deepest pits of loneliness, and I have seen the light. There were hard days, but now I know how to navigate them better. Yeah I’m shy, but that doesn’t mean I have to be lonely. And that definitely doesn’t mean I don’t deserve awesome, cool friends who I love and love me back. So here is how I learned to make friends while shy.
Get involved in groups and projects that interest you
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While this might seem like the lamest advice ever (I certainly used to think it was) joining a group guarantees that you’re making yourself sit in the same room with a group of people each week. And as some of you may know, when you’re shy that’s not something you’re going willingly want to do without a real reason to do so. For that reason alone joining groups and projects is actually kind of great. It might sound silly, but when you become a part of these things you’ll have a steady group of people to hang out with each week. You might even get to know and like some of these people that you see each week. So join the book club, pick up that flier for band tryouts, or help out on that weird student film. From there you’ll get to talk to and share common experiences with people, and eventually start to be their friends.
Talk to people and ask them questions about themselves
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Sorry shy girls, in order to make friends you will have to talk to people. I know. I get it. Talking to people is hard. It was definitely one of my biggest hurdles in the friend making game. I wish humans had evolved to build friendships on sight alone, but we’re not there yet (maybe someday). You’re going to have to say hi, and you’re going to have to make small talk. And while small talk gets a bad rap, it’s actually quite useful for getting a conversation started. Think of it is a warm up before a big race. Most runners don’t break into a full sprint, they’ve got to stretch and jog a few laps first. The best way I’ve learned to mentally handle small talk is to start by asking people questions about themselves. This works great because if you’re nervous or don’t feel like talking, most people love talking about themselves, so they’re not going to notice you’re not talking that much.
Asking people about their weekend, how their night was, and what their day was like are all perfectly legitimate ways of starting a conversation. It also helps to ask questions you are genuinely interested in hearing the answer to, because it will make the small talk turn into a conversation faster. The other day I was on the subway with an acquaintance and on a complete whim asked him what he used to do before he moved to NYC. It turns out he was in the Olympics for fencing. That’s the best part of talking to new people, you’ll learn really cool, surprising information about them that you would have never have guessed on your own.
Make plans with people, and suggest activities that you actually want to do.
When you identify a cool person from your life that you would like to hang out with, ask them to hang out. It might sound like a no brainer, but it’s important to remember that making plans with someone is as simple as sending a text and asking them to hang out with you. Even though this might seem really scary at first (extending that initial invitation used to petrify me into never talking to people I secretly thought were cool and admired) I guarantee that most people will say yes to you. You are cooler than you think, and people like you more than you think they do. If you have fun with someone in one situation (book club, etc.) or share the same interests as them, they are probably going to want to spend time with you. That is a promise. I find it also helps to invite them to do something you really want to do or see, so you’re less likely to get nervous and bail. Canceling or rescheduling plans to see a really awesome movie that you’ve been waiting to see is going to be a lot harder than bailing on plans to ‘get coffee sometime’.
Give people the benefit of the doubt.
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Sometimes people are going to say no to your plans or are not going to want to hang out with you. And while it’s easy to assume the worst, you cannot take a cancellation or a change of plans personally. Regardless of the circumstance, give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume that everyone likes you and thinks you are the best and that they have a legitimate reason for not hanging out. And if you ask them to hang out again at a different time, and they don’t want to do that either, just let it go and don’t hold it against them.
Whenever I run into this kind of situation I try to remember the Daniel Johnston song ‘Etiquette.’ In it Johnston describes the process of meeting people and making friends. In particular I love his lines about a character who is naturally friendly which are, ‘He never questions whether or not people like him, he assumes they do like him’ and, ‘He never questions whether or not he will like a person, before deciding to be friendly’. It’s kind of dorky of me, but those two thought processes have helped me immensely when it comes to meeting people. It’s better to be upbeat, friendly, and give people the benefit of the doubt instead of internally obsessing about perceived slights and secretly inventing reasons they are rejecting you (which are usually not true.)
Give yourself permission to be yourself around new people.
One of my most recently learned lessons was to let go and be myself around new people. In the past I used to be preoccupied with censoring myself and making sure I wasn’t saying the wrong thing around new people. This is because I’m kind of a weird nerd who swears and jokes around a lot, and I thought that people wouldn’t like me if they knew this about me. The funny thing is that that is me, and if I want someone to be my friend they’re going to have to learn that about me anyway. If I want people in my life who like me for me, I’ve got to give myself permission to be exactly who I am. I used to think that I had to wait until I felt comfortable enough to be myself in a friendship, but now I realize I can just go ahead and make myself comfortable instead of waiting. And my friendships have only gotten better for it. So sit down, and get comfortable. Invite your friend over to your house for movie night, go loiter at the comic book store, or sneak into the pet store and pet the cats that are up for adoption. Speak your mind and just let yourself be you. Only do exactly what you want to be doing when you’re with your friends, and you will be so much happier for it.
These are the thing I’ve learned about putting yourself out there and making friends as a shy lady. I know how hard it can be first hand, so just remember that no matter what is happening that you are awesome, and even if you’re having trouble meeting people or in between friend groups right now, you won’t always be. You’re going to make friends and you are going to be just fine. Because if I did, anyone can.