(perhaps my most relevant ‘Pro Tips’ post yet, what with the Internet being at least three-quarters full of people who struggle to make friends in reality)
I don’t have many friends by this point in my life, but I have made a load of them; the problem is that they are temporary, either because of no contact between the two of us, or we simply move out of each other’s life by changing schools and such. As a result, I have known lots of people, and feel totally comfortable in talking to new people and ‘making friends’; this post will be about that practice, but will not deal with ‘keeping friends’, a concept I know sadly little about.
1) For the love of God, talk
This is the basis of all and means of most forms of human communication, so please do it; talking is a very natural process that the vast majority of the population can relate to, and in meeting a new person, you want to establish some common ground between the two of you ASAP, so why not make it the means by which you communicate?
Also, conversations in the broad sense are totally flexible; instead of approaching this person with a topic in mind to discuss, talk about whatever comes up in the conversation – they mentioned a cat? Then ask further about it, and stop trying to turn the conversation back to your Gundam collection.
2) Assume they’ll get every reference
That being said, if the tome comes to make a reference, go for it; at UCL the other day, my friend remarked that all the statues were crying, to which I quipped they are Weeping Angels from the show Doctor Who. They immediately did the ‘Oh my God, I know what you mean’ face, and we had a shared interest.
The worst-case scenario is that they won’t get the reference, which is fine; they’ll think you have varied and unusual interests, and may even want to pursue these hobbies later, giving you two more conversation fodder. It’s important to establish yourself as an individual, with choices to make and favourite things to do, and passing references to TV shows or online culture really helps with this.
3) Don’t look them in the eyes
This is where a lot of people fall flat on their metaphorical faces. To look someone in the eyes is either to suggest a dominance over them, or at least a self-assured stance, that is not inherently confrontational but often leads that way. This is why eye-staring works so well at interviews, because it shows the interviewer you’re serious about whatever is being discussed, but it doesn’t have to show you to be a hostile prick.
With meeting someone new, you’re trying to convince them you’re not a sexually-deprived murderer-terrorist who wants to break their kneecaps and put them in a Reverse Bear-Trap; obviously this is an extreme set of criteria, but we’re trying to prove to people that we are approachable and friendly, so don’t stare into their soul, please.
4) Never introduce yourself with your name
This is incredibly forward, I find, and creates the immediate expectation that the other person will give you theirs. This forces them into an awkward decision: either give their name to a stranger, and thus give you a means of differentiating them from the rest of the crowd of people you don’t know (a great danger if they are in any way related to the sexually-deprived murderer-terrorist), or point-blank refuse to comply, and immediately set up your relationship as one of dysfunction and disagreement.
Fundamentally, names are in place to represent us and our characters; human traits are incredibly complicated outside of The Sims, and the combinations of them that make up the members of our deluded species are unfathomably difficult to explain coherently, so our names stand as metaphors for out entire personalities. Therefore, giving your name before any of the conversation has passed means you are subtly imposing what you think constitutes your character onto the conversation, before any of it has actually taken place to allow your ‘friend’ to make a judgement on you; ‘Hi, I’m James and I think x‘ is a lot more forceful than simply ‘I think x‘.
There are also practical issues here: introducing a name at the start of a conversation forces it to be remembered for the remainder of it, to avoid the awkward ‘sorry, what was it?’ question that kills any possible friendship immediately, which is hard to do considering the complexity and difficulty of making friends anyway. Also, giving a first name removes any easy chance to get in your surname, a characteristic necessary for the final step to be followed. Finding out I’m called James is all well and good, but you’ll have to awkwardly ask for my surname specifically later on, a question that will immediately signal your intent to stalk me on Facebook, giving me a slight sense of dread.
5) Stalk them on Facebook
Provided you’re not a sexually-deprived murderer-terrorist, this is a great way to get to know people; you can trawl through their interest to find indie bands you both like of course, but friending someone on Facebook opens the door for future easy conversations. A month or so ago, a friend from Primary school I hadn’t talked to since I was eleven liked my status in which I announced the existence of my interview at Cambridge, upon the back of which we talked for about an hour and a half on all sorts of things.
The constant closeness of friends of Facebook might be unsettling for some, but the site is a great screening process for possible friends; by glimpsing over people’s statuses, you can see not only their interests, but how they think: this person thinks it’s necessary to share the fact that they have a headache, I’m not going to hang out with them.
This might sound like an unnecessary mechanicalisation of the process of making friends, but never base a relationship on Facebooking alone; the friend I mentioned earlier was an old friend from school, and I added another friend after meeting them in person at Cambridge almost a month ago now; Facebook is great for keeping in touch with people in the early stages of your relationship, as the simulations openness and intimateness of statuses means you can find out about them without having to awkwardly ask them point-blank, but it is by no means a suitable way of forming a relationship from scratch.
So go forth and make friends, you sociable fools, but don’t ask me for tips on keeping friends; beyond going to the same English lessons I’ve no bloody idea.