When we're at school we pick a new best friend every academic year, and that's it-we're set, bound by a mutual love of The Wombles. By our teens we have a 'crew', a 'gang'- the Theatre Kids or The Smokers or The Awkward Ones With Bad Skin and Wandering Hands. At university we're drunk. Everyone is a mate when we're drunk. And by the time we're adults with jobs and responsibilities and families we... stop making friends?
When artist Ty Morin announced Friend Request: Accepted, an ambitious and admirable three-year plan to photograph all 788 of his Facebook friends, he admitted that he's never actually met half of them. He wanted to "re-connect". That's probably true for most of us in busybusybusy modern day- I also resolved to meet more people in 2013. But how do we grow our friend list offline? You know, like face-to-face and without a hitting 'poke'?
I've got a few tricks, picked up via own friend-finding journey. Tip number one? Don't say things like friend-finding journey.
Making friends comes down to one basic thing: giving a hoot about somebody other than ourselves. Practice interacting purposefully with strangers. Say hello to the newsagent; look him in the eye when you do it. Slow down at reception to ask, "How are you today?" Clue: listen to the answer. If someone in the office mentioned dinner plans for the weekend, follow-up on Monday. They'll love that you cared enough to ask; many don't. The intention isn't to cajole people into asking about you in return (though eventually, they will, and you'll feel like the most popular person who ever lived). The idea is to be SHOCK! HORROR! nice. Like, for the sake of it.
Once you're smiling like Miss America and farting sunshine as if it's your job, go do stuff.
This year I've started volunteering weekly at a homework club. I emailed somebody whose blog I read to see if they wanted gin (she did.) I started (and subsequently dropped out of) an acting class, joined a book club, and added myself to the guest list of a supper club. There was that one time I took a dance class by myself, but we don't talk about that.
Before every single one of these (mis?)adventures, I was terrified. I know the premise behind Doing Something New: smile lots. Say to the other solo-participant, "So, have you done this before?" Embrace the activity robustly because there is nothing more off-putting to potential mates than acting so inhibited it's like you'd rather have stayed home. Etc. But none of that stopped my stomach from high-fiving my heart.
Some outings were an instant success. The Book Club was a bit like sitting around a table with 20 variations of myself, so in terms of saying we should get coffee sometime! wasn't as fear-inducing as, say, a scientology meet-up.
The acting class was trickier. I was so focused on Being The Best (it's a personal development point) that I sort of lost my sense of humour a bit, making conversations in the break difficult. Nobody wants to be friends with a competitive mentalist.
Joining Six Dinners Later, the supper club, has been my favourite, probably because it taught me the most about making new friends. You don't know who will be at your dinner table, so whereas book club was People Like Me, all bets are off at dinner. I've met PRs, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, producers, journalists- and had to find a way to connect with them all, since otherwise three hours is a long time to eat dinner in silence. So I ask lots of questions, and when they ask me about myself I've found that suddenly I've got a lot to say.
I tell stories about the kids I've volunteered with, recommend reading material I know about because of book club. I laugh about misguided hip-hop classes and suggest a lovely acting coach. My stories aren't just about what Dave said at the pub. It makes me feel interesting and thus more confident. Everyone friend-crushes on the confident ones.
When I do occasionally reveal the more hilarious stories about a brilliant mate, inevitably somebody says, "I'd love to meet them!" and with my new self-assurance I don't feel embarrassed to respond with, "Well, yeah - I'll introduce you."
So that's what I do. I have Dave meet Penny, who I know from volunteering; call my old friend Jenny over for dinner, along with Carol from book club. Throw in some housemates and red wine, and generally everyone gets along brilliantly because the biggest and most revealing thing I've learned from actively making friends as a grown-up?
We all want to make new friends- it's just that seldom do we know where to start.