How to make friends

As you may already know because I mention it like twice a week, I just moved to Portland on December 31st. I’m settling in nicely, live in a great house and have only seen one spider in my room, so life is pretty great physical comfort-wise. Having never been here and knowing no one when I arrived, I was fairly nervous about meeting people here. Having been here a week, it’s safe to say that I am now sufficiently terrified. I have finally come to the conclusion that I have very little idea how to make friends as an adult besides via osmosis (i.e. friends of friends).

It’s not that I don’t have friends elsewhere or am particularly lonely. I Skype regularly with my close friends in California from college and frequently text those I’m tight with in New York — hell, you even know some of ’em — and there are plenty of others all over the country/world. But somehow, I never met anybody who presently lives in Portland. I have all sorts of friends from here who tell me to look up so-and-so or go to such-and-so bar and ask for some guy, but I’m just not one of those people who can call up a complete stranger and go on some kind of blind friendship date.

Fortunately, I have a nice roommate who has so far introduced me to some people, but I’m not good at talking to new folks. While I’m talkative and (mostly) friendly and able to discuss myself openly on the Interwebz, I am very different in person.

Very different.

Well, actually, I’m only completely different until you get to know me, and then I’m pretty much exactly the same (fact: I speak entirely in GIFs). But when I’m first getting to know people, I’m all…

It’s Britney, bitch.

When I was a kid, I was amazing at talking to strangers. I was fearless because I thought everyone loved kids and that made me feel like it was safe to talk to, well, everyone. As I got older, I started to realize that (A) even if people like you, they can still be dangerous (B) the ones who are safe might not even like you (C) actually, the people who “especially” like kids can often be the most dangerous. Nevertheless, even in college, I was still great at meeting new people, talking to random folks at parties and not being afraid of rejection.

This was, in part, because I had a built-in friend group. My high school sweetheart went to the same college as I, and when I arrived, we continued dating for a long time on and off. This meant that I was absorbed very quickly into his friend group, which was rather large and very accepting; plus, being a female college freshman amid a group of people who are a few years older tends to work in your favor (until this shiny newness you present wears off later on, of course). I never felt like I needed to run out and make new friends because I already had plenty, and I would comfortably meet people through them.

I rarely went to parties where I didn’t know 60% of the people, which helped me avoid any terrible wallflower situations. And because my then-boyfriend and I were borderline inseparable, I always had someone to go on adventures with, make food for and sleep next to when the going got tough. When I had panic attacks, he was there; when I had food poisoning, he took care of me; when he was depressed, I would comfort him for hours on end, and so on and so forth. My life felt very in control because I had a consistent party to be around. And even after we broke up for a year, I maintained all the friendships with people he’d introduced me to, so I still didn’t feel lonely or like I needed to branch out of my comfort zone.

Then, I graduated college and realized how much happier I am being primarily antisocial. Whereas I used to love going out, partying, hosting events and meeting as many people as possible, I now prefer to go out with 1 to 4 people and that’s it. Even if we go out to a show where there are thousands of people in attendance, I desire a small group to be there with, and I actually get sort of exhausted and anxious if I am around more than that.

Don’t get me wrong: I love hanging out with people. The guy whose lease I took over had a going away party a few days ago and I had an excellent time (albeit a very drunk one). I talked to lots of new people, made a couple friendly acquaintances, and even wound up getting drinks the next day with a few of those new people, which was very lovely, not to mention extremely delicious (seriously, get the seasonal jar at Swift Lounge in NE Portland; also, call me pwease). I’m still afraid of meeting people, but I am trying.

So, here are the steps that I am taking. Obviously, I am underqualified considering I still have yet to be nominated Prom Queen here. I will probably give an update later this year and let you folks know how some of these ideas worked out, but for now, that’s all they are: ideas.

  • Be open to others’ interests. Everyone I’ve met does rock climbing. I do not. I have the balance of a turtle on an ice cream cone. So far, though, I’ve been invited climbing twice. While I’ve had to say no both times because none of my exercise clothing or shoes have arrived in the mail from NY yet, I am planning on agreeing to go next week as soon as it does.
  • Say “yes,” even when you’re anxious. In retrospect, this tip sounds creepy and as though it applies to sex, but that’s (obviously) not what I mean. Last night, an acquaintance who asked me to go climbing with himself and his girlfriend invited me out for a drink after (which I had initially suggested to both of them, since I was unable to hike). He and I wound up going out to a cute little neon bar, trying a bunch of interesting cocktails and talking about tons of drunk/traveling stories. And now, that acquaintance is a friend. Voila!
  • Take classes. If I wind up staying here longer than six months, I’ll be signing up for art classes in the summer, which will hopefully let me meet people. Until then, I actually pledged to start doing yoga, so I’ve signed up for a class. Maybe I’ll find inner peace, maybe I’ll meet lots of nice people; either way, it’s good to branch into new territory and find a healthy environment to be introduced to new experiences and people.
  • Be polite. You’d be amazed how many people I’ve met over the years that complain about not knowing how to make friends, yet are initially rude or unfriendly to strangers. Even if you don’t think you’ll wind up being buddies forever with somebody, it’s always a good idea to maintain your manners. Who knows? Maybe you two will discover you actually like each other and get best friend necklaces shaped like two interlocking cupcakes.
  • Don’t date anyone right away. Okay, if you arrive at a new place and are already seeing somebody, that’s fine. Don’t just dump ’em because you need to branch out, or whatever. But in my opinion, dating somebody right off the bat after just a couple weeks of existing in a place can be a bad idea. First of all, you may find yourself overly reliant on him or her because it’s easy, so you don’t have to depend on yourself quite as much. Second, if — and probably when, let’s be honest — you break up and your only friends are the ones you made through this person, you could find yourself in a situation wherein all his or her friends either don’t speak to you as much or feel like they need to take sides (and they’ve known your ex longer). In my opinion, it’s best to make friends first, then worry about dating.
  • Go out alone. Not so much to bars on a Saturday or walking around all by yourself at 1am, but I definitely recommend going to restaurants, coffee shops and pubs alone. I went to a gastropub last week on my own and wound up talking to a few random folks who worked there, and now I’m on great terms with the staff. I’ve started taking my laptop to a coffee shop down the street and am feeling increasingly comfortable with the area. It’s good to get out alone, and it makes you feel more confident in your abilities to exist on your own as well as around other people.

Since I may not be the best advice-giver for making friends, I am also quite open to yours. And if you’ve ever been in a similar position, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to describe in the comments, or to troll let me know your solemn opinion that I will end up being this girl:

Top Picture: South Park