(so, hi, I’m James)
Meeting people has never come too naturally to me (my hatred of small talk not helping that one), and recently I’ve realised why: I’ve never been in a situation where introductions are all that necessary. I met people at school because I was stuck in a classroom with them all day; those classmates became friends, who became teammates at various sports clubs, and soon I was neck-deep in tennis and football training for so long that even after my first friends had left, I’d basically become part of the furniture at those clubs. An identical thing happened at secondary school, where most of my extra-curricular relationships were the same as my classroom ones, just wearing gym shorts or playing Warhammer instead of learning Pythagorus’ Theorum.
But that model – be too young to realise you’re making friends until you’re surrounded by them – doesn’t really work now that I’m at uni, where people have matured into introverts and arseholes, and spend all their time in labs or learning Latin, so we don’t see each other every day of the week. ‘Making friends’ has become more of an active process, one that must be done, rather than a passive one where relationships just kinda fall into your lap.
And this isn’t to say I didn’t meet people in my first term here, that I sat in a darkened attic in Euston with bony fingers tapping out dystopian novels on a typewriter, but I didn’t go out of my way to meet all the people I was involved with regularly; being a member of like eight societies meant a few got squeezed when it came to introductions.
But this term I’m working on that; I’ve found that a simple introduction (involving name-giving and hand-shaking) lets you engage with that person as a person, instead of a stranger who does broadly similar things. This sounds obvious, because it is and I’m both socially incompetent and painfully self-aware, but relationships with people involving introductions have gone on to be much more natural and easy than those with the people who I have talked to, but have done that awkward thing of not learning their name when we first meet, so I’m endlessly sharing one-line jokes with That Guy With The Hat, who politely laughs and we stand next to each other in silence. The ‘what’s your name?’ approach, mundane as it may be, opens up a load of other questions – ‘What are you studying?’ ‘How long have you too been fanatically interested in Lasers and Feelings?’ – that dismissive hellos and half-arsed attempts at communication never can.
There’s also the upside that people who seem cool now become friends who are cool, and the fact that meeting an arsehole in this way (rare as it is) just gives you more evidence for them being a prick that you should avoid – the advice of a wise man is particularly relevant here: ‘If they don’t like you, fuck ’em’.
Although a new mantra seems pretty useful these days: ‘If they don’t know you, meet ’em’.