It is an impossibility to be introduced to a friend. It has never happened.
Being Friendly Is Not The Same As Being Friends
Indeed, you can sense when you may have just met someone you'd like to be friends with, but a friendship it is not... yet. We only meet friendly acquaintances that have the potential to be transformed into friendships. Upon a first meeting, you can spill a secret, bond over a shared conversation or feel the instant mutual likability, but that doesn't make them a friend -- only a possible friend.
To be clear: There is a huge difference between someone you are friendly with and someone who is a friend. Friendships don't just happen, though friendliness can.
This differentiation is frequently lost on experts. Articles and books attempting to respond to the increasing need for more meaningful connection often claim to provide ways to make friends, when it's really more about how to meet friendly people. The stand-by advice to women looking for new friends is to join a gym, attend local events or volunteer. They provide us with tips on how to ask opening questions at parties, encourage us to smile when we talk and remind us of the value of eye contact. And none of those suggestions are unhelpful; they're merely misleading. Making small talk can be the first step toward a friendship, but that does not make it a friendship.
Increasing Friendliness Does Not Increase Friendships
We know this distinction to be true, for at a time when our Facebook friend count is growing rapidly, so is our loneliness. We have never used the word "friend" to refer to more people than we do now, and yet, ironically, we repeatedly score ourselves as lacking friends. We are increasingly networked, but still yearn for the sense of belonging and being truly known.
Add the quarter of us admitting that we have no confidant in life to the 20 percent of us who claim to only have one such person, and that's almost half of us on the edge of social isolation. Experts say that the feeling of being disconnected is as dangerous to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and twice as harmful as being obese. This research doesn't reflect how skillful we are with small talk, but rather whether we feel we have confidants in our lives.
In order to develop friendships, you must engage in friendliness. But being friendly doesn't guarantee you friends.
The immediate implication to articulating the dissimilarity between practicing friendliness and fostering friendships is for you to see which one is your personal greater need:
For some of us, especially if we are new to an area, we need to engage in the behaviors that help us find friendly people. The prolific advice out there will aid us in each knowing where to begin our search based on what we value. Some fabulous resources include:
- Meetup for interest based groups
Importantly, holding friendship out as a destination to move toward, as opposed to hoping it finds you immediately, will serve to help shape your expectations. You cannot attend anything once or twice and expect a friendship to just happen. This is the stage where you are expanding your options, not narrowing them down. Reminding yourself that your goal in these settings is to find friendly people will open you up to see the possibilities that you're more likely to miss if you think you're auditioning for you new BFF the first time you meet someone. Show up at events with the anticipation of looking for ways to practice your friendliness with the knowledge that you will follow up several times before you will call this person a friend.
For the vast majority of us, however, it is not from the lack of having options that we are lonely. It is because we are stuck in the cycle of practicing friendship, and have yet to clearly admit we need friends. We must own the fact that we need to now transform some friendly people we know into possible friendships. Making this transition is hard for multiple reasons, but the biggest culprit is from lack of follow-through.
I have observed that most of us need six to eight interactions with someone before we will call them a friend. This means you can meet the friendliest woman, and enjoy lunch multiple times, but it will still take a while before you'd feel comfortable asking her for a ride to the airport, or texting her last minute to see if she is spontaneously free for a last minute get-together. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, even those activities aren't akin to being there for you through a break-up, or helping you with a favor when your child is sick. Friendship has a lot of levels that I look forward to guiding you through (sign up for e-mail alerts to this weekly column in the top right corner), but right now you have to hold the truth that you simply need to be initiating ongoing interactions, any way you can.
The first step of becoming friends is to practice friendliness. But if the opening line doesn't lead to another encounter, then it was only the latter, and you're still left wanting the former.
You have never met a friend. But you have most certainly met amazing people you have turned into friends. And you can do it again.
Shasta Nelson is a new blogger for The Huffington Post who will be writing about how to create the friendships in your life that will prove meaningful. Sign up to receive e-mail alerts to develop the friendships that matter.