I recently had a natal-chart reading from my astrologer, during which he told me that if I ever wanted to find love, I’d have to, in his words, “get the fuck off dating apps.” Why? “Because they’re low-frequency ways of meeting people,” he told me. I was shell shocked, and not because I’d just realized that I’d just become a person who uses the phrase “my astrologer told me” in everyday conversation. I was stunned because it dawned on me — I have no idea how to meet people in real life.
I’m not alone in this affliction. While online dating used to be considered an odd way of meeting people, it seems like the script has flipped: Meeting people in the real world is the thing that’s most head-scratching. I was recently at lunch with a group of women, when one mentioned that she and her wife had met offline. “How did you do that?” another woman asked.
And it’s not just romantic relationships that have us tripped up. People have a hard time meeting friends in real life, too. That’s too bad, says Amie Harwick, a licensed marriage and family therapist: “While meeting people as potential partners, or even just as friends, is possible on digital applications or social media, meeting people in person tends to yield better results,” she says. That’s because physicality can help you figure out whether or not there are sparks — or if the hot human sitting across from you is a total dud. “When meeting someone in real life, you have the benefit of eye contact, viewing nonverbal cues, and judging a connection,” Hardwick explains. That’s hard to gauge from just a few words on a screen.
So if you’re ready to get better at chatting people up in person, instead of just making awkward eye contact and giggling to yourself (wait, is that just me?), take heed. Ahead, Harwick breaks down the ways to improve your face-to-face social skills.
How to be good at meeting people offline.
You can probably guess the first part — step away from the iPhone. “We tend to check our social-media platforms several times a day, often looking at text messages, and checking emails,” Harwick says. “If we spend even a fraction of that time actually getting out physically into different environments, we would have a much greater chance to meet new friends or potential partners.”
So look up! It’s nice up here, away from the blue light. Harwick says it’s important to be mindful about who is around you once you’re tapped out of the Matrix. “Make eye contact,” she says. If you’re more mindful about who is around during those interactions, you’ll likely be more mindful about who is open to a chat. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t bug anyone who seems like they want to be left alone, but if someone returns your gaze in a friendly way — and you’re feeling particularly brave — try tossing out a hello, Harwick says. You may be surprised to find that they continue the conversation, leaving you with little to do but follow along.
How to be better at meeting people offline.
You know how people always say that the best way to find a job is when you’ve already got a job? Well it turns out that the best way to find a friend is when you’ve already got one — and you know how to use them. “Friend referrals are a great way to meet people,” Harwick says. Chances are if you and your friend share some common interests, their pals also share some of those same interests.
So put your network to work. Ask them if there are any interesting people in their other circles they think you’d hit it off with — platonically or otherwise — and then set up a coffee or drink with them. If that’s too weird, have your friend come along to lessen the pressure. And then be a good friend and return the favor.
How to be the best at meeting people offline.
You know that bar you go to every Thursday night for trivia, hoping against hope that someone new and exciting will come in and totally change your life? Yeah — the chances of that happening are pretty slim. The bartender knows your name. But no one else is going to if you don’t start diversifying your hangouts. “If you go to the same bar with the same friend all the time, you’re less likely to branch out and meet more friends or meet a potential partner,” Harwick says.
“Studies show that increasing the variety of both your social scenes, social partners, and social places results in an increased opportunity to meet both romantic and platonic partners.”
So branch out. Hit up a bar with karaoke, or try that new cocktail joint down the street. Switch up your routine so that you’re keeping yourself open to a wide range of people. “If you go to a variety of different styles of places with different groups of friends,” Hardwick says, “you are much more likely to increase your potential to meet somebody romantically.”
That’s the part that seems the hardest — actually getting out into the world and interacting with different people. But it’s not as daunting as it may sound. It’s the same as working out a muscle — you’ve just got to work at it until it’s strong. But instead of Michelle Obama arms, you could wind up with a new friend or new significant other. Or at the very least, a new go-to spot and a new skill.