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I was heading into a new decade of my life feeling strong about my career, my life accomplishments and my relationship with my partner. But when he asked me who I wanted to invite to my birthday party, my mouth opened and I let out a long trail of "ummms". In my early twenties, I was a friend-making machine. I was the president of my person sorority in college and spent very few hours of any day alone. When I moved to New York City after graduation, I ed sports teams and went to meetups and had something called friendship circles, with different groups of people to hang out with whenever I wanted a full social calendar.
But then something changed. A lot of my friends got married and had kids while I was still on the first-date trail. Some of my friends moved states away and our conversations grew stale and we rarely saw each other.
I got laid-off from my full time job and started working for myselfout of my apartment, with no water cooler chit chat or happy hours to attend.
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Then, as a complete shock, my best friend of seven years abruptly told me that she no longer wanted to be friends anymore. I felt sad and lonely as I entered my thirties and I placed a lot of the blame on myself. I often cancelled plans on the weekends to do work. I forgot to respond to text messages for days. I could have shown more interest in my friends and their growing families rather than in finding someone to date.
So how do we make new friends in ? We have to be intentional about making them happen.
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As a gift to myself to prepare for a new decade both in age and in life, I turned to a friendship coach, hoping that professional advice would help me make more genuine connections. I decided to keep our appointment. Bayard was patient and listened to me vent. I told her I almost canceled our session out of pure shame.
Most people, I thought, make friends without a strategy or game plan.
Bayard and I talked also about how those with different personalities can have their own unique set of struggles when it comes to making friends. Those with social anxiety struggle because they are in their head and second guess themselves.
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While people who know me would label me an extrovert, I silently deal with constant social anxiety, to the point where sometimes I end up in the bathroom having full blown panic attacks. I felt ready to hear what Bayard had in store for me and was happy to know that there were only three challenges she wanted me to tackle over the next month to help me make friends.
I wrote each challenge down and devoted at least one week to following through on them. The first thing Bayard advised me to do was take inventory of people I know and who they know. Who are the people you sometimes see at the same parties and share mutual friends, but never have one-on-one conversations?
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I decided to find one adjacent friend and reach out to that person. But before I did, I asked Bayard for advice on what to say. She advised me to send that person a message on Instagram asking them to get coffee.
The first person I messaged was a yoga class buddy of a college friend of mine. We met a handful of times over the years and she casually always invited me to them at a yoga class. I did exactly what Bayard advised and messaged her on Instagram.
I hired a friendship coach to help me make friends. here's what happened.
After challenge one was completed, we moved to the second challenge, which did require me to leave the house. This challenge, at first, seemed hard.
Living in New York City, people usually avoid eye contact and conversation with strangers. But I decided that whenever I was out of my office, I would put the phone away, make eye contact with people and force myself to speak to them, even when I felt nervous. The first day of the challenge, I found myself having two conversations with people in line for lunch or in my shared ride home. By day three, I found myself in a twenty minute conversation with someone sitting next to me at a coffee shop.
By the last day of that week, I found myself walking around the bookstore with a stranger, showing them my favorite books. They are calling the millennial generation the loneliness generation. We need to let go of avoidant behavior and practice connecting with people. Fresh off a challenge where talking to strangers was the top item on my to-do list, the final challenge Bayard gave me felt less intimidating than it would have been weeks ago.
I was instructed to a meetup group or a recurring group for a hobby or industry I was interested in.
The catch? I had to go at least times. You have to see people over and over again, specifically weekly That way, you can remember what you talked about the week before and bring it up again. I decided to go to a weekly meetup group for people in New York City who are interested in digital marketing. I went by myself with the only goal of speaking to five people, I didn't even intend to make a friend.
The second week I went back, my goal was to speak to those same five people again and speak to three new people. With each passing week, I built solid relationships with the people in the room. Keep an open mind and be brave. Most of them respond back, first with surprise and then with joy, because let's face it, chances are they are feeling just as lonely as I am.
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