Social Guides for the Socially Awkward Part I: Making New Friends
July 29th, 2013 by Jessica
I’ve been rolling over and over in my brain how best to continue the conversation on social anxiety. What I finally came around to (after much deliberation, convincing myself I had something to say, convincing myself it was ok to say what I had to say, talking myself out of it, deliberating, and then deciding again), I have now settled on a ONE TWO PUNCH.
This week I’ll be premiering my Vlog series: Anxiety and Public Speaking. In tandem with that, I’m starting this blog series Social Guides for the Socially Awkward.
I’m taking everything I’ve taught myself over decades of shyness, introversion, general, and social anxiety and packaging it up in what I hope will be a useful medium to help others who suffer as I do.
My Golden Rule of Social Anxiety: FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT.
Part I: Making new friends
Step one in any challenging journey is always the hardest. When seeking to accomplish any goal, even one as seemingly simple as going to a party, I find breaking the goal up into small steps helps keep me from feeling overwhelmed.
So, you want to get out of the house and meet like-minded individuals? The first step is to find where those individuals meet. Love reading? Book club! Love being active? Rock climbing gym! Meetup.org has tons of groups for every interest in the world in most areas. This is the best place to start. Check them out online. If they have a website, they also have announcements for events. I, being a geek, would check out a local comic shop. Most comic shops have round table discussions, game nights, book clubs, or even special release events. If they don’t have any events listed online, give them a call. They should be able to give you a heads up on some fun events involving geeks in your area.
PLEASE, do not talk yourself out of proper preparation because it feels silly. DO NOT allow the following phrases to make you feel bad about being nervous: “It’s just a party, relax.” “People do this stuff all the time, quit being overdramatic.”
You are not being overdramatic. Your feelings of nervous apprehension are completely valid. The most important part of event prep is to take a deep breath and allow yourself to feel however you feel.
Check out the venue. Drive up, scope out the parking. If it’s an open venue, ie a comic shop, go in and look around. The less you have to worry about the day of, the easier things will be for you. Is there good parking? If not, where is the best place to park? What is the layout? Is the event in a special back room or upstairs? Is there a good hovering spot to gather yourself? Answering these kinds of questions will help you look and feel less unsure on the day of the event.
The final aspect of event prep is an outfit. Even if you’re a dude, this is important. Pick out something that makes you feel your most attractive and confident. For me, it’s a funny t-shirt, jeans, and boots. For one of my guy friends, it’s a geek tee, suit jacket, and jeans. Another friend of mine loves to wear dresses and skirts with geek jewelry. Whatever works for you. Make sure it is clean and mostly unwrinkled by the time the event rolls around.
I am never able to avoid thinking about the event the day of. Rather than go over all the things that could go wrong, I practice ice breakers in my head. If the event involves a certain subject, I do a little research/refresher into the subject so that I can contribute to conversations. I also prepare questions. People love questions! Questions are also great because they put the onus on others to say stuff. Examples: “What’s your favorite blah blah?” “When did you first start reading whosie whatsit?” “I love that shirt, where did you get it?” Anything like that is a great ice breaker. Keep a handful in your brain’s back pocket.
Active listening is harder than you think. It’s so easy to get caught up in the inner monologue. Pretend those inner voices are that annoying commercial you hate (Old Navy, how I hate you). Tune it out, and focus on the words being spoken to you. Tune them in. It takes thought and concentration to listen to others when you feel anxious and uncomfortable. Focus on it like you’re Clark Kent trying to figure out how his laser eyes work.
A few tips for socialization. Personal space is important. Just imagine everyone has a bubble around them, and try not to pop it. If it’s hard to hear, lean in with your ear to the person so they know you are trying to listen. It’s a universal signal for “TALK LOUDER PLEASE”. Women especially can feel threatened if a strange man stands too close, so try to keep that in mind.
Don’t stare. Of course, you may be working up the nerve to talk to someone and that is totally natural. But try and look in their general direction, and not directly at them while doing so. While you’re in your head trying to encourage yourself to walk up to them and speak, all they see is the creeper staring at them.
When conversing, try and make eye contact. This can be difficult for some, so compromise by looking right between their eyes on their forehead.
The next, and possibly biggest step, is actually walking into the event. You’ve practiced the drive. You’ve found parking ahead of time. Now you’re in the car, and it’s time to go in. Play a song that either relaxes you or pumps you up. Sit in the car and visualize success. Take deep breaths. I have sat in my car for up to 20 minutes before. Do what you need to do, but make sure you don’t stay so long you talk yourself out of it. Few things feel worse than getting all dressed up, parking at an event, and then driving away 20 minutes later without even getting out of the car. I can say that, because I’ve done it many times. Pick a song or two to get you ready and by the time they are over, get out of that car and into the venue!
When you are ready to walk in pay attention to your posture. Try not to fidget. Give the impression of confidence. Even if on the inside you want to run and hide, on the outside walk into that room as if you own it and it will show. Shoulders back, eyes forward, slight smile on your face. If you need a moment to calm yourself before entering the crowd, do so. Look at photos on the wall, or stop for a drink at the bar.
Remember your prep. Your ice breakers. Personal space, eye contact.
And remember the most important thing:
You’ve specifically chosen an event full of people with like-minded interests. It is the friendliest crowd you could find.
Also, Rome was not built in a day. Take your time. Make it a goal to talk to just one person this time. Next time, try two people. Don’t expect to walk away from the first event with your social problems solved. Take it easy, and be kind to yourself. Living with shyness and social anxiety is not easy. Any time you are able to find the courage to step out of your comfort zone is a huge win. Allow yourself to feel it as such. And keep on trying!
Next time in the Social Guides for the Socially Awkward: Networking!