I’ve survived a lot of socially awkward situations. When I studied abroad, I was regularly dragged to parties where I couldn’t talk to anyone because I literally didn’t speak their language. (On the plus side, I’m much better at charades now). I also moved a lot as a kid, and I had to find ways to make friends at schools where I was “the kid who doesn’t believe in God” or “the Yankee with the funny accent.” As a result, I’ve learned a few tricks for making new friends. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Ask for a favor.
Even if you don’t really need help, asking someone for a small favor gives you an excuse to start a conversation and it makes the other person more comfortable asking you for help down the road. This is especially valuable if you want to get to know your neighbors. Asking for a cup of sugar is an oldie but a goodie. Borrowing a pot or asking someone to walk your dog can also work. Just don’t ask for anything too personal—like a bottle of Adderall to help you complete a big project at work or a dog crate big enough for several gallons of water and a somewhat husky 17-year-old Thai girl.
2. Wear something that gives people an excuse to talk to you.
Clothes that display the name of a particular college will attract attention from anyone who attended the school and, in some cases, anyone who likes to read words aloud. Shirts with the name of a favorite band or a reference to a favorite TV show or movie can work as well. A unique watch or piece of jewelry can be very handy—especially one that people feel compelled to touch and examine closely. As a general rule, wearing something unique and memorable is a plus. It’s always easy to break the ice with a compliment, and wearing something bold makes it easy for your fashion soul mates to identify you as someone they’d like to know better. A unique hat or colorful pair of shoes or funky designer glasses can be all the excuse someone needs to strike up a conversation.
3. Eat with anyone and everyone.
You have to eat anyway, so make an effort to invite someone to join you for brunch or lunch or dinner as much as possible. It’s a casual, low-pressure way to follow up with someone you’ve recently met.
4. Join a group or club with similar interests.
Meetup.com is a great place to find people who share your interests and arrange face-to-face outings and get togethers. I finally decided to take my own advice and I signed up for tennis lessons this spring. Now I can keep playing with my classmates after the lessons are over. One of the women in my class has even been giving me insider info on properties in her neighborhood that are about to go into foreclosure. The whole thing has me feeling like I’m just a sweater vest and a convertible Saab away from complete yuppiehood…and I couldn’t be happier.