This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.
A good friend has a birthday coming up, and the invitation says to bring:
A. Any receptacle to drink from that is NOT a cup, and
B. A “rare friend” that hasn’t been introduced to other folks at the party (queer friends preferred).
I can do one, but not the other. Besides online friends who live hundreds of miles away, I only have one core group of friends who I adore and who have been my entire social life for the past seven years. I’m not opposed to having relationships outside of these, but it hasn’t really happened in a solid way yet. I don’t feel lacking in love, but I do feel deficient at forging new relationships. I’m out of practice! I’m also one of those annoying people who never meets anyone from an app. I want it to happen organically.
I’m not disinterested in the people I meet through work or elsewhere, but I’ve never really been able to take it beyond work or occasional run-ins.
The other thing is that I’m pretty sure this rule for the party is meant to encourage me, specifically, to message someone from a previous job I had a crush on. There was definitely a spark in our connection that could have turned into something deeper. When I left that job, I told him, “I’d still love to see you or hang out sometime!” But he never reached back out to say hello when the ball was in his court.
I’d feel strange reaching out to him now after so long to be like, “Hey! Haven’t spoken to you since October, but do you want to come to a party with me at a stranger’s house where you know literally nobody and we all drink wine out of frying pans and shit?”
This guy is just as awkward as me, and I know I wouldn’t be too eager to say yes. If he says no, I’m out of work crushes as options for invites. I’m pretty sure he’s not even queer, either. I get the sense I’ve already failed the prompt.
How do I do any of this?
Stuck in my Shell
Hey there, Stuck!
Mi abuelita did not drop out of the fourth grade and pick fruit in this country for me to drink Josh wine out of a “receptacle,” but that’s just my opinion on the party theme. Other than that, it sounds fun.
I’ve answered questions like this before, but now is a great opportunity for me to put all my thoughts in one place because I, too, am an adult in the process of making friends, and I’m learning a lot as I go. So here it is, my friendship field guide for people whose backs are just starting to make alarming noises. I like the bullet-list thing you were doing. I’m going to do that too.
You’re not imagining things. This is hard.
There are many obstacles in our way to making genuine connections with others. Work, for starters, has encroached deeper into our personal lives. In other words, work is everywhere, and hanging with co-workers can feel like … more work. Romance and serendipity, meanwhile, are being siloed into a digital-app landscape where it’s easier than ever to dismiss people and flake on plans. We tend to feel next to no obligation to collections of pixels. On top of all that, there’s the regular “life stuff,” the health stuff, the kaleidoscopic variety of crises both big and small that can disrupt a day, a month, a year. Yes, this is difficult. But it’s not impossible, and there are things you can do to expand your circle and get to know people.
Draw from your existing network.
Odds are good that if you like your friends, you’ll enjoy (at least some of) your friends’ friends. You’ve already got a core group of pals. One thing I’ve done is tell my friends that I’d like to meet some new people. I’ve also arranged playdates between friends of mine who I think would enjoy each other. I’ve actually gotten incredibly good at this. I’ve spawned at least three thriving group chats with my machinations. I should launch a business as a platonic matchmaker.
Reach out to people you already know. They don’t have to be your besties. If you get good vibes from someone, pursue that. Arrange a little activity, like going to a park or a museum or seeing a show. If there’s something you were going to do anyway, invite someone!
Do an activity you enjoy, and do it regularly.
The keyword here is “regularly.” I find that repeated exposure to a group of people is a reliable way to make contact. I’ve started going to a video-game night at a bar, and I’ve made a few buddies that way. I also have fitness classes, and I know people who’ve had some success with online book clubs. The point is, take something you already like doing, and find a community that’s formed around that thing. It gives you a common interest and a jumping-off point to get to know each other better.
Remember, friendships have to be nurtured.
I think some people mistake friendship as just two people who enjoy each other. Sure, that’s part of it. But real bonds involve obligations, and to form one, you have to make time for each other. It takes effort. It takes sacrifice. You might even have to go to an open mic night.
Part of being an adult is recognizing that sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and actually show up. Friendships are living things. They need nourishment and care to thrive. Yes, it sounds very tempting to just follow your nightly routine of watching anime and not having to “go somewhere” or “do something,” but unfortunately, there are good things outside of our comfort zones, and we will occasionally have to venture out to find them.
Put your ego aside.
Everything above is all well and good, but you know, Stuck, I understand. Putting yourself out there is scary. It feels like setting yourself up for rejection. And, you know what? It kind of is. A lot of us are barely hanging on by a thread as it is, and the idea of having to tangle with negative feedback in the form of silence or being rebuffed outright is incredibly unappealing.
But rejection isn’t an inherently bad thing. Rejection is part of a process of getting to the stuff you’re meant for, the stuff that’s yours. If we knew exactly where we were meant to be and exactly what we were meant to be doing with precisely the people we were supposed to be doing it all with, our lives would look radically different.
But we don’t. We have to figure all of that out for ourselves, and part of figuring it out looks like getting things wrong. It looks like failing. It looks like being told, “No.”
Like so many things in life, the process of making friends ends up being a reflection of who we are, and we may see things in it we don’t like. We may encounter neediness, insecurity, vanity, and other perceived flaws in ourselves. But it’s also a process in which we can practice confidence, a skill that can be applied in everything we do. And, yes, it’s a skill. It’s not an inherent trait. Confidence is something you do, something you decide to embrace. Give it a try.
As I said from the jump, this is hard, and there are many barriers we have to overcome to make genuine connections. You will occasionally have to bite the bullet and be the brave one, the one who reaches out. Yes, when I do this, I can feel like a clown. But sometimes you have to honk, honk your big rubber nose and admit to yourself and to the world: I want to make friends.
And you know, I think a lot of people feel like that clown inside. They feel lonely and they want to reach out, but they don’t want to act on it because they’re afraid, or it makes them feel like a loser, or like they’re desperate. I get it. No one wants to be the one to show their cards first.
But I’ll leave you with this, Stuck. I recently lost a good friend who tragically passed away, and it put a lot of things into perspective for me. I realized there were all these things I could have shared with my friend. We could have made more memories, gotten even closer, talked more.
Life is a brief, precious thing. While I’m here, while I can, I want to meet the people who make it worth it. I’m not fully sold on the idea that “consciousness” was a great move by the cosmic forces that be, but here I am, and I think I enjoy it most when I’m sitting with people I like, and people who like me.
You know what? I retract what I said up top. Drink wine out of a frying pan with your pals! Invite your former co-worker. If he accepts, great! If he doesn’t, keep it pushing.
There’s only so much life, so much time. Ask someone to get ice cream with you. Stay warm.
Con Mucho Amor,
Originally published on January 25, 2024.
Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons, here.