Lonely? Been there. Fuck that.
I’m living in London. It is one of the wealthiest, most powerful cities in the world, home to 8 million souls, and when I arrived here I could count my acquaintances on the fingers of one hand. The first month here was the loneliest month of my life, which seems impossible surrounded by people, money, and messages of good will. Christmas is a terrible time to make new friends. That’s why the renewal of a new year held so much promise for me. I made a resolution to “leave no social stone unturned”, and this post shares what I’ve learned so far.
As a freelancer and a single person, a diverse portfolio of friendships and acquaintances isn’t just nice to have – it’s a necessity that helps me build my career, maintain my health and mental well-being. Every business is a people business, and every life is made richer by the quality of the relationships in it. If you’ve ever felt social isolation you know that it drags you down, holds you back, and makes you sick. Many people limit the possibilities in their life by allowing fear of rejection and complacency to close their social circle.
And while being on good terms with a wide variety of people is incredibly valuable, the real social goal is to find your people. Kelly Cutrone calls them “your tribe” – what we’re really talking about is the people you have a true affinity with – your real friends. As Hugh MacLeod says,
“The people you trust and vice versa, this is what will feed you. Nothing else.”
In a city of millions, or even a town of hundreds, there will be some human beings who will “get” you and care for you just as much as you care for them, who will inspire you and encourage you. That’s all that really matters. You won’t find them by watching TV. Here’s five ways I’ve met acquaintances, colleagues, fellow travellers and friends over the past four months.
This takes the least amount of effort. Your family, flatmates, neighbours, your work colleagues, or your classmates, are all circumstantial contacts. In my case, I am at a major disadvantage – what I do for a living is incredibly solitary. I don’t go to school, and I don’t have a day job. My flatmates are great but I don’t share a lot in common with them. Counterintuitively, this is an advantage, because it’s too easy to relax into circumstantial relationships. Many people never expand their horizons beyond this, even if the quality of the relationships leaves much to be desired. These people have to at least tolerate your presence in their lives, whether you share any type of affinity with them or not. Beyond this core, lies risk and rejection.
2. Friends of friends.
This was my first line of attack in January. I put the word out that I was in London and I wanted to meet everyone’s London friends. Friends are generous people – and they love to help out, and people are much more inclined to meet you if you are introduced this way. I got a lot of introductions – sometimes through very tangential degrees of separation. The one limitation I found with this was that the tendency would be to end up meeting a lot of other Canadians who are in the same boat – it’s good company but it doesn’t help either of you transcend where you’re at.
While I experienced a low level of missed connections in this arena, for the most part I ended up with a very diverse group of acquaintances and a few new friends. I also met quite a few people I might not have met any other way. The funny thing is that having a friend in common doesn’t guarantee many other commonalities at all. Don’t let this stop you from making the connection though – only knowing people that are just like you is boring.
3. Social Networking
As a blogger, I am quite accustomed to meeting friends through the internet, but this is by no means usual. Many people have never met someone from the internet before, so be prepared for a low level of rejection based on people’s fear of the unknown. This is a terrific way to meet people. You get a sense from their profiles and feeds about whether you have similar interests and senses of humour, and in my experience this qualifies people even more than having friends in common. Most of my best friends are fellow bloggers – bloggers tend to be very open, articulate, passionate, curious people. That’s a high level of affinity to me.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to pull online relationships offline. First of all, you need to be open with your own profiles. Don’t limit your facebook and twitter to people you know already. Give people a chance – try them out – if they drive you nuts, they’re easily gotten rid anyway if you have no real life ties to them. You need to be patient. Wait for the right time – an event, or a natural transition to a more intimate form of contact like DM or email, and people will be more receptive to meeting IRL.
When I first got to London, I scoped out a number of potential groups of friends (as Ze calls them, po-friends) on twitter. I found one group in particular who weren’t fashion related but who had a great sense of humour. They went out to comedy clubs sometimes and after a while of @-ing and bantering I asked if I could come along. They are just as fun in real life as they were online, and even though they found my way of inserting myself into their lives kind of strange and amusing, they accepted me anyway. This was a total win.
4. Qualified introductions.
This is where social adventurism gets aspirational. You want to meet people in your industry or field that you admire, people who are far busier than you and who have far less time or need to meet new people than you do. Cold emails will get ignored in a high-volume inbox and cold calls are just intrusive and give a bad impression. Sidling up to them at parties takes all the fun out of partying for both of you. In this case, your best bet is to find a friend in common who will give you a qualified introduction.
Here’s something to keep in mind too – just because someone is influential or important, doesn’t mean that they belong in your tribe. And if they’re not in your tribe, they’re likely never to be more than an acquaintance, if that. People at this level meet so many people that acquaintances are treated much the same as strangers. Only leaders whose thinking is fundamentally aligned with yours, who are direct influencers of your own work, are worth the amount of effort it takes to climb this social mountain. This isn’t about superficial moments – getting your picture taken with a famous person or getting an autograph. It is about identifying yourself to them as a true disciple, a rare individual worthy of a genuine human relationship. Needless to say, just existing isn’t enough in this case. You have to demonstrate a high level of dedication and work well before you even try to make these contacts.
This is the top level of social interaction, above even qualified introductions, because it takes the most confidence and charisma. Simply introducing yourself to strangers takes all kinds of guts and glory, and of all the methods I’ve mentioned here, yields the most instances of rejection. Yet, it is worth it because it raises the bar on any situation – making parties more fun, opening up random adventures, allowing you to discover people and experiences that you would never find any other way. The people you meet this way are on the same trip you are – open wide, keen to find what life has to offer.
I also believe this is probably the best way to meet someone romantically. Dating far outside your established social and professional circles is preferable for so many reasons.
Going to events alone is the best way to do this because it gives you no other choice but to move beyond the fear. The most success I’ve had involves offering some type of service – if you’re at a party, and someone looks lonely, introduce yourself. Then start introducing them to other people. I’ve met people by watching their bikes while they get their picture taken. I’ve met people standing in queues waiting to get into fashion shows. I’ve met people by sharing tables at busy bars and restaurants. I’ve met people by showing up early for something and having to wait around. I’ve approached people just because I think they look cute or interesting. Flattery will at least get you a hello. Sometimes it’s just as simple as throwing out a big grin or kicking a stray ball.
Some people will think you are crazy if you’re approaching them for no apparent motive. These people are so sane they’re boring. Brush off their rejection. Can’t think of anything to say? Great! Ask people about their lives – people love talking about themselves and you’ll learn new things.
After using all of these five approaches, I’ve developed a fairly wide group of acquaintances in just a few months, met a couple of my fashion heroes, and found a few nascent friendships. I still deal with feelings of loneliness sometimes, though increasingly I have people I can call when I need to. The ultimate goal – finding my people – takes time. The process of actively seeking out connections only increases chances of finding them a little sooner. True friendships are rare and wonderful, and like all the best things in life, are well worth waiting for.