As human beings, we’ve spent a large chunk of our lives being thrown together with people our own age: school, organized play groups, summer camp…
And to be fair, when you’re on the younger side of the spectrum, that’s really the only criteria we look for in a friend: Being roughly the same height vs. neighborhood proximity and boom, suddenly you have a BFF. And sometimes these are people you maintain relationships with throughout your adult life.
More likely, however, is that you’ve grown up, realized your differences, went to separates schools, moved to new cities and now only follow each other’s lives through a string of periodic Facebook updates. It’s not a falling out more than it is just the natural progression of things. Time moves on, so do we.
But as it turns out, friendship in adulthood doesn’t really pan out all that differently. As adults our endeavors at friendship can be slightly more strategic, more immediately based on deeper things we have in common and rejected by what we do not. We’re pickier, I guess, but we still rely on proximity and common experience to bring us together even if we don’t realize it. The point of friendship becomes less about climbing trees and skipping rocks (that’s what you did as kids, too, right?) and becomes more about seeking company you enjoy that also challenges you and encourages you to be your best. It’s about finding someone who doesn’t mind that you’re weird or, in the best cases, brings out the most winning parts of your weirdness. Maybe you met at your current workplace or a previous one. Maybe you met in college when you both had to get away from your roommates. You might have even crossed paths at a party or a gathering or a meetup.
But what if you didn’t?
Even though we’re constantly surrounded by other people, what stops us from approaching each other in the same carefree way that we did when we were kids?
Having recently moved to a new part of the country, I gave up the nearness of some very dear friends. These people have changed, and continue to change, my life. It was so hard. I really wanted to be sure that they knew how much they meant to me, that it wasn’t an easy choice to make, and that seeing them less was part of the reason this move was so difficult. I still talk to them all the time, sure. And we’re planning (and have already had!) what I’m positive will be some really wonderful visits. I’m determined to stay connected in big ways and small. And while there are still some things that can get in the way like time zone differences or the price of airfare, I refuse to believe that I have to completely start over. I already have some really fantastic friends—so why do I have to find more?
Of course, there’s the obvious fact that I’d like to form some new friendships where I am now so that I can be present in this place, in this new phase of my life. And I’ve gotten a lot of advice on how to make that happen. I’ve even been lucky enough to meet a few people through mutual friends and reconnect with people I used to know. But when I’m just making small talk with the barista behind the counter or the cashier at Whole Foods, I don’t know how to take it from “Hey, cool glasses” to “Let’s be best friends” without seeming like a huge, awkward weirdo.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness.” – Brené Brown
Isn’t that sort of strange? We’ve been instructed by society and older siblings and hit comedies on how to suavely approach someone to share our romantic interest in them. But we’ve never been really told how to bridge the gap from polite smiles, to acquaintances, to friends. Shouldn’t asking someone out on a date be the more challenging option between the two? Maybe I’m overthinking this, but for some reason I’m really worried that anyone I try to bond with is either going to think that I’m hitting on them or that I’m rapidly losing my marbles.
So in case any of you, like me, are wondering why there isn’t a way to meet people that doesn’t feel oddly like online dating or are hopeful that someone will catch your lonely-but-not-desperate vibe without you having to voice it, maybe we just go for it. Why not, right? I mean, maybe the first time don’t try it out on someone you’re certain you’ll have to see again, just in case if doesn’t go well. But the next time a seemingly nice person tells you, “Girl, those shoes are cute,” when you’re reading the nutrition facts on a box of cereal, you say something like: “Thanks! Want to hang out?”
Maybe you insert a few things in between shoes and hanging out or maybe you don’t. This is kind of uncharted territory for me and probably everyone, so I think the rules are pretty flexible. It’s probably going to be uncomfortable. I admit that approaching friendship or simple connection this way feels a little strange, even though some of my best relationships have happened in the realm of spontaneity, forced weirdness, or unexpected circumstance: My first friend (think preschool era) befriended me by silently tapping me on the shoulder to offer me half of a Fruit Roll-up that he’d torn in half and then not speaking to me again until middle school. My best friendship in college began after I aggressively bombarded a conversation I was not in because I overheard him talking about my favorite band. My closest friendship in New Jersey was born when she eyed me suspiciously my first day on the job and asked, “So, what do you do?” as if the hat and the apron didn’t make that fundamentally clear.
Still, let’s try this together. Whether your circle of friends is ever expanding, you’re hoping to forge some new relationships, or you just want to know the people of your community a little better, I believe there’s a lot that can change if we just look up at each other, linger a little, and let the situation feel a little weird. Start with something easy, like “Hey.” Admit that you’re nervous, even if that’s already obvious. Take the pressure off. Make simple plans. Stay open. Just think about how what happens next could change your life, even if it only becomes a lesson in putting yourself out there. Plus, it would make a really great/cute/funny answer to “So how did you two become friends?”
This piece was originally written by Helen Williams for Holstee.
Originally posted on Holstee’s Mindful Matter, the best place to read stories and tips on how to live life fully.