Remember how I read 5 or 6 books over the course of a month in December? Yeah, I’m not going that pace any more but I have since finished one book and am working on another (Moneyball,if you can believe it). The one I finished is called MWF seeking BFF. Not the best writing I’ve ever seen, but it was certainly interesting.
The author writes as a newlywed in a city that’s fairly new to her. She wanted someone she could call on a Saturday and say “what should we do today?”, or someone to call if she wanted to do something last minute. So she decides to go on 52 friend-dates this year, all with new potential friends. It’s an interesting read because in spite of facebook and cell phones and a million other types of technology that are supposed to help us connect and reconnect, a lot of us don’t or are not able to sustain friendships as we grow older, and yet many of us want them. And sometimes it’s not that you can’t sustain old friendships, but that you’re not sure how to make new ones.
I think I’m better now at friendships than I used to be. Of course, the only way I can be a friend to many people right now is e-mailing and facebooking, etc. That’s low commitment, but at least I’m actively trying to keep up with them and let them know I’m thinking of them and want to share in their lives. Ironically, though I will be closer, I think it will be harder to be a good friend once I stop cruising. It’s a lot easier to send an e-mail once a month (or, ok, once every six months) and make the occasional phone call when everyone knows your out of the country and willing to cut you some slack. But I’m better in the fact that I actually make an effort, which I did not start doing until late high school or college. I guess I thought friends should just happen, and like I saw in MWF Seeking BFF that is often just not the case.
Maybe we get better at keeping friends and treating them well and valuing them as we get older, or maybe it gets harder and we do the best we can, but perhaps a skill we lose along the way (some of us anyway) is the process it takes to make a new friend. I’ve actually gotten better at this, but only because of my situation. Every 3-4 months I go to a new ship, and people are eager to connect when you get onboard. The people you meet in the crew are not only your co-workers but you eat with them, live with them, share cabs with them, spend your off-time with them… you better make some friends or it could get really lonely. And you’d think that sometimes people aren’t interested in meeting the new people as they come onboard, and that is the case sometimes especially if they’re leaving in a week or so, but the truth is you have new people coming in all the time and some of your friends might be leaving soon so it’s a good idea to meet the new ones rather than crying about your friend leaving, because that happens again and again. So making new friends in this situation is a given and is easy. Everyone does it. I can name a good 25-30 new acquaintances that I’ve made in the last year (probably more), and at least 10 people that I a consider a new friend and that I’d like to keep in touch with.
But if I wasn’t in this situation? I have no idea if I would make many new friends or how I would even go about doing that. It’s a skill I think. And some people are better at it than others.
I remember the first time I actively tried to make new friends. It was not my idea. I went to a Governor’s Honor Program one summer (read: nerd camp) and a friend from my high school was also going and she was more intentionally social than I was. She knows how to make friends and is not intimidated by anyone I think. There were 600 or so other kids at this camp (or less than that? maybe more like 200? I really don’t remember…) and we all came in on the same day. Without my friend from my school I probably would have had like 2 friends. But that first day when we could all just wander around and eat and what not she said “Krista, we’re going to see how many people we can meet today” and she assigned me as her wingwoman. And we literally walked up to a good 70 people that day and just introduced ourselves (I think we counted how many people. not sure, but that seems like something we would do). She started off, but I did a pretty good job at jumping in. A lot of them we didn’t get close to, but a good twenty people we ended up hanging out with a LOT for the next 6 weeks. And it was amazing because all we said was “Hi. My name is Krista and this is M. We’re trying to meet as many people as we can today. Where are you from?” or some variation on that (and yes, I’m pretty sure we were that up front about our goal) and then have a 3 minute conversation. Then we’d move on to meet more people.
And what was amazing was how it changed me that summer. After we met all those people she and I kept track of the different ones that stood out to us. And if we continued to hang out with them we would say things like “you know science major Bobby? he seems really cool. We should see if he wants to eat lunch with us.” And we would. I depended on my friend M a lot, and without her I wouldn’t have made as many friends as I did, but after she showed me the ropes I learned to do it on my own. I was in line for lunch with a girl from my hall who I had befriended, but who I was rapidly realizing was not going to be a BFF for me… sweet, but not someone I was going to hang out with for 6 weeks. And I realized I could be mean and drop her, or she could be a part of my quest too, and I could meet other people in the process. So I just started introducing us to everyone in line, and that’s how I met one of the very best friends of both me and my friend M that we both kept up with for years, and who would also be my senior prom date.
And I would do crazy stuff too. like get up early and eat breakfast before everyone else, notice that there was only a few people in the mess hall and sit down with the one guy that was sitting alone. I just sat with him. I just said “mind if I eat with you?” and then we had a very nice breakfast conversation just the two of us. Ok, maybe I wanted more than friends that summer, maybe I also wanted a boyfriend, but still. Just sitting with someone who was eating alone? Who does that??? That summer, I did.
Prior to this, I assumed that there were very few people in the world that I didn’t already know that would want to hang out with me and become friends. Maybe I didn’t actually believe that, but that’s how I acted. I kept to myself in high school because there were times when I would try to reach out, and because everyone’s snotty in middle school I got a look of derision or “are you talking to me?” But what I know now, because of my friend M who showed me how to meet a bunch of people really quickly and actually make friends with them, and what the author of MWF seeking BFF learned too, is that most people (who are not middle schoolers or mean girls) don’t mind when you reach out to them. Most people like it. And yes, just striking up a conversation with someone can be awkward and sometimes downright difficult, but at some point they’re glad that someone finds them interesting enough to at least talk to. And that’s often how you make a new friend.
I don’t know that I could still do what what my friend M and I did that summer. First of all, you’re not often put into a new experience at the same time as hundreds of other people. But when I hesitate to talk to someone new, waiting in a line, on an airplane, whatever, I often think about what she taught me. And, on a good day, I’ll often try to make a new friend.
Are you trying to make new friends? Or is keeping up with the old ones hard enough?