Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Meeting New People

Meeting new people is the hardest thing to do. It's difficult not to feel self-conscious when putting yourself out there in the path of a complete stranger when you have no idea whether or not you are going to make a connection. There's a natural shyness and uncertainty that the process brings out in me, and it always takes a certain measure of slightly stilted conversation to let it go.

I don't remember it being so difficult to make new friends when I was younger, but I guess that has more to do with the fact that while you grow up you spend a lot of time with your peers. At school. At events. At parties. It never really takes an active seeking-out of people until you find yourself settled into your preferred life, and then suddenly it's much more difficult to discover people.

To some extent social networks might help here, but none of them are focused so much around discovering people as they are connecting to the tight knit group of friends you already have. I'm still waiting for a social network that makes finding new people a priority over staying in touch with existing friends.

You could say that this is traditionally the purview of matchmaking sites, but on the whole they leave a very unsatisfying impression. They mostly tend to attract people that are (desperately) looking for something right now. And as a result, women tend to get swamped by barely literate guys and well meaning guys get drowned out by the inane noise in in-boxes.

The only place that has been moderately satisfying in my experience is OkCupid, although here in Australia it hasn't sufficiently taken hold for it to be the go-to destination yet. At least the atmosphere is more personable than most sites, and it has some semi-decent tools to limit the flood of inappropriate messages from what I can tell. It's nowhere near perfect, but it is perfect-er than anything else in the market segment.

And yet. It isn't really what I'd call ideal. It is naturally very dating-focused. And it isn't really a place for people to casually congregate to meet new friends. One of these days I'm sure either Google or Facebook are going to catch on to the fact there is a large untapped market for connecting people that otherwise would never find each other. But then... will we trust either of them enough to allow them to make us visible to strangers?

In the mean time all that leaves is the tried-and-true method of going out there into the world, try to find our peers, and make connections that way. If only talking to strangers weren't so tricky. If you are anything like me, it is a skill that doesn't come entirely naturally. It can be downright terrifying at times.

But it probably is all there is for now.



Lily said...

I identify with this one! When I joined Fetlife, what I really wanted was to find friends. I have two wonderful friends, but they live two time zones away. I thought it would be nice to have someone to hang out and have coffee with.

With one notable exception? That was a complete fail.

So much easier to find people to sleep with!

I did recently go to a local group for women into BDSM and felt really happy and comfortable there...perhaps if I keep going I'll make a friend or two.

Anonymous said...

I'm on Twitter and through that I've "met" numerous people. Few of the people I know offline are on Twitter at all, and only a couple of them even use it semi-regularly, so the vast majority of my Twitter interactions are with people I "know" exclusively through there. I haven't used it for any kind of purpose along the lines of actually meeting anyone for anything romantic or sexual, of course.

Lust and Confused said...

@Lily, I don't think there is any easy short-cut from what I can tell. Making friends on Twitter is easy, but finding like-minded people among the millions on there can be tricky. IRL the latter is easier, but then the making friends is more intimidating. Perseverance ultimately wins the race though.

@Anonymous, some friends are not suited to romance or the bedroom ;) ... but then again, some friends are.

- Arthur

acquiexence said...

I think the other reason why it's easier to make friends when you're younger, is that different factors are at play beyond just the fact that you're spending more time with people.

Before you hit the middle of primary school, kids are generally less self-conscious. They just do whatever; the notion of *consequences* doesn't really stick, beyond perhaps being sent to bed without supper, or being scolded by parents or teachers, or having some new toy withheld because they've been naughty.

From mid-primary to the end of secondary, there's a huge peer pressure movement to *belong*. So you have a lot of environmental factors egging you on to take the leap, even if you feel incredibly uncomfortable about it. Also, studying together tends to level the playing field at least a little -- someone who's inordinately beautiful and popular might be incredibly dense at maths. If you're any good at maths, that's your chance to shine. Bringing the intellect to the foreground, alongside physical/sporting prowess, creative outlets like art and literature, and investigative skills in science as well, makes it easier for people to find their niche, shine a little even if they suck at everything else, and discover others who share the same interests.

University life has the advantage of extreme inebriation, for the vast majority of people. ;) I didn't take that route, and in fact uni was perhaps one of the loneliest times of my life, but for a lot of shysters it can bring them out of their shell and ease them into the connections that would otherwise be too scary to make. Depending on the country or culture there are also lots of social clubs that allow you to meet other likeminded people of the same rough age group, in a relatively neutral environment.

And from the time you hit the workforce, yeah, it's mostly up to you. You might get lucky and be working in a job you adore, doing something you love -- and if that's the case, possibly look for new friends in the workplace. Sometimes kitchen or water cooler conversations can bring about unlikely friendships.

Beyond that, I actually had a chat with someone yesterday (that I want to write about) -- one of her suggestions for me was to find a local book club or something else low-key (I'm really not a party animal) and just take the plunge. Local papers and ads placed on your local supermarket's bulletin board (if it has one) can help to source people nearby.

Personally, I tend to find that accountability helps. Maybe set up some kind of agreement or system with a friend whereby you both try something new each week, then report back on it and share stories of hilarity and misfortune -- taking much of the dreaded sting out of it; it becomes a game, rather than something you desperately need and aren't sure how to get. Not only does this introduce the possibility of finding new hobbies you like, it also tends to get you into contact with people you normally wouldn't meet.

Say one week the 'challenge' is to find a new cafe in your area that you haven't been to, and say one nice (and true!) thing about/to every staff member you encounter. It'll lift their day too, and flattery can often help smooth over nerves, because it's more likely to be received well (if you're tasteful about it).

Or another week it might be to go running in a nearby park/reserve that you haven't been to before, and stop to talk about the weather with at least one dog-walking stranger.

Like you said in your previous post, practice pretty much makes perfect, and by dint of repetition, these things will cause less anxiety and more anticipation as you look forward to each new 'challenge'.

Holy crap, I ramble. Sorry!

Lust and Confused said...

Don't worry about the length of your comment. I love the thought you put into it, and you add some very good suggestions to complement my post.

- Arthur

acquiexence said...

The issue is usually reining *back* the thoughts. :D Thanks!

Christina said...

Ive met many men offline by chatting in a Pennsylvania for 40plus chatroom! As with all things, even meeting someone in a Bar atmosphere can be challenging!! But by all means be careful and if it doesnt seem right, dont do it!! I know I have a Guarding Angel looking out for me...but every meet is still wraught with anticipation and fear of the unknown!!

Lust and Confused said...

@Christina: I don't think the anticipation and hint of fear ever go away completely. Nobody wants to hear "no", and often settles for not hearing anything rather than taking a little risk in exchange for a "yes".

- Arthur

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