On Socializing, Making Friends and Meeting People: Strategies
E. Mail Question: 20 Year Old Female: no friends, depressed, what should I do?
Back in January, 2008, someone sent an E. Mail question about the fact that they are depressed, lonely and have no friends. In fact, the E. Mail question, to which I wrote a response, has received a lot of attention from many young people struggling with the same problem. The E. Mail question, my response and all the additional E. Mail comments can be viewed by following the hot link below:
The problem of socialization, including meeting a significant other plagues large numbers of people today. The question is why is this so and what can people do to overcome the problem?
A woman named Catherine Bergart wrote a short article for the Sunday New York Times entitled, "Losing Income and Camaraderie." She points out that since losing her job in this recession (along with 5 million other Americans) that there sees to be no place for a person to go and socialize during the day. Working at home is isolating and lonely and even going to a cafe where there is wireless internet service is lonely because nobody talks to anyone else. It seems that we are living with a modern phenomenon, in this age of world wide instant communication, "called lack of opportunity to interact with others."
Just walking along the street anywhere in the U.S. you will find people listening to music on their ipods plugged into their ears. Or, you will find people who seem to be talking to themselves until you realize that they are plugged into the cell phones. I have seen people on the beach working on their laptop computers or talking on their phones. No one is talking to anyone who is right in front of them.
Does any of this promote socialization or interaction? Certainly not.
But, it is not right to just accept things the way their are. To do so is to allow ourselves to plunge into depression and hopelessness and that is not the way to go.
Here are some suggestions that I have found can work, but, it takes effort and persistence.
1. Go to the local Starbucks or other establishment and bring a book, the newspaper, or your laptop. The trick is to go there as often during the week as possible and when you know there will be a fair number of people there. Once there, make the brave effort to smile, when you come up to the counter to order, and say hello and chat. There is no need to be brilliant at chatting. Just comment about the weather or something benign. Eventually, people will get to recognize and know you. When you sit, say "hi" to those around you and make another benign comment.
Know something for sure and that is you are not the only person who feels lonely and wants to chat.
2. Follow the same procedure in your apartment building or in your neighborhood when you step out of the house. Wave to people, say "hi" and repeat it even if some people seem to ignore you at first. Other people are shy, too, or they simply did not hear you. Everyone wants to feel noticed and acknowledged.
3. Do not focus on meeting a romantic partner but on just making acquaintances and friends. That takes a lot of pressure off of you and can make this effort at socializing fun. Also, it may feel awkward at first but you will get better at it if you persist.
4. Go to the college or university library, even if you graduated or go to the public library. Follow the same procedures. Go to the book stores that have coffee shops and have an atmosphere that could invite socialization. Talk say hello and comment about the cost of books, of living and how hot, cold, dry, rainy, etc, the weather is.
5. Work can be a wonderful place to meet people and make friends. Again, this is not meant to imply only romantic friends, but, buddies who share the same work place stresses each day. The water cooler, coffee and tea service and lunch rooms at work are all natural meeting places where people stand or sit and chat. Gradually, even new employees are accepted into the group and become part of the network. It does not take long, after this acceptance, to be invited for Sunday Brunch or for drinks after work. It is true that people have made life long friends at work and, sometimes, even their spouse.
Watch Your Non Verbal Comments:
While we are taught the right and wrong things to say in social situations and to "watch our language," we are not given the same instructions about our non verbal communications. Put simply, we say as much or more non verbally as we do when we utter words. In other words, many people who complain about the failure to meet people and make friends or find lovers may be sending non verbal messages that they really never intended to transmit.
For example, such mundane non verbal behaviors as:
1. Carrying a frown.
3. Averting eyes.
4. Sitting with arms and legs crossed.
5. Walking past and not saying hello or even responding when someone else greets you.
6. Using an angry tone of voice.
7. Carrying a "disgusted look on your face.
8. Never smiling.
9. Never acting happy to see people.
10. Never looking up.
11. Turing your back when someone is speaking to you.
12. Steadily making sarcastic comments.
13. Never asking how other people are.
14. Moving away as people approach.
15. All types of hand gestures.
There are dozens of other non verbal types of communication that communicate more about you than you really intended or ever wanted to send. It is the face that probably says more about us than anything else. After all, from birth onwards, infants stare at the face of their mother, father or anyone else who holds them. We are born with a natural and built in preference for any form that resembles the human face, as illustrated in dozens of studies and experiments with infants and parents.
There are lots of self help books that can be found on this web site or in the book stores that describe ways in which you can help yourself interact with people with much greater skill and success. While some of the suggestions may seem unnatural and uncomfortable at first, as you practice and experiment with new behaviors, you will become more comfortable as these behaviors become part of your natural way of interacting. As the old saying goes, "practice makes perfect."
It is important to not become discouraged as you reach out and make an effort to meet people and make friends. There are always those individuals who may not respond. This is usually due to their own sense of shyness or reservation around new people. The idea is to not give up but to keep trying.
I pointed out in a recent bldg that socializing is sometimes a matter of geography At present, we are in New York State and both my wife and I notice a decided difference in the way strangers interact here as opposed to people living in the West and South. Here, everyone looks more serious, are less likely to respond when greeted with a "hello or hi," and generally more reserved. Out West or South, the look on the faces of most people are relaxed and everyone is likely to beat you to the first "hello." The point is to remember that it is not personal.
In the end, if you are still having difficulty meeting people there is always psychotherapy. In this case, I would strongly recommend Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy.
Your comments, questions and observations are welcome and encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, PhD
Suggestion for ice breaking session - - Jun 2nd 2009
I learned from a friend about the Cube game that was really fun to talk about with other people, especially if you really wanna know them or make new friends.
It's an imagination game where you ask several open questions for the other person to describe something like "Imagine there's a room and you have a cube, how would you describe your cube? How big is it? Where would you put it?...etc".
The cube game that you may find on the internet may focus too much on different aspects of what the aims of the game are. But I think you could use it to play it with your new friends as well.
Sometimes, quizzes or an interesting imaginative story will help in the socializing process.
I also heard of examples where shy people focused on using magic tricks to attract people's attention and later became a very popular magician.
my 2 cents.