(Update: Here’s the updated guide for this post. I changed a few important items. However, you probably want to read both.)
(Update: If you are a shy introvert in college, then I HIGHLY suggest you check out my college guide as it has tips that are specific to your situation.)
Let’s face it. Making friends for a wallflower isn’t just an uphill battle, but a painful one full of thorns, nails, unbearable heat, and wild animals.
There are so many dumb guides on “how to make friends” on the internet. Dumb because they are designed for extroverts…who really don’t need help making friends.
Then there are the “how to make friends if you are an introvert” guides that want to make you into an extrovert or pretend to be one.
Don’t get me wrong. The articles are great for extroverts who move to a new city (although a lot of it is common sense). If you fall into that category, then I would suggest this straightforward, simple article: The 3 Most Effective Ways to Meet New People
But for you introverts, keep reading.
First, let’s see why these “how to make friends” articles do not work for introverts.
Why Joining Clubs/Activities Doesn’t Work for Introverts
If you analyze these articles, that is pretty much the only advice in it (besides the stupid “dress sharp” and “just be confident” crap).
Clubs and activities are great for extroverts. They are quick to network and get to know the people involved. They trade numbers and contact information like it is second nature…because it is.
But being able to do this requires not only picking up on social cues, but also reacting to them quickly.
Not something introverts are practiced in; unlike extroverts who have been doing it all their lives. It would be like a twenty year old picking up the basketball for the first time and playing in a game against people who have been at it since they’ve been in middle school. Not only that, but he doesn’t even like basketball. He just wants some exercise with friends.
Poor guy doesn’t stand a chance.
But I like going to my clubs/activities!
Awesome! But just do it because you like it. Don’t come with any expectations of meeting people or making friends. If you do come with those expectations, you will make yourself miserable.
The Best Way for Introverts to Make Friends
This strategy is by far the best way for introverts to get friends. You’ve probably already did this strategy in the past without realizing it.
It consists of four parts:
1.) Physical Proximity (aka Your Neighbors): This is much more IMPORTANT than you think it is. It is the linchpin for the rest of the strategy to work. Put effort into ONLY befriending your neighbors. Don’t like your neighbors? Move!
But I want to get to get to know people outside of my neighborhood!
Your neighbors will know people outside of your neighborhood. Once your social circle grows you can pick who you want to hang out with the most. But don’t kill your time, resources, and sanity by trying to befriend strangers miles away from you.
Best part is when you, as an introvert, get that rare itch to hang out, they are just around the corner.
2.) An Accepting Culture: Notice I didn’t say you have to belong to the culture. They just have to like your company. If you are with a culture you have to fight to be in or rejects you from the start, run away. You are wasting your time: your most valuable resource. Just follow your intuition when it comes to which cultures like you.
3.) Repeated Interactions: Some people say it has to be unplanned interactions, but it doesn’t’ have to be that way. I don’t care how shy you are, when people are physically close to you (i.e. your neighbors) you can come up with a ton of unique ways to increase interactions with them. Use that analytic, introverted brain of yours. But you must take the initiative. Because you must take the initiative, this is one of the two spots introverts get stuck on.
4.) Let Your Guard Down: If you keep your guard up, the interaction will become awkward. People hate awkwardness and avoid it like the plague. Since you are so used to being on your own, it is natural to keep your guard up. This is the other spot that introverts screw up on.
Once you let your guard down, they’ll eventually invite you out because they love your company, but you can take the initiative (the friendship will move along a lot faster). And I suggest you do just that. Some potential friendships stay in this tipping zone for a while until someone makes the invite. Just because you are shy or an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t lead. It is usually the shyest people who are the most outgoing with their friends.
The funny thing is a lot of extroverts also use this strategy as well. Look at their best friends. They are usually people they met through school, work, or their neighborhood (physical proximity). The three other parts followed because it just second nature to them.
My Story of Failure and Success as a Shy Introvert
For proof that this works, let us break down my life story.
Once I graduated from high school, I moved to another state and lost contact with what little friends I had. This was before the days of Facebook, so unless you kept their contact information a lot of people were out of your life once you moved.
Being a shy introvert, I tried everything to make friends: moved into the dormitories, joined fun college classes, attended the dormitory events, did sport clubs (racquetball, badminton, ultimate frisbee, swimming, etc.), hung out with my roommate if invited, hung out with my residential advisor if invited, joined business clubs, became a residential advisor, went to the frat parties with my brother’s high school friend, and did pretty much any college event offered.
But…I had no real friends. I spent the bulk of my time just walking around campus alone.
After college, and going back to college, I did Meetup.com events, joined Facebook (friending and messaging everyone I could), joined the gym, did different workout classes (yoga, pilates, weight-lifting, etc.), did dance classes (salsa, tango, bachata, etc.), went back to live in the dormitories (twice), and I did everything I mentioned in the other paragraph.
The story would still be “no friends” if it wasn’t for one certain situation.
While in the dormitories, we had a foreigner move in as a new suitemate (meaning our rooms were connected by a bathroom). I became very good friends with him and all of his friends.
To see why, let’s look back at the four parts of the strategy above.
Physical Proximity (aka Your Neighbors): He is my neighbor who I share a bathroom with. Can’t get any closer than that.
An Accepting Culture: My roommate and his friends are from the Middle East. Being a white, middle class American I couldn’t be any further from his culture. But they were more than accepting of me. They were friendly, outgoing, and they would even cook for me (I miss those days).
Repeated Interactions: Truth is, if he was just my neighbor and not my suitemate, we probably wouldn’t have become such good friends. I lucked out here. But if that wasn’t the situation, we could have still been good friends if I went out of my way to interact with him.
Let Your Guard Down: I think this one held me back a lot with my other opportunities for friends. With my foreign roommate, however, I didn’t care what he thought of me. He was a little goofy at times and he was going back to his country anyways. So I just let my guard down without a care. But that was the final key in creating a friendship between us.
It is so clear to me now why I had such a hard time making friends when I did everything else. With the clubs and activities I did, I would see the person just once for that activity or once a month for that club. So physical proximity and repeated interactions goes out the window.
The college dormitories I stayed at was a culture that only cared about using drugs and having sex. Not only did I not belong to that culture, but they were not accepting of a clean-cut, nice guy who would probably succeed in life by only having to follow the rules.
Finally, I never let my guard down not necessarily because I didn’t fit in the culture, but because I was afraid of being judged.
Once I let my guard down and started to hang out with some good friends, I finally started to succeed in college.
Today, I can make friends with ease.
In short, only put effort into making friends with your neighbors, if you don’t like your neighbors or are not accepted by that culture then move, find ways to have repeated interactions with those people, and, finally, let your guard down.
Sounds like a tall order, but it isn’t. Use your creativity as an introvert and you’ll find friends right around the corner.
P.S. Looks like science agrees with me. Being nearby someone—the “proximity theory”—is the biggest factor if you will become friends or not, even bigger than personality.