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09 August 2012 @ 03:47 pm
making friends  
I'm reading this article on the NYTimes about the difficulty making friends as an adult, and it reminds me that I've been thinking about the logistics of friendships.

There are lots of different kinds of friends, right? There are the friends you knew years ago and don't see or keep up with, but when you do see each other every few years, it's a delight and leaves you wanting more. There are friends you see all the time, and friends you see occasionally, and friends you are friends with circumstantially rather than through any particular intention.

In the 2011 confessional, contessagrrl wrote a fantastic comment about being a better friend. Relatedly, I've been thinking recently about how you turn an acquaintance into a friend.

I can't count how many times I have said to someone, "Hey, you're awesome, it's been so good to meet, let's totally get together sometime soon!", and had them agree enthusiastically, and then neither of us follow up. This is totally okay, if disappointing, because in any given instance, we mutually drop the ball, which can be driven by all sorts of things: lack of time, lack of motivation, lack of interest-enough-in-the-face-of-other-commitments, or whatever.

But here's what works:

When I know someone socially who I want to know better as a friend, I go out of my way to make firm plans with them. This can be a quick coffee date or a longer experiential date or something in between, but the hard work of making it happen isn't the thing itself, but the matter of changing our habits (which currently don't include each other) to make space to get to know each other better.

How do you do this? Write a quick email: "Hey! I see there's free ice cream at Local Icecream Shop next Wednesday. Care to join me for a cone at 7 that evening? If not, maybe you'd like to get together for a slushy the following Wednesday or Thursday? I hope it works out!" -- note the lack of "sometime" in the suggestions.

Having something concrete makes the whole conversation go more smoothly, because either the person can make it at one of those times, or it inspires them to come back with other specific suggestions, OR it gives them a graceful out by NOT giving other suggestions and just saying, "Oh, sorry, I don't think that will work, but I look forward to seeing you at Mutual Friend's party in September."

It's not that this always works perfectly, but I so often hear people complain that the people they want to get to know never reach out to them ... but they also don't take a proactive approach to initiating these connections. And, while there's no formula for how to make each individual friendship work the way you want it to -- that's up to the people in the friendship -- there IS a formula for getting to know people and giving it a chance to get off the ground. Maybe it will; maybe it won't, but you don't actually know until you try it out.

I'm also a huge fan of putting a note in my calendar to remind me to email someone for the next round of getting-together before they're in my habitual list of people I socialize with and notice if we haven't seen each other in too long. Another good approach can be to have the next plans on the calendar before the current plan wraps up, if the friendship is still in the nascent stage where it would be easy for it to die off without careful tending, OR if both parties are reliably busy enough that you won't get to see each other as much as you'd like without that attention.

What tricks do you like for getting a new connection off the ground?
I'm feeling: chipperfriendly
harimad on August 9th, 2012 08:15 pm (UTC)
I developed the same trick. It gets people over the "blank page" problem and gives them something to react against. Works really really well for arranging meetings at work.

It hasn't worked so well for me in the social arena but that's because of my life not because the trick is a bad one. I wish I talked more with the friends that I have. By the time the kids are in bed I'm a bit wiped out (how do others do it so they have energy at night???) and typically don't even THINK to pick up the phone.Then there's the barrier of "having to catch up" since it's been so long. Finally, a little of it is that with certain friends all we talk about is our kids and sometimes I'd like some grown up conversation.

It's stupid, I know, even more so because I have an intellectual understanding of the issue, but I haven't figured out a way to break that barrier yet.

For new friends, if I've made a couple suggestions and Potential New Friend hasn't made any counters, then I give up. This happens too damn much.
Boring Nerd: wolf kahnsignsoflife on August 9th, 2012 09:18 pm (UTC)
Then there's the barrier of "having to catch up" since it's been so long

One trick I've learned is to just skip the catching up. I chatted with a friend I've fallen out of touch with yesterday, and I didn't fill her in on *everything* and she didn't fill me in on *everything* -- we just talked about what's really going on in our lives, right now, and a lot of the "catching up" occurred organically.

Because those "everything that's happened in the last 3 months/3 years/3 decades" are really not great for the back-and-forth of conversation. But "I'm stuck on this paper I'm writing" and "I'm having a conflict with a supervisor at work" are right-now sorts of things.
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on August 10th, 2012 12:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm totally with you on this. Skip the catch up in favor of talking about what's going on now -- the important stuff that we've missed will rise to the surface through conversation organically.
blkblk on August 9th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, I like the idea of making a note to myself on who I want to email.

I have pretty good luck with a similar approach as you have: I am proactive about inviting people to specific plans, with some wiggle room, so if there is interest, there is a good chance something can happen. If they decline and we can't reschedule right away, I have at least succeeded in putting myself on THEIR radar as someone they might think about poking at some point.

Some rules-of-thumb I try to remember:

1. Time develops comfort. The reason why it's so easy to make friends in college? Because you see these people ALL THE DAMN TIME. In class, in clubs, after class, working on a project all night, at mealtimes, at parties, at random activities. No, I won't like everybody I see regularly, but it will make it easier to get to know them. I have a few small local groups that meet once a week for dinner and a tv show, or for climbing, or just for hanging out and splitting a bottle of wine.

2. If you want something, go for it. I have some friends who initiate social requests, and many who don't. If I know someone I enjoy spending time with (and I believe they enjoy me), that's the only information I need to initiate an invitation. I work to place less importance on who invited who how often, and just ask for what I want.

3. Small groups are better for building friendships. I have casual monthly dinner parties which are great for seeing busy friends or making new acquaintances. But I don't make new friends there, because a large group setting (particularly one where I'm hosting) isn't the environment for building an intimate connection. If there's someone I want to see more of, I eventually need to talk to them individually, not just keep hanging around large public spaces with them.

The main disappointments I have with this these days are a) not having enough time/energy to make all the plans that I want to, and b) putting effort into building a new connection and not getting ANYthing back. That's when I know it's time to move on.
Elizabeth Hunterlillibet on August 10th, 2012 12:19 am (UTC)
First, I want you to know that you are at the top of my after-I-move list for making plans :)

Yesterday I got into a conversation about "sandbox friends"--people you are friends with in a particular context, but not beyond it--and how difficult it can be to know whether people are "real friends" until you get out of the sandbox. College is a long-lasting sandbox at an intense period of life and it can be really confusing as people sort themselves out into post-college relationships. I've just been invited to the wedding of a good friend who, had you asked me twenty years ago when we were both in college, I would not have bet ten bucks we'd still be friends decades later. At the same time, there are people I really loved whom I haven't seen or heard from in years.

My impression, by the way, is that this is all much harder for guys than for women. I have various theories about the reasons for that, but the most interesting part of the article for me was the sense I got from it that professional women are falling into the same problems and solutions.

I think that one of the many things I value about Theatre@First is the way it functions as a funnel, directing cool and talented people toward me and giving us the chance to figure out whether or not we might be friends. I've developed two relationships this year that seem like plausible friendships and another woman I've liked for ages seems to be slowly developing into a third.

Lastly, I do wish there were a polite way to say "I like you just fine in context, but I'm not really interested in exploring a relationship further" for friends. I can say it in a romantic context pretty easily, but with acquaintances it can be very tricky. And I think I'd rather hear it than wonder and try to guess whether "I'd love to, but things are really busy right now" is genuine.

Martha42itous on August 10th, 2012 12:36 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you brought up that last point, because I'm dealing with that same question right now. There's a friend-of-friends who's been trying to establish more of a friendship with me, and I've met up with this person for a couple of activities but I find them frankly rather dull and uninspiring and wish there were some graceful and kind way to make them stop asking. So far I've only used the "I'm too busy these days" excuse, but that's not nice, nor is it going to work forever.

Edited at 2012-08-10 12:37 pm (UTC)
ruthless compassionaroraborealis on August 10th, 2012 01:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'll look forward to that.

I like the sandbox friends notion.

When I'm in the position of not being able to or wanting to make more time for a person, I try to signal it with a foreward-looking addition to the "things are really busy right now" approach: "I really enjoy you and like seeing you when we run into each other, but I'm too busy right now to make additional commitments, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. But I'll look forward to seeing you at [some future social occasion]!" I think that projecting forward is helpful in indicating the severity level of the lack of time/interest in pursuing something.

I suppose similarly, I could indicate interest in pursuing more connection by saying when I expect things to slow down: "I'm super busy for the next six weeks due to a big work project and then a vacation, but I'd love to see you after the dust settles from all that." (And then perhaps put a note in my calendar to follow up in the right time frame.)
DancingWolfGrrldancingwolfgrrl on August 10th, 2012 04:21 am (UTC)
The scheduling of future plans during current plans is definitely my best trick for maintaining friendships. Remembering to send the scheduling email at a time when I'm not already swamped by email is a step that takes disproportionate work for me.

I am incredibly grateful for some great friendships I have now because other people were wiling to express interest in hanging out more than one time. I am trying to be better about this myself!

I also find that -- as with lots of new things, actually! -- tolerating a certain amount of awkward as part of the nature of the thing is useful. Silences take a while to become comfortable, and that's fine as long as I remember that it's fine and doesn't mean anything about whether the friendship will ultimately take off or not.
ruthless compassion: thinkyaroraborealis on August 10th, 2012 01:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I feel like it can be easy for people to get hung up on the equal distribution of asking, initiating, etc. Almost none of my friendships are 50/50. In some, I initiate more, and in others the other person does, and in any of the uneven ones, if the initiator only did so enough to keep things totally even, our friendships would be greatly impoverished.
Katefenicedautun on August 10th, 2012 02:01 pm (UTC)
I'll add that one of my best friendships was really helped by the other party just saying that they're horrible about scheduling, and encouraging me to be the initiator. Once I knew that that was desired behavior on my part, it was much easier to write the e-mail/make the call.
DancingWolfGrrldancingwolfgrrl on August 10th, 2012 02:24 pm (UTC)
Yes! I also meant to say that we are all sometimes swamped and in the world of email, I think no response often means "I forgot about this email" rather than "I don't want to hang out with you." I find patience and forgiveness and the ability not to take things too personally to be essential to friendships between two people with full lives, much moreso than in college!
(Deleted comment)
ruthless compassion: pouncearoraborealis on August 10th, 2012 01:49 pm (UTC)
Yes! Those are really good -- especially because the physical distance between us make it much harder (or, less frequent, anyway) to have a lot of casual or incidental social encounters.
Rowan: Wintermzrowan on August 10th, 2012 03:01 pm (UTC)
I feel like you're giving conflicting viewpoints here. On the one hand, you say that people should accept that some friendships involve an unequal amount of energy. On the other, you're saying that someone putting off, not responding to, or not reciprocating an invitation should be taken as a polite brushoff.

How does one tell the difference between someone who is genuinely interested in hanging out but doesn't have the motivation or concentration to make it happen themselves, and someone who is trying to get you to leave them alone -- especially when both of them are saying they like you and would like to get to know you better? What's the acceptable ratio of uneven energy before one person becomes more of a pest than a friend? 80/20? 90/10?

These kind of mixed messages used to make me crazy. It was especially tough to constantly hear "I'd love to spend more time with you!" and then have 90% of my invitations rebuffed (and even more tough to then hear "I'd love to spend more time with you, but you never invite me to do anything!").

In the end, I think it's more than reasonable to a) be frustrated with that kind of situation, and b) cut your losses and find people who have more motivation to make the time to see you. There are lots of awesome people in the world -- but some of them aren't worth the energy it takes to stay in their orbit.
Chris Xnminusone on August 10th, 2012 06:00 pm (UTC)
This times infinity, or at least a very large number.
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on August 11th, 2012 04:49 pm (UTC)
I feel like you're giving conflicting viewpoints here.

Well, obviously there is no single rule for relationships or life. I do think that people should accept that relationships involve unequal amounts of effort or energy. In some relationships, anything more disparate than 45/55 would be unworkable for one of the parties, and in others, both people are happy at 90/10. I don't even think there's necessarily a constant proportion for a single person across all of their relationships.

I also think that people should stop engaging in relationships that don't work for them. If you're putting in a lot of energy and not getting satisfactory results, it doesn't really matter if the person you're trying to build a friendship with is giving you a brush-off or sincerely is interested, but not enough to put more energy into the friendship -- the result for you is the same: dissatisfaction. Why continue to pour effort into that just because the person's motivations are one rather than the other?

I think it's more than reasonable to a) be frustrated with that kind of situation, and b) cut your losses and find people who have more motivation to make the time to see you. There are lots of awesome people in the world

Yes, this is exactly right. This is the other side of the coin that represents owning one's own power and responsibility in friendships: engage and disengage in the ways that work for you, rather than waiting for others to drive either side of that process.
Chancemiss_chance on August 23rd, 2012 10:05 pm (UTC)
These kind of mixed messages used to make me crazy. It was especially tough to constantly hear "I'd love to spend more time with you!" and then have 90% of my invitations rebuffed (and even more tough to then hear "I'd love to spend more time with you, but you never invite me to do anything!").

From my own experience I've learned to hear "I'd love to get more time with you," as "That's a lovely necklace you're wearing."

In either case it might be true, or it might be just a pleasantry for social lubrication. I used to date someone who would always say to vendors at fairs/dealers' rooms/ etc., "We'll be back." It drove me crazy, because I knew that we were both thinking 'No way!' at whatever the item was, and to me it seemed rude to me to get the vendor's hopes up. But to him it was a reasonable social pleasantry, understood by both parties (so he asserted) to mean no more than "Have a nice day." He meant no harm, and the phrase carried no actual intent, and he was certain the vendor knew that.

So when someone says to me "Miss Chance, I'd love to spend more time with you. We should have lunch." I think, "Oh how nice that they felt a desire to be friendly in that moment!" And I no longer associate it with future expectations. It's not even necessarily that I think they're 'lying' per say, but nor do I experience it as an expression of intent. It's intent if they or I follow up with action.
drwexdrwex on August 10th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
Gendered PoV
It's interesting to see and read the mostly womens' comments here. I find that I'm much better able to have and maintain friendships with women in part because my attempts to have/maintain male friendships fall to the lame. Maybe it's my lame, maybe it's his; maybe it's both.

I could list off half a dozen guys I've tried to be friends with and failed. On the other hand the people I am friends with are those who do what you suggested and extend concrete ideas for meeting up.

I wonder how much of this is due to social/gendered responses and behaviors and how much is just the nature of those peoples' personalities.
ruthless compassion: martini handsaroraborealis on August 11th, 2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Gendered PoV
I think of concrete activities or ideas for meeting up as a sort of string in the sugar solution -- without something to crystallize around, relationships have a hard time forming unless you're in a super-saturated environment like college or similar.
drwexdrwex on August 11th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
Re: Gendered PoV
A interesting analogy. And now I want rock-sugar candy :)