Making New Friends in a Mobile Society

With the rapid advancements in technology, and our society's evolving lifestyle needs and wants, today's workforce is a mobile one. I watch my friends and my children's friends move from one town to the next, whether for work or for lifestyle changes, whereas people in the past would often grow up in the same house and stay in the same town for decades. What this means for us as individuals is that our emotional connections and support with other human beings are also changing.

When you move to a new town as an adult, it can be very tough to break into already existing friendships and cliques. One of the most important things you can do to help is to reach out to people with similar interests and values. This requires you to override both your reticence and your shyness.

Great places to search for people with similar interests and values are places of worship, clubs, and classes. Going to gallery openings, music recitals lectures, and the gym can help you to connect with others of similar interests. Even volunteering, grocery shopping, or walking the dog can lead a friendly person to connect socially. There's also the old fashioned way of connecting, which is meeting new people through old friends or connecting with alumni through alumni associations. And, of course, there's the modern way of making friends in your new environment: through social media, such as local Facebook groups, Meetups, LinkedIn groups, and so on. My mother used to say to me when I was young, "Prince Charming is not going to ride up to your door on a white horse. You have to go out looking for him." And the same is true of friendship.

Now, making friends doesn't come as easily for everyone. Some people may be predisposed to social anxiety. We can now see that in the brain on CAT scans and MRIs. However, certain behavior modification techniques can help you deliberately override your shyness. Will you ever be a social butterfly? Maybe not. But, can you be socially adequate and make friends? Yes.

Two ways you can make new adult friends

Here's a behavior modification technique I used when I found myself in a new place. I like to play tennis, so I made a list of other people I knew who played tennis. Every few days, I would go down the list and phone one of them to ask them if they wanted to play tennis. If they said no -- and here's the key -- I did not take it personally, but recognized that it wasn't about me. It was simply a conflict in timing. Then I'd move down the list to the next person, and so on until I found someone to play tennis with.

A second idea is to use icebreakers to enter social situations to help you have conversations that lead to connections. If you're shy, you can practice and rehearse them when alone. Easy ice breakers include: asking someone what book they're reading now, what hobbies they're interested in, what work are they involved in, what charities they work with... it gives you a chance to learn how to be an active listener.

The message you give to a person when you listen, is that you appreciate and value what they have to say, who they are and what are their passions. It also gives you good information to decide whether this person is the right kind of friend for you. Do you share common values, goals, interests and do you view the world in the same way? And most importantly, can you be your authentic self with them?

On the other hand, it's important to recognize that you're not going to like everyone. For instance, you may automatically move away from people simply based on your sense of smell. It's all about pheromones: some are compatible... some are not. And it's all okay.

Keep in mind, you have to be a friend to make a friend, and that friendship requires intimacy. A word of caution here: don't spill your confidences to people you don't know or trust. Trust is based on experience, and intimate relationships have to be built first. Yet the strongest bond in friendship will be those personal self-disclosures. They become the ties that bind as we get to know one another in an authentic and empathic way. No matter how often you move, you have the power to make those personal connections with others: as long as you put forth the effort.