Social Guides for the Socially Awkward Part I: Making New Friends

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.

Event Prep

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.”

A lot of people are uncomfortable in certain social situations. Like this guy.

A lot of people are uncomfortable in certain social situations. Like this guy.

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.

Event Day

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.

It's ok if this happens to you. Take deep breaths, and try active listening. Source: http://xkcd.com/1089/

It’s ok if this happens to you. Take deep breaths, and try active listening.
Source: http://xkcd.com/1089/

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.

Walking in

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!

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32 Responses to “Social Guides for the Socially Awkward Part I: Making New Friends”

  1. sweetxsour says:

    Fake it til you make it was my motto for overcoming social anxiety, glad to see you used it too!

  2. Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few
    of the pictures aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks for the heads up, but everything looks good on this end. Maybe it’s your internet connection? Thanks for checking out the blog!

  3. […] The tips I put forth in my first post all still apply.  Feel free to go back and reference those. […]

  4. […] I’ve done some things in the last year that have pushed me out of myself. I’ve moved out of my parents’ house, I’ve taken holidays alone, I’ve met people from the internet, I’ve made plans to go to Worldcon next year (which scares the hell out of me, right now). But I’m not used to actually goin out and engaging with other people on a regular basis, and I feel like that’s something I need to do. My mind’s been rolling this around for the last month or so, and it’s been sparked further by coming across things like Jessica Mills’ Social Guides for the Socially Awkward. […]

  5. Dana says:

    I really appreciate this. I’ve been struggling with making friends because of crippling social anxiety. Like you, I’ve gone all the way to meetups/events only to turn around in the parking lot and leave. It’s not a good feeling. I never really thought about scoping out a location before the event; I’ll try that sometime.

  6. Phil says:

    Why a generic party to use as an example? Don’t you play Magic? ;) Aside from the drunks FNM is a great way to talk to geeks.

  7. Maryann says:

    Thank you Jessica for your wonderful advice. It is refreshing and honest. After living in my city for over 10 years, I still find it extremely hard to navigate social waters. I became a stay at home mom and that change just added to it.

    I haven’t given up though. I just need to re-think socializing and getting out there to meet people/new friends.

    Keep writing!

    • Jessica says:

      Thanks so much! I’m so glad to know the writing is helpful!

      Are there any parent/kid events you could go to and meet other moms? Kids are a good buffer, or so I’m told. Ha.

    • Suzi says:

      Maryann, I had trouble when I became a new mom as well. Try looking online for local mom groups. Sometimes they have play dates, sometimes mom’s night out. Also, there may be local churches that have “MOPS” groups (“Mother’s of Preschoolers” + babies). I am 3 kids down, but my first led to some serious social isolation that I had to purposefully take steps to change. Good luck–you will find your groove!

  8. Jaym Esch says:

    Great advice, but still difficult in so many ways- though I have anxiety disorder more than social anxiety, so I’m constantly feeling about to collapse with a heart attack even without others around.

    The problem I face is age. I don’t share interests with the majority of people my age (41), but rather early thirties and younger (on average). Even that is difficult, though, because I don’t know where to find a 28 or 31 year old to meet. The only place I go (when my anxiety allows) is Starbucks, but I live at a major university, so it’s mostly 18-24 year olds (which I feel fine around, and of course they see me as old or a “creeper”- and there’s no term I loathe more than that, I find it insulting on many levels.)

    The problem is my anxiety prevents me from doing activities like clubs or volunteering (heck, I haven’t been able to work for almost 11 years due to it). Then again, my only real interests are writing some novels I’m working on that will doubtfully get published (a solitary venture) and gaming, which is a “stay at home” hobby by nature… I also play solo, because I can’t find others who tend to share my gaming play style.

    Still, it’s great to see you sharing advice. Any helpful information regarding any form of anxiety is worthy of spreading. Nothing non-fatal can shut your life down more than anxiety!

  9. Meeting you at Brigades camp I would never have guessed that you were anything other than confident and at ease. How wonderful that you are reaching out to help others by sharing your own experiences and the tips that proved helpful to you. I especially like the tip about checking out venues ahead of time and have tried that myself a few times and know it made a big difference for me. I’ll try the other steps you advise too. I feel awkward talking with somebody new. Being nervous sometimes I trip over my own tongue, then I panic and make it worse. Later when I’m alone my flubs replay in my head and I feel stupid and dorky.

    • Jessica says:

      Girl, you are not alone! Sometimes, in quiet moments, I’ll suddenly remember something stupid I said in, like, ELEMENTARY SCHOOL and feel dumb all over again. Ha.

      I’m glad to hear you use some of the same techniques I do! Let me know how the other ones work for you, and if you think of anything else that helps you let me know and I’ll put it up for other people!

  10. Nakedhobo says:

    Great article. This is soooo needed too, especially in the geek community. I had to learn and adapt over my nearly 42 years on this ball of rock and stuff like this would have made things so much easier.

  11. Fantastic article. Must boost the signal.

  12. Ryan Crowley says:

    Going with a friend is always a great idea! The hardest thing for me right now is actually walking in. If I’ve made plans with someone, I can’t back out at the last minute out of fear. Even better when I go with my friend Kristin who is very outgoing and helps me meet new people but also knows my limits.

    • Jessica says:

      I’m the same way. When my social anxiety is bad, I’m like the worst friend ever because I’ll bail at the last minute on stuff I told people I would show up at. Luckily, that’s mostly during the more extreme down-slopes, and not always. Though I dread all social events, I can usually drag myself in and have a good time.

  13. Andrew FitzSimons says:

    This is wonderful!! I’m printing this out and memorizing it! Thank you SO much for this!!

  14. Yeeeeeeeessssss!!
    Jessica, you’re brilliant. Faking it till you make it is top of my list! :)

  15. Tiemen says:

    Awesome read and very helpful tips.
    I was wondering if going together with a friend to meet new people is a good or a bad thing to do?

    It makes me feel comfortable to know that I’m with someone else, but on the other side I do tend to stick kinda close to him or her the rest of the evening.

    • Jessica says:

      Oh, thank you for bringing this up! That’s a great point.

      Going with friends is a GREAT idea, especially if they are more outgoing than you are and can help break the ice. However, I have gotten into the trap before of just hanging out in a corner with my friends and leaving the event without meeting anyone. It’s really easy to stay in your safe place.

      If you do go with a friend, make sure you set goals together. “Let’s each try and talk to one new person before we leave.” Something like that. That way, you have a buddy, but you’re still stretching yourself out of your comfort zone.

      Also, if your friend isn’t also socially anxious, make sure they understand how you feel and what your goals are for the party. Outgoing friends can really help you feel comfortable in new situations, but usually only if they really “get” how you feel. So be honest with them, and let them help if they can.

  16. funkmon says:

    This is awesome.

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