I was talking with some women my age about how difficult it is to make friends. At least two of them lost best friends to cancer; others of us have close friends but they are scattered all over the world. We were talking from the perspective of older women specifically looking for someone to go see Barbie with. The woman who brought it up ended up going alone, but it sparked a conversation about how to behave, where to go, how to start a conversation, how to find out if you actually like someone. So . . . how?
D.A. / Cambridge
It’s hard to make new friends — it really is. Especially since we don’t live in Barbie Land, so there’s all these different names to remember and you can’t tell exactly what someone’s profession and interests are by their outfits.
So maybe let’s not think about friends right now — let’s think about buddies. Let’s think about stereotypical, masculine “play golf every week for 15 years and don’t know his kids’ names” kinds of relationships. I think as women, we get taught to look down on these kinds of activity-based, “superficial” friendships, but this is a mistake. I mean: You were talking to a bunch of women about Barbie! Why didn’t you just all go together? Maybe there were logistical reasons (this is Boston, after all) but maybe you felt you weren’t on movie-going friendship terms yet. I would argue that you indeed were, by mere fact that you all wanted to see it.
So how do you find people to do fun stuff with? Start with an audit of your current social network. Are there people you like whom you haven’t spent much time with? Do promising candidates lurk on your periphery? Reach out. Next, where do “your people” tend to gather? Where do you typically find the highest proportion of people you like? Spend more time there. Keep an eye out for people you like reasonably well, who seem open to doing things, with low barriers — geographically close, not overly scheduled. Beyond that, don’t overthink it or worry too much about whether you have an emotional connection or not. You’re just looking for people to go dancing with, not have deep talks about dying.
Then get a group chat or two going with your new activity partners. Say what you will about social media driving isolation, the group chat can be a social lifesaver; it’s easier to be friends with a group of six than maintain six one-on-one friendships. You can post “Who wants to see Barbie?” on the chat instead of going through half-a-dozen separate texts. If you get swamped with work or laid low with COVID, you can let the chat carry on without you for a while and jump back in the stream when you’re ready, which is less awkward than doing the “Hi, I’m back among the living” texts to individual ignored friends.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.