By: Dan Gentile
Before adulthood, new friends came easily. Every classroom from kindergarten to Psych 401 was ripe with low-hanging buddies ready to lavishly spend time with humans they barely knew. Lifetime friendships were solidified, ensuring reluctant attendance to your annoying destination wedding.
Those days are long gone. I noticed that once I neared the age of 30, it became much harder to break past acquaintance level despite my sterling dental hygiene and adequate level of friendliness. After giving the concept some serious thought (and not researching any actual communication studies), I've developed a series of awkward hoops that adults must jump through to become Real Friends. Read on, and maybe it'll help you make a new friend, which is the whole point of the Internet, right? To find adult friends?
Stage 1: Noticing a new friend
They say there's no such thing as friendship at first sight, but they are obviously not New Friend material. Sometimes you can just tell!
Perhaps it's something as simple as an old-timey mustache or proper wheel-to-frame bike-locking technique that catches your eye. Whatever it is, something about this potential friend makes him or her sparkle like a diamond in a mine full of filthy people who wouldn't think twice about stealing your wallet.
That's all assuming that you're seeing this person for the first time in real life and not on the internet, where privacy goes to die. Should this person appear in one of countless feeds, it only takes one well-placed "like" to start a friend crush.
Stage 2: The introduction
Here's the first of many chances to risk coming across like a friendly person, also known as a weirdo. There are many shades of introduction, but these days it's nearly impossible to meet a new person without an endorsement from a mutual friend.
The sad truth is that strangers almost always want something from you. The primary three motives are money for the bus, your eternal soul, or sex stuff, so any uninvited contact is met with justifiable skepticism.
Another barrier to unprovoked introduction are handheld 4G loneliness shields. It's easy to look like a loser when you're alone in public, so thankfully smart phones function as cocoons to isolate you from being bothered by weirdos. It's where all your Real Friends are hanging out, who just so happen to be Instagram models and New York Times writers.
In the rare case that you have a third party to introduce you to this mustache-wearing cyclist, the quality of the intro is pivotal. Shaking hands and exchanging names is the first step, but you won't remember this person's name without an actual conversation. If you do remember and use it at a later time, you're once again in creep territory, so be ready to make like Skyler White and tread lightly/not process information from previous episodes.
Stage 3: Public recognition
Acknowledging another human as a known entity is the first real hard part. All it takes is a small nod or friendly wave at the laundromat to check this stage off the friendship score card, but it's surprisingly difficult.
The main hurdle is admitting to a discrete memory of another individual, which is definitely not cool. You're not supposed to remember strangers because you're busy with your Real Friends enjoying frozen margs and happy-hour appetizers.
Should you muster the courage to let down your 4G shields, the next step is to make eye contact. This can be the equivalent of locking a laser cannon onto Darth Vader's Tie Fighter: you'll need to use the force.
Stage 4: The stop & chat
At the previous stage a simple "hey, man" or "hello, you" will suffice, but the stop and chat puts both parties at risk of revealing that they don't know the other person's name. The important thing to remember here (other than their name) is that they're just as forgetful and terrified as you. Keep calm, stick to one conversation topic -- "how about this weather?" perhaps -- then scurry away before you poison the potential-friendship well. Luckily you can use "being busy with work" or "I just got my smoothie" as an excuse to leave almost any conversation.
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