I know this blog topic might seem strange to a lot of you. What is this “How to make friends and influence people”? But it feels increasingly relevant and I thought it might be worth sharing. I keep seeing articles and videos about how despite us living in a more interconnected world, people increasingly feel isolated and alone. Many struggle with how to grow real friendships, and social media can create the illusion that everyone else is happier and doing better than you. So, what is the secret to forging deep and meaningful bonds with other people?
This might seem silly, but The Sims wasn’t totally wrong. Okay, it was wrong in many ways – friendship isn’t best cultivated by locking two people in a room together, forcing them to make jokes and exchange gifts until they finally get to a green level of friendship. What, don’t tell me you haven’t done that! But the game was right about all of us needing friends. We need them to feel happy and social, connected and understood, as well as to possibly meet our partners or find the dream job. But how do you grow real friendships, the kind that goes beyond superficial smiles?
As we plan to move overseas soon, this isn’t just a guide for people who struggle to make friends, it’s an important reminder. A social network isn’t built overnight, but it can be built nonetheless. So how do you go from feeling alone to having a circle of friends? Well, it can happen in person and online. Also, it really does take time – when emigrating, plan on at least two years before you have a real community of people you know and like.
How to grow real friendships – in person
Think about anyone you are close to. You might share a common history, shared experiences. If you think of friends of studies or work, it probably started out slowly. You were in close proximity on a regular basis, which led to small talk and a realization that you shared some common interests. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering (at least, not yet) – I remember heading off for coffee with friends at school, or sharing salt and vinegar chips during breaks. At work, I’ve made friendships from bonding over a fun song that came on the radio or commentary about how bad the common microwave was at heating up leftovers.
Make the small talk. It might feel inane to chat about how someone takes their coffee, but it can lead to anecdotes and stories that unfold in an easy, organic way. For example, I always laugh about how I take coffee – black with two sugars. I used to take it with milk no sugar or sugar but no milk, but when I was a student it was easier to keep sugar in the house than milk. Plus, when I met Dean, he took his coffee the same way and it just made life so much easier. There, now I’ve gone from talking about coffee to opening up the conversation to be about keeping supplies in the house, student life or even relationships. You never know which casual comments might help the conversation go deeper.
Of course, to do this you will need to put down your phone. Not forever, and not in a weird and obvious way. But look up and pay attention to the people around you. Small talk is where it can all begin. Share the small details of your life until you are comfortable sharing more about yourself, and always listen to what other people say as well.
Once you are comfy making small talk with someone, it’s simply a matter of engaging in conversation on a regular basis without ever feeling forced about it. There’s a lovely lady at Harley’s school, and her son also adores the swings. Just standing together, pushing our kids on the swings, we’ve had wonderful chats. We always greet each other warmly and enjoy talking about school stuff, our kids and even work to a certain extent. Over time, these connections can flourish, leading to playdates for kids, outings for coffee and eventually a close and meaningful friendship.
How to grow real friendships – online
I am in a WhatsApp group with a handful of other moms. At the start of the year, I was friendly with two of the ladies, although I’m not sure I would have called either a close friend. Two of the other ladies were vague acquaintances at best. In the course of almost six months, they have become some of the people I care about the most. It was meant to be a group to support each other as we tried to do daily yoga at the start of the year, but it ended up as a place where we could share our daily parenting experiences, work struggles or successes, and ask each other for advice on everything from hair styles to how not kill our husbands. We chat all day, every day, and even met up in person in Cape Town (all except one).
I am in another WhatsApp group with a whole bunch of guys who all enjoy playing similar games. It was meant to be a group to facilitate multiplayer gaming experiences, to coordinate when people were online to play together. By now, it’s filled with jokes, news, and genuine camaraderie.
The same can happen on Facebook, on twitter and on instagram. The reality is that we are all looking for connections, but all worried about making ourselves vulnerable with new people. You don’t need to jump into the deep end with a full-blown friendship right away. Take your time. Talk about safe topics and build upon consistency. You don’t have to talk to people every day if you don’t want to or don’t have the time, but find a routine to engage with the same people repeatedly. It’s through slowly connecting on various topics that real friendships are formed.
Or, you know, if all else fails, end up locked in a room with someone until you’re forced into friendship through the shared trauma of living through what I used to do with my Sims.