Today’s post comes from a brief conversation I had with one of my fellow parishioners when I attended church on Sunday. In an effort to maintain social distancing at church, seats are reserved in advance. Standard procedure now includes visiting the check-in table to receive a seat number before being led there by volunteer ushers. Despite being new to the parish as of last year, I’m starting to recognize a few familiar faces. The woman who usually works the table, checking names and scribbling seat numbers on a pad of sticky notes, has started to remember me as well. She always gives an enthusiastic hello when she spots me in line before sending me off to my seat.
However, this particular Sunday was a little different. This time when I stepped up to the table she gave a great sigh and slapped both palms flat to the table, allowing her pen and sticky notes to clatter away, looking for all the world like a doctor about to deliver a diagnosis. She looked up at me very seriously and said “Sofia… We’ve decided to be friends with you. It’s just so hard to meet young people, especially now with COVID.”
What on Earth do you say to that? I wanted to jump up and down and clap my hands together. I wanted to run around the table and give her a hug. I still don’t know who “we” is but I’m in! Where do I sign? As it was, I only had time to provide my short but emphatic concurrence before following the usher to my seat.
It was the kindest, most heartwarming thing she possibly could have said to a nearly total stranger. Clearly someone at church had noticed my regular attendance as well as the fact that I never had company. As I was led to my seat I couldn’t keep from smiling. Someone in the parish had been thinking about me and, what’s more, they wanted to be my friend despite knowing almost nothing about me. The next day she connected with me on social media, thereby opening a line of communication beyond the church check-in table.
When someone comes along and publicly, loudly, proudly declares themself your friend, you pay attention. It certainly is not an offer I intend to pass up.
There are plenty of things that you should definitely not fake; skills on a resume, physical fitness on a remote backpacking trip, sneezing at the grocery store (it’s just allergies, not coronavirus! I swear). But when it comes to confidence in social situations, all that really matters is that you adequately fooled people. Feeling like an extrovert is not a prerequisite for being one as I’ve discovered during my time in Indiana. It turns out that making friends is not as traumatic as it used to seem and it is not an activity reserved for the outgoing social butterflies of the world.
The first step to making friends, even despite your imagined lack of social skills, is to start saying yes to things. When people from work invite you out for happy hour, say yes. Don’t hesitate. Don’t think about it. Don’t tell them that you’ll have to check your calendar because by that time you will have found a perfectly reasonable excuse to politely decline and you will miss the opportunity. Once you’ve agreed, you’re locked in. It would be rude not to make an appearance and convenient scheduling conflicts become much more difficult to voice after you’ve already said you’ll be there. Even if you’re invited to a gathering where you only know one person, go. If you always say no, people will stop inviting you and you’re never going to meet anyone new if you only surround yourself with familiar faces.
Tell Your Mom
One totally foolproof way to make sure I actually do what I said I’ll do is to tell my mom that I made plans. During my first few months here, I still didn’t know very many people and dreaded each event I agreed to go to. I was shy and awkward and, not being much of a partier in college, I had no idea what was considered standard etiquette for these casual backyard gatherings. I even studied for them. There is absolutely no shame in asking Google how to talk to people. Someone else has been where you are and they wrote about it just for you. But if you tell your mom (or another BFF that you’re in regular communication with) that you have plans, it’s a done deal. As difficult and uncomfortable as it was to drag myself to these events, telling my mom the next day that I’d decided not to go would have felt fifteen times worse.
This is dependent on what it is you’ve agreed to go to. Obviously, if you’re going to happy hour at a bar or dinner out at a restaurant, you do not need to bring your own booze. But, as mentioned earlier, standard practice for house parties and game nights was fairly new to me. In fact, at twenty one years old, my mom had to explain to me what BYOB stood for. But generally, it’s safe to assume that a six pack of beer wouldn’t go amiss.
This sounds obvious but is something that I have to remind myself when I’m struggling to get into my social groove. Absolutely no one is paying as much attention to you as you are. You may be the new kid on the block but you are a welcome guest just like everyone else and there’s no reason for you to hide in the corner. You are not in anyone’s way and you are not intruding. Feel free to smile and laugh and even make a few jokes of your own. People are generally friendly and looking to help break the ice so take a deep breath and just have fun.
This comes from someone who has spent nearly her entire life censoring every sentence that came out of her mouth (with the exception of words with close friends and family). I’ve always tended to be incredibly careful and meticulous in social settings which usually resulted in me saying very little around people I didn’t know well. It’s not that I didn’t have anything to say, just that I couldn’t decide how to say it. As stated before, no one is paying that much attention. You probably will bumble a few words and miss a few punchlines. You may even walk yourself head first into what can only be described as a conversational catastrophe where it feels as though you’ve managed to shove your entire foot into your uncharacteristically large mouth. The mark of many truly spectacular extroverts is their ability to laugh at themselves and brush off these unfortunate encounters. Shake it off. Don’t let it shake you.
A lack of social skills is not an excuse for being lonely. You’re not bad at making friends. You just haven’t convinced any of them yet. Sooner or later, they’ll start convincing you. You only have to be good enough at socializing to make everyone else believe it and one day, you’ll be on your way to a game night that you actually can’t wait to get to.
These are some pivotal lessons from my first year in Indiana but the learning continues. Feel free to share any of your social tips and tricks or funny stories of conversations gone wrong in the comments below.