Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lonely No More: Making Friends as an Adult

Friendships can keep us physically active and healthy, according to neuroscientist John Cacioppo. His findings – that having a social network is important to our well-being – are featured in the new book MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche.

I stumbled on MWF Seeking BFF just before Ben left for a week-long business trip in Austin, TX. Without Ben at home, I realized that I depended on just a few people for company, and that I'd probably let some friendships lapse that I shouldn't have.

MWF Seeking BFF reassures readers that it's not uncommon to find yourself in search of friends as an adult. People change throughout their lifetimes, and as they do, they can grow apart. Filling that void isn't always easy. "People want friends, they’re just embarrassed to ask for them," she writes.

To fill her friendship quota, Rachel vowed to go on one "friend date" each week. In between recounting her dates, some of which resulted in close friendships, she shares what she learned about making a connection with other women.

According to Rachel, here's what you can do to foster friendship:
  1. Accept all invitations. “The more you say yes, the more invites you’ll get. You have to follow up with all those meetings where you say ‘We should totally get together!’ instead of just saying it to sound nice."
  2. Look for opportunities to meet new people. Ask your friends if they know of anyone who might want to get together, and sign up for group activities that you enjoy. 
  3. Interact face-to-face. Twitter and other social networks can introduce you to new people, but on their own, they won't bring about lasting friendships. To create intimacy, face-to-face is better than phone, phone is better than email, and email is better than Facebook.
  4. Find similarities. "You need to find people with similar values, attitudes, and outlooks,” says John Cacioppo. “Think about what’s important to you, then find others in the same boat. Join those activities, troll those sites." When you're meeting a potential new friend, call attention to your similarities, no matter how small they might seem. It will make the two of you feel closer.
  5. Tell a story. When you meet someone new, don't switch into what Cacioppo calls "interview-mode." The year that you graduated from college or what you majored in isn't interesting. These facts don't create intimacy like a good story does. 
  6. Share your secrets. To deepen the bond, share personal information that you wouldn’t tell just anyone. To be friend material, she has to do the same, and be expressive and supportive when you're spilling the beans.
  7. Break out of your routine. Stepping outside your comfort zone is where you bond and make memories. If you typically meet at a cafe, try dancing or go to an arcade.
  8. Chat up your co-workers. People with three or more friends at work are 96% more likely to be satisfied with their lives.
  9. Keep in touch. The more you see someone, the more you’ll like her. Most of us need to meet with someone twice a month for three months before we will consider them a friend.
  10. Don't be afraid to follow up. If you want to see someone again, but she hasn't called or emailed, reach out to her. Take the initiative. Just make sure that the relationship isn't one-sided. If she doesn't return your messages after a few tries, she's probably not interested.
  11. If you're part of a couple, don't shut out the outside world. Isolating yourself from the outside world makes your marriage more fragile and increases the likelihood of divorce. Depending on each other for all of your social support is too much pressure for one marriage to handle. Double date. Spend time with friends as a couple; when you have couple-friends you're more likely to have a happier and longer relationship. 
As I read MWF Seeking BFF, I made plans with friends I hadn't seen in awhile (some in more than six months) and took the opportunity to meet new people. A thread on a message board led me to Debbie, who shares my interest in sewing. Since our lunch together, we've exchanged online messages and are planning to meet once a month.

Meeting new people is nerve wracking, but Rachel's experience has given me hope that I'll get better at it with practice. When her journey began, she was shy and afraid to approach strangers. Now she can't order at a restaurant without having a twenty-minute conversation with the server. Everyone is a potential friend.

MWF Seeking BFF is available as an e-book from the Buffalo & Erie County Library. Printed copies are available at the Central Library (downtown), Clarence Library, Hamburg Library and Julia Boyer Reinstein Library (Cheektowaga). Click here to search the library catalog.

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