Over the past couple years I’ve found myself frustrated by the way our culture talks about friendships. Or, more important, by the way we don’t talk about friendships. While the dominant narrative seems to involve every woman having Best Friends 4-Eva who all know each other and hang out together every weekend (thanks, Sex and the City!), we tend to remove friendships from most discussions on relationships. I find it a little bizarre that we take for granted that every woman will have a best friend who will have the power to lift her up, and yet we don’t talk about making friends, keeping friends, or what to do when friendships start to hurt us. We also avoid discussing the fact that many of us just don’t have friends anymore because we’re all moving around too damn much. I, for one, would like to see more women’s magazines devote as much space to the topic of friendship as they do to romantic relationships. “101 Ways to Please Your Friends This Weekend!” “Exactly What To Say to Blow Your Friend’s Mind Tonight!”
In the spirit of giving friendships the attention they deserve, let’s talk about friend relationships… which are not so different from romantic ones when you get down to it. And if you’re thinking, “Well, shit, Rachel, I already struggled with that for years and now you’re telling me I have to start over? The rejection never really ends?” I’m here to tell you… yes. Sorry. But the good news is, we can take what we learned from years of being told by women’s magazines “How To Land A Man!” and apply it to the process of making new friends.
As someone who has moved around quite a bit in the past ten years before finally settling in Houston where I had no friends, I like to think of myself as the friend version of a pick-up artist. (But I’m far less creepy than the romantic PUAs, I swear.) Here are some things I’ve learned in the past few years about the fine art of friend courting.
1. Figure out where your potential friends hang out. When I was dating, I knew I would meet guys by going where the guys were. Sometimes this meant online dating sites, but more likely it meant bars, cool events, parties, etc. Similarly, when trying to make new friends, you can start by putting yourself in a position to meet other people who are your age with similar interests. For me, it’s been going to boutique workout studios and attending their workshops and social events; the smaller atmosphere makes it easier to bond with other people there, and, eventually, faces become familiar. If that’s not your thing, are there other classes where your potential peeps might be? I’ve found that Groupon/Living Social/etc. are good ways to find out what like-minded people are doing in your city. Even if you don’t buy the deals, you might discover new places to try out and meet potential friends. It might take some trial and error, but eventually, you’ll have that moment when you just think, “Oh! These are my people!”
2. Make your intentions clear. I’ve found the easiest way to make friends is to let people know I’m looking. Why is this such a taboo thing to say? Most of us are cool with telling people when we’re single or putting our relationship status on our Facebook profiles, so we shouldn’t feel awkward about saying we need to make new friends. There’s no shame in it. I’ve been set up with a lot of new friends simply because I’ve been open about my desire to make new friends. And when I meet someone new who I seem to click with, I’m now comfortable saying, “Oh we should hang out some time! I just moved here and haven’t met a lot of people yet!” So many women breathe a sigh of relief at that statement and confess that they, too, need to make new friends and have been struggling with it. I also often friend potential new friends on Facebook, which feels like the equivalent of saying, “What’s your number?” when dating.
3. Don’t be shy. I never went to a bar hoping to meet guys and then hid in a corner all night; I put myself in a position (at the bar, batting my eyelashes and sticking my tail up like Bambi) to hit and be hit on. You kind of have to do the same thing when making friends. Have an opening line, the same way you would with potential dates. Good starting points: jump into a conversation that you find relevant to your shared interests or just give a compliment. Once you’ve started up a conversation, friendship can easily follow. You tell someone you like her yoga pants… the following week, you overhear her say she’s attending the studio’s inversions workshop, you say you are too, suggest you meet a little early for breakfast because you’d like to be friends, and boom—now you have a friend date! And all you had to do was just be nice and friendly.
4. Come up with good friend date ideas. Unlike when I was dating, when I waited for the other person to ask me out and make the plans (and, if they didn’t, I just texted them something inappropriate at 1 AM to get the ball rolling), I had to be a bit more aggressive with courting friends. So don’t just say, “We should get together sometime!” Whenever a guy said that to me, I’d think, Eh. Whatever. Probably not going to happen. But if, after a long discussion about, say, sushi, a guy said to me, “We should get sushi sometime!” and then suggested his favorite sushi place… well, I went from interested to naked in no time at all. So if you hear about a cool event going on in town? Invite your potential friend. This will also help you nail down a date and time so it’s more likely to happen; I find that coffee and happy hour friend dates just always seem to get rescheduled.
5. Don’t expect sparks to fly right away. You probably went on a lot of bad or just “eh…no chemistry” dates before meeting a great significant other, so why would you expect that you’ll hit it off with every friend you meet? You won’t. But I’ve found that while sometimes it takes a little time to decide if you really click with a new friend, unlike in dating, you aren’t keeping yourself from meeting more friends if you “settle” for someone. So if it’s a no chemistry thing, hang in there, and if she invites you to group events (like, say, her birthday party), go! You might find that you connect with her friends more than with her.
6. Know when to quit. While I believe that making new friends is a worthwhile effort, it’s also a lot of effort, and, much like dating, your heart has to be in it. There have definitely been times when I’ve felt pressure from older friends or acquaintances to make new friends in Houston, and, frankly, this got under my skin much the same way it would if someone was constantly telling single me that I should find a boyfriend. After a year of courting new friends, I found that most days, I’d rather spend my limited free time video chatting with my old friends than going on a “blind date” with a potential new friend. Or, hell, wandering around Target by myself for an hour because that is a glorious Friday night for me. I now have a couple friends in Houston who I could call in an emergency or when there’s a new exhibit at the museum that looks interesting, and a bunch of childhood and college friends in other states who I talk to regularly thanks to modern technology.
But… everyone says that you find love when you stop looking and, despite the fact that I pretty much told anyone who would listen I was on a man hunt just before I met Eric, my guess is that friendship is the same way. So play the game if and when you want to, but don’t feel bad when you don’t. I mean, everyone knows a woman’s real best friend is her dog anyway; I have two and they love the same things I do (waking up early, grooming, growling at people who come near our food) and they call me every five minutes… just like a BFF should.
Photo: Christina Richards