Can I Be Your Friend? (One ‘weird’ adult’s socially awkward journey)

(The picture above shows my graduating class the night of our senior lock-in.  Go ahead, play a game of “Where’s Kim?”… I’d love to see if you find me.)

Oh, the new school year!

New teachers, new classmates, and for some an entirely new school.

Will you find anyone who likes you?

Will you be the dork you’ve been every year, or will you suddenly start acting cool?

Meeting new people has long been an anxiety of mine.

Oh, you thought I was worrying about my kids?

Nah.  They’re fine.  It is me we need to worry about each year.

As adults, many of us wake up to the stark reality: It’s hard making new friends!  We might have thought, as children, that we would grow out of the awkwardness or have a set number of good friends and not need anymore.

Not true.

Well, not for people like me.  I’m not sure how many of you out there are like me.  By my calculations, as I watch you navigate this world with what looks like confidence and grace: I don’t think there are many like me.

Today, I was paid two fantastic compliments.  First, a woman I respect and love being around any chance I get, told me she has figured it out:  I am “weird.” She meant it as a huge compliment, and I took it that way.  I really have never felt comfortable with “normal” things.  I also think life is too short stay inside the box.

The other compliment I received was from a friend who thought I felt comfortable in my weirdness and wore it well.  This one, well, it sounds nice, but I definitely don’t feel the first is true. I guess I must really act like I have my stuff together.

I love the compliments, and I will take them all.

However….

A really great friend of mine loves to remind me she did not like me when she first met me.  I thought I was being funny when we met, and she thought I was being insulting.  See, that is the downside of “weirdness”.  It comes with a certain social awkwardness that can turn others off.

This does not help my pursuit of new friends.

I no longer live in my hometown.  In fact, when I left for college, I never came back.  I am fortunate enough to have a huge handful of friends back home, friends that have known me through all awkward moments and still accept me. Moving around the country, living in 5 different states, including 3 states in one year, has not helped me add more friends to that list.  I feel so lucky to have collected a few at every stop.  However, long distance does not help nurture friendships.

Plus, a study published in 2015 in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences shows we shed an average of 2 friends for every romantic partner we have.  I’m not saying I’ve had a LOT of romantic partners, but….  (Hey now! That all stopped when I met Jason at the age of 29.)

Then, we come to the phase in our lives when we believe everyone else is set with their friend list and not looking for more.

We also don’t take friend gathering as seriously as dating.

I think we should.  Let’s start a new trend of “Speed Friending”.  We go to Starbucks and every 5 minutes we change tables to talk to a new friend. Too weird?  I told you.

Many different research studies have shown friendships help us live longer.  When we have great relationships, our blood pressure is lower, our stress lowers thanks to having someone to listen to us vent, and friendships lower the risk of depression.

What can we do?

I’m going to admit:  My one year of psychology classes during the time I thought I was going to be a psychologist does not make me an expert.  However, I do think I’m an expert at being a socially awkward adult, and I think I may have picked up on some good tips along the way.

  1. Work on friendships with people you meet that seem to have the same interests and personality traits as you.  Do not waste time on the people who make you feel less than you are.  Each time you see one of the “good guys”, strike up a conversation. Try to meet more often, like for coffee or lunch. (Eh, hum, “Speed Friending?” Kidding!)
  2. Compliment others.  Really.  It sounds like dating advice here, but we all need a little boost every once in a while.  I never waste compliments on things I don’t mean.  I want to always be sincere.  It is easy to see something great about a person if you pay attention. Don’t let a new acquaintance walk by without knowing what you think is great about him or her that day.
  3. Find common ground.  You can find many things you have in common with someone if given the opportunity.  Find that.
  4. I think the last one is the most important one:  Allow yourself to be open.  When I wrote the blog about my childhood, so many friends, old and “just born” new, approached me to say they so appreciated my honesty.  Being more open has attracted so many great people into my life.  Don’t be afraid to show those flaws or that baggage.  People will feel more comfortable with you and let their guard down as well.  And, if they don’t, then you will find they wouldn’t have been a great friend anyway.  See #1

In 2015, the British Journal of Psychology surveyed 15,000 people, and in the study found that people with fewer friends tend to be more intelligent.  They backed it up by saying smarter folks don’t need that extra stimulant from friendships because they had their own intellect.

I will say, while I don’t think I am dumb, I would choose having friends over being an intellect any day.

I just need to find people who are my kind: You know: the “weird” ones!

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