When we were young, most of the time, making friends seemed like a breeze…all it took was a shy smile, quick hello or just asking to join in. And next thing we knew, we had a new running buddy at the playground. Our social circles consisted of our parents, siblings, class mates and play mates that our parents set up. Everything was simple. But as you got older, especially when those awkward middle school years hit, finding and keeping friends became a bit more complicated. While navigating the personal and life changes that accompany growing up, we also have to learn to navigate between the different cliques, norms and groups that become established and break down during these years, which can be an overwhelming adjustment. And with our generation being so integrated in technology, connecting face to face occurs a lot less often than on a screen.
My first semester in college, was one of the most uncomfortable experiences in my life to date. Coming from a small, intimate high school, where I had known most of my classmates since the 3rd grade then arriving at a huge, public university with 40,000 people was really hard for me. I’m naturally shy and introverted, so the idea of creating a whole new social group seemed impossible to me. I had made a great group of friends in high school that had taken years to cultivate and I had no idea how to find people that could represent those friends in my college life. But honestly, that was my first mistake.
Coming to college, or when entering any new situation, you have to come open and unassuming. No one owes you anything. To make friends and meet new people you have to 1. put in the effort, 2. let people show you who they are and 3. be consistent. I (unrealistically) was expecting people to come to me: for someone, anyone to miraculously see me, want to be friends with me and make the first move. My shyness and stubbornness in meeting new people prevented me from taking advantage of all of the new freshman who were living on my floor or in my classes. Besides my roommates, a few floor mates that I had met through them and a handful of girls that I had done a 3-week pre-college program with, I hadn’t met that many people nor had I tried to. Yet, I still moaned and complained about feeling alone and missing my high school friends. Sadly, it took me until junior year to fully realize that the reason I was missing out, was because I wasn’t pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I hadn’t committed to any clubs, I hadn’t really tried to talk to anyone in my classes aside from group projects…I simply hadn’t put in the effort. But in my last two years, after I pushed myself to do new things and be more friendly, not only did I keep and better my relationship with the small group I had befriended freshman year, but I also met and bonded with a lot of great new people as well. And my senior year, was more fulfilling and exciting than the previous 3 years of college combined.
So the hard lesson learned was that making friends is not that complicated. When entering a new situation, what worked on the playground generally works when you’re older. A genuine smile, friendly hello and asking to join in is the only introduction you really need. And if someone doesn’t reciprocate a friendly hello?…you probably don’t want to be friends with them anyway. Their loss. So when we get stuck in the routine of life, and start to feel like our days are getting mundane, think about trying something new and commit to it. Go to dinner at a new spot, take an art or fitness class, attend an open mic night, try to go places that you haven’t been and reach out to someone while you’re there. Take an old friend and make new friends together. Even if you don’t meet anyone that night, it will feel good to experience something different and go back the next week and see if you find a familiar face.