Strangers tend to want to talk to me a lot.
My sister once told me it must have something to do with my face.
She said it looks welcoming.
I don’t know about all that, but what I do know is that many of my conversations with strangers usually only last a short while before they realize I’m socially awkward.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless people coming to this realization about me time and time again.
Truthfully, it’s become rather amusing.
At first they’re always so hopeful with wide grins and quick-witted tongues — believing they’ve struck up a conversation with a “similar kind.” But little do they know small talk has never been my forte. So, instead of a quick-witted response back I usually utter a few words and the conversation falls flat.
(Insert awkward silence here. Like, the really painful kind.)
But being that I’m a nice person, the only thing I hate more than being awkward is making someone else feel awkward because I know I’m being awkward.
So, this is usually where (in an attempt to mend the situation) I begin word-vomiting information about anything I can think of.
Sometimes I’ll talk about the weather.
Sometimes I’ll mention how I’m from Michigan.
Sometimes I’ll tell a story about my cat… which usually leads to showing pictures of my cat.
It really depends on the mood I’m in.
But being a bit of a socially awkward introvert, I suppose such situations are just meant to be my lot in life. And since I’ve made it this far and I still experience these awkward interactions from time to time — whether it be at the grocery store, car shop, doctor’s office, etc. — I’ve come to embrace this quality in myself with a calm, practical, acceptance.
It is what it is.
Since my husband chose a job where we get moved around a lot, I’ve landed myself in a fair share of conversations with strangers over the years.
More than once or twice I’ve been the “newbie” in town, the new hire at a job, or a “potential friend” in an already close, well-established clique (… pending that I don’t turn out to be a total nut job.)
I approach most social interactions in my life in very much the same way that I go about talking to random strangers (see “weather,” “Michigan talk” and “stories of my cat” as mentioned above.)
Only, when I’m about to attend a planned social event, my mind typically likes to throw in a bit of anxiety and overthinking ahead of time.
You know, just for fun.
But I am a human being and being that I am a human, I, as humans do, require social interaction with other humans. And though I really am an introvert at heart, I do still rather enjoy the occasional social event, meaningful heart-to-heart with a good friend, or even sporadic cocktail followed by a girl’s night out on the town.
Moments like those help to rid me of my introverted cabin fever, and they help to challenge me and refill my soul and social cup.
Even though I’ve sometimes had to push myself into social situations in the past (in order to make friends), I can say that more often than not I’m happy I did because I ended up having a good time, making some terrific memories, and often even coming out of such experiences with a new friend (or friends.)
It’s no secret that trying to make friends in a new place is hard, and when you’re introverted and social interactions aren’t exactly where you shine, it’s even harder.
Going away to college for the first time, starting a new job, or moving to a new city are all intimidating experiences alone — even before you have to worry about finding friends.
It’s almost like the whole process is similar to going through those super awkward pre-teen years all over again...
· It’s uncomfortable.
· There’s growing pains.
· You’re suddenly overly aware of all of your body movements.
Now, I am by no means a friend-making expert (…I’d really like to hear from you if you are!) But I’ve somehow managed to meet some truly wonderful people and wrangle myself pretty terrific friends at various places I’ve lived over the years.
Time and time again I’ve found there are 5 things I can do at each place I move to that make the whole friend-finding process a little bit easier.
So, in the hopes of bringing solace to any fellow socially awkward introverts out there, I’ve decided to share these 5 lessons I’ve learned about finding friends as a new-in-town, socially awkward introvert.
1. It helps to talk to people. Like, anyone. Seriously.
This might sound obvious, but hear me out. When you’re new somewhere and you don’t have a job lined up yet, it’s easy to go an entire day without talking to anyone. Trust me. The first time it happened to me, I was like… “Whoa. That was weird.”
Don’t let this be you.
Get out and interact with the world, even if it’s just a “hello” to a cashier at a local grocery store or a barista at a nearby café. You never know where new friends could be hiding.
You can even think of it as practicing and exercising your social skills.
A good way to get a conversation going is to mention how you just moved to the area. A lot of local’s love hearing this because it gives them the chance to tell about their favorite parts of the city. It’s also a fantastic way to find out about great local restaurants, parks, or other interesting things you might only hear about through a true local’s perspective.
2. Be open minded. You may have more in common with people than you first think.
There’s always at least one thing you can relate on with someone.
Over the years, this theory hasn’t proven me wrong. Sometimes you meet people you instantly click with, and other times the conversations just as dragging and torturous for the both of you. That’s all right. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you or that there’s something wrong with them. It just means your personalities aren’t compatible, and it happens.
But say you work with this person? Or you’re in a situation where you’ll be interacting with them regularly? There’s no need to go signing that person off just yet. Sometimes (like with us introverts), it just takes a little longer for someone to open up and feel comfortable.
If you give the person a chance, maybe you’ll find out you’re both from a small town? That you have a similar interest (fitness, camping, writing, etc.)? That you both agree chocolate is the greatest invention the world has ever seen?
Give everyone a fair shot. Some of my best friends have come from relationships that grew over time.
3. You have to go looking for friends.
You get the idea.
Sure, it’s scary to put yourself out there and go searching for them. Many of us are probably accustomed to having a close friend or group of friends we grew up with. They were easier to make, because, well; you got forced together for 8 hours a day in school for the better half of your lives. But when you get out into the real world, you’ll have to work a little harder. Simply put: you have to go find them.
If you don’t end up finding them at work, then try searching through activities you enjoy doing in your free time.
Sign up for a local class. Join a club in the area. Volunteer somewhere. Groupon the hell out of things you’re interested in.
I know it’s scary, but you’ll need to be brave and put yourself out there in new situations.
I’ve made friends that were 10 years younger than me to 40 years older than me. No joke! I once joined a writing group where I was the youngest one there… by a good 40 years. But in this writing group, I also met a former ultra-marathoner, a New York journalist, and a newly published novelist. People aren’t always what they first appear, and friends can come in the unlikeliest of places.
4. If you get invited somewhere, go. You’ll thank yourself later.
There are a million excuses a person can come up with to wiggle their way out of plans.
But if there’s even 1% of you that wants to go, then DON’T LET YOUR FEAR TALK YOU OUT OF IT.
Even if your knees are shaking, palms are sweaty (like the Eminem song), and you’ve convinced yourself you’ll be one big hot socially awkward mess.
It can be easy to psych yourself out of an invitation if you’re nervous, but let me share a secret with you…. it’s all in your mind.
Unless you’re a 100% extroverted individual, everyone gets a little nervous going into new situations. It’s normal! And it’s not an excuse.
Sure, you could stay at home in the safety of your four walls and everything that’s familiar, but what are you gaining from that? If you’re living out of fear, are you really living at all? You’ll be proud of yourself for going. I promise. And who knows? You could even end up having one of the best times of your life.
5. Be patient with the process and use the time to grow.
I’ve found the first 3–6 months of moving to a new place is always the hardest. You don’t really know anyone. You get lost a lot. You barely know where the grocery store is and if you’re introverted by nature, then you may feel like a real loner for a while.
Sure, you could hide out, sit in the dark by yourself and binge on all the Netflix shows you’ve always wanted to catch up on… or, you could take the time alone as an opportunity to grow yourself as a person.
What’s a creative activity you’ve always wanted to pursue?
Have a hobby you’d like to try out?
Ever been interested in yoga or learning a new language?
A stimulated mind is a happy mind, and eventually, there will come chapters in your life where you’ll probably look back and miss all the free time you’re being granted.
Be patient with the process and immerse yourself in something that speaks to you. Every chapter of our lives is temporary, and this one will be too, so be sure to make it count.
Before you know it, you won’t be the “newbie” anymore and it’ll seem like everything is suddenly falling into place.
You’ll be a stronger person, you might learn a thing or two about yourself throughout the process, and before long you’ll get to show all the new people you meet just how wonderful your introverted, socially awkward self can be.