How To Maintain Real Life Friendships In A Digital World

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

We are living in the most connected era, daily looking into people’s lives across the country from our cell phone or computer screen, yet we can’t seem to find a true, close friend in our own community. We have our “tried and true” circles, those two or three friends we grew up with or met along the way, but when it comes to meeting new friends, it’s as hard as finding a love connection.

A Cornell study shows we have more connections on social media than in real life. So who do you have to lean on, help you in your darkest hours or go to the movies with on a Tuesday night? Who do you share a secret with? Cry on their shoulder? Laugh at a funny joke?

Matthew Brashears, a Cornell University sociologist, surveyed more than 2,000 adults and found that from 1985 to 2010, the number of close friends dropped. This was seven years ago—how bad is it now? Many people count their “friends” on Facebook but when pushed, admit they are really not friends, only social media conquests.

This article is not intended to pit social media friends against real life—face to face—sitting at the dinner table with you friendships. I personally have both and completely enjoy each for their own value. I am simply addressing a topic which comes up often and offering some tips on how to cultivate a new relationship in the event you are longing to connect with someone in person.

First and foremost, it takes work. Here's how you can get started.

Find People With Common Interests

Yes, these suggestions will sound like dating tips, but they are remarkably similar. Just as you must have a connection with a love interest, you need something who clicks as a friend. You will have a better chance of getting along if you enjoy a few of the same interests.

Start out cautiously, however. “Me too!” and “OMG, I do that too!” and “So do I!” doesn’t mean you are destined for a long term friendship. A friend of mine described it perfectly. He said, sometimes when you start off on fire, you fizzle out just as quickly. So true. Gradual disclosure and trust are a much better and safer option.

Be Consistent

If you want to meet new people, stick to it. Make an effort and set a goal of meeting someone new each week. Find events to attend, RSVP to opportunities you may otherwise overlook, smile at people at the grocery store (not to be confused with flirt with people—but if you are single, feel free to do that too). Keep your eyes open for occasions to get out of your comfort zone.

You can be sure you won’t meet anyone new sitting in your pajamas, reading How to Win Friends and Influence People for the fourth time. Routinely attend workshops, classes or a monthly supper club where people will get to know you and you will naturally build a bond.

Work on Yourself

It’s your job to be interesting. Not fake or overly gregarious, but at least well versed in what is going on in the world. Unfortunately, what is happening in the news lately is uncivil and volatile and not something you want to build a conversation around as a regular topic. It’s up to you to be relatable and responsive to others. When you put people at ease, they are more willing to drop their own guard and give you a chance. Smile genuinely, ask thoughtful questions and follow up. It might not be an instant friendship kismet but over time you can determine if you are a friendship-fit.

Speak Positively About Others

When you speak highly of others, people will remember you as confident and warm. Avoid building a relationship around gossip or drama. Make a habit of finding the good in other people and sharing it often. You will come across as someone others will want to spend time around. Negative people are seldom looked upon as assets to the group.

For more of Diane’s etiquette tips, you may enjoy reading How to Deal with Friends’ Political Rants on Social Media. You can also visit Diane’s blog, connect with her here on HuffPost, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Buy her new book, Modern Etiquette for a Better Life.