There are those who would settle into a new home all by their lonesome, their own pride and self-reliance pushing their souls in a life confined to solitude and introspection, but this is not me.
Instead, there are those who find the greatest sense of comfort and growth potential in the intermixture of a variety of perspectives, thoughts, conclusions, arguments, and philosophies. I find myself placed squarely in this category.
While my alone time is cherished and productive, I was born with an everlasting sense of FOMO: the “fear of missing out.” I don’t want to be the one guy who didn’t attend the party and has to hear about all of the sordid, exciting, and beautiful details afterward. I don’t want to miss out on meeting people who will enrich my life while I simultaneously engage a part of theirs.
Whenever I found myself in a new place, the first step was forging a cast of characters to go on adventures with, laugh with, argue with, and talk incessantly about stupid and interesting things. This is the foster family.
Let’s go into a few different ways that this family can be found and developed while maintaining your independence and not falling into the trappings of peer pressure and groupthink.
Find Likeminded and Antithetical People
The extent of most people’s conversations is asking prodding questions to elicit a respond that mirrors the thoughts within one’s own head.
There is a place for community and common interests, but this shouldn’t be the only avenue explored.
People just want to hear their words coming out of someone else’s mouth. This creates an echo chamber and self-validating vacuum where any new and interesting thoughts, progressive insights, or life lessons cannot be taught because you refuse to see beyond the walls of your own perceptual prison.
Of course, the path of least resistance is to start out by picking the people who you are most like. Obviously, you’ll have an easier time finding things to talk about and events that are enjoyable for both parties, but don’t let this be your only company.
You need people in your life who will challenge you, tell you when you’re being an idiot, ask you uncomfortable questions and let you do the same for them. The only way you get a full view of life is to have people who can stand in your blind spots and describe what they’re seeing, opening doorways to further understanding.
Break the Ice Through Conversation
As someone who never stops running his goddamn mouth, I find talking to people to be an easy task to accomplish. If you’re shy or awkward, this may not be so easy, but verbal communication is second only to body language in the order of operations that create interpersonal relationships.
I know it’s a terribly “that guy” taboo, but I find interjecting into overheard conversations as a good way to break the ice, but only if you have something to contribute. Don’t highjack the thread of conversation with tangential reasoning, but instead make a short quip that draws a laugh and take it from there.
The more alcohol swimming through your body, the easier this becomes. If you’re living a life of sobriety, then grow a pussy and talk to people without the aid of liquid courage.
I love the expression “grow a pussy,” by the way. I recently heard a Lady Gaga interview on Howard Stern from late last year and she described a sentiment to the effect of hating that men always tell people to “grow a pair” or “grow some balls” when courage is required, but this doesn’t make sense because balls are inherently sensitive while vaginas are strong and she takes umbrage with the description of weak, ineffectual people as “pussies.”
Anyway, depending on the trigger level of your audience, dirty and/or offensive humor could be the way to go to open the lines of communication.
People may find me obnoxious, offensive, and crude, but at least they’re listening and want to know more.
If the people you want to meet are more on the conservative (in the vague, prim and proper sense) side of the spectrum, you may want to make with some light sarcasm and self-deprecation instead of outright buffoonery.
Make and Keep Plans
The fastest way to lose your new friends is to become a flake. No one likes people who aren’t dependable.
It’s one thing to be busy and unavailable because of obligation, but this precedent should be set up early.
If you’re going to be the guy or gal who Irish exits and then texts the group to say “Hey I was too fucked up and needed to leave,” then set up that expectation as soon as possible.
You don’t have to walk on eggshells, but you should be upfront when you can’t make an event. There’s no reason to lie and save feelings.
People just want to know who’s in and who’s out, if you can’t make it, then there’s always next time. Don’t plan an event and make everyone think you’re going to show and then bail at the last minute.
On that same page, accept responsibility for making plans once in a while. Like the person you’re interested in who wants nothing to do with you, it feels bad to be the only person trying to make things happen. Reach out sometimes and initiate the planning.
Don’t be a pushover. Stand up for yourself. There’s no truer sign of insecurity than the inability to stand up for your opinions.
If the group is doing something that you don’t want to be a part of, don’t feel obligated to go. Don’t feel guilty. Take the time to go and do something that you want to do and do it on your own.
Always maintain a separate identity. Always have other groups of friends, other interests, other events to occupy your time when your primary family isn’t planning the type of night that you’re looking for.
It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. It doesn’t mean you’re a bailer or a flake or a stubborn asshole, you’re just creating boundaries.
Take some weekends off from hanging with the same people. Don’t feel pressure. We’re all adults now and it’s time to act like adults. You can entertain yourself.
If you don’t create boundaries and structure in your life, you open your life to codependence. This a terrible predicament to be in when people have so many expectations of you that you don’t feel that you need to live up to.
Don’t live your life according to the wishes of others, live your life how you want to and hope that your friends’ lives will intersect with yours when it’s convenient for both of you. This leads to crossing paths with people when you’re both at your most comfortable and allows for more meaningful interactions and lighthearted fun.
Listen and Approach with Inclusion
Even though I talk more than any human should, I am simultaneously always listening. I pay attention to the details of conversation, what people like, what they don’t like, what annoys them, and what makes them laugh and feel comfortable.
I always approach social situations with the idea of inclusion. I don’t want anyone to feel ostracized. I don’t want to box anyone out of conversation. I want everyone at their most peaceful in order to have fun and let loose and encourage an aura of sympathy and togetherness.
Take the time to hear what other people are saying and take their words to heart. Don’t be gullible and believe everything everyone says, but don’t be so skeptical as to stay in a constant state of cynicism. Trust me, I’m as sardonic as they come and it’s been a lifelong struggle to stay within the confines of polite sarcasm instead of outright meanness.
When you’re going to lunch at work, invite everyone as you walk by. Don’t section yourself off in your little group and ignore the people around you. How do you know that the person you’re excluding isn’t fun to be around? You could be missing out on good times that you didn’t even realize were right next door.
If someone in a social setting is shy or quiet, do your best to include them by asking them questions. Joke around and share stories about yourself to help them feel at ease. I love when I can get a shy person out of their shell and engaged with the group. Sometimes people just need others to notice them.
Be Brutally Honest and Be Yourself
Far beyond any other advice, always be honest and always be yourself. Even if you think you’re sparing someone’s feelings, a lie is not worth the time it takes to craft.
I spent so much of my life being a pathological liar. I used to tell people I had seen movies that I hadn’t, invented events that I was doing on the weekend, and lied about deals that I had uncovered to try and impress people. All it did was make me look like a bragging asshole and, when I was caught in a lie, I would try and talk my way out of it and end up looking even more foolish.
Ever since I started adopting honesty (and sometimes brutal honesty) as my way of life, things have gotten better. I know longer feel bound by my lies and held back by them. I feel extremely free telling truths about myself, however embarrassing they are or how vulnerable they make me.
Hell, in this blog alone I’ve talked about things that I’m embarrassed to admit and ashamed to display, but it feels good to get them out on paper. It feels good to open yourself up to criticism sometimes.
There will always be people who hate, envy, make fun of, misunderstand, or underappreciate you, but hiding your innermost feelings means that people who love, adore, look up to, and genuinely enjoy being around you also don’t get to share in your true identity.
You’re the one who has to live with being you, so make sure to present yourself in an accurate way. The most important people you meet will appreciate that and your moments of realness are what drew them to you in the first place.