While popular students may take the camaraderie and comfort of friends for granted, not everyone is able to forge friendships in adulthood. In an article in Psychology Today , psychologist Marisa Franco confesses that she was often lonely in college. Though she went on to author a book on the psychology of friendship later, she rues that, as a college student, she had “no idea how to form connections”. In fact, the naïve belief that friendships “just happen” can curb a person’s ability to fashion meaningful ties with others.
First, know that making friends entails effort. Franco cites a study that found a correlation between loneliness and believing that forming friends happens by chance. Like all self-fulfilling prophecies, if you maintain that friendship is based on luck, then you are less likely to exert effort into cultivating relationships, thereby setting yourself up for loneliness.
Overt vs. covert
If you want to make friends, show up at group events. But, your mere presence isn’t going to guarantee making a friend. Franco discusses overt and covert avoidance, a distinction that author Ellen Hendriksen also points out. Not attending clubs or events constitutes overt avoidance. The subtler form, covert avoidance, entails not interacting with others during social events. If you are keen to make friends, then you need to take an active role and introduce yourself to others.
But what if you feel diffident? Or scared of being rebuffed? Interestingly, our “perceptions of the social environment” is linked with our own behaviour. Thus, our own actions may determine whether we feel a group of people is frosty or warm. Franco cites a study that found that those who interacted with others in a classroom found the atmosphere to be cordial. On the other hand, those who didn’t mingle felt the classroom was cold.
Franco offers a useful tip to avoid being misled by our presumptions. If you feel a group is unfriendly, ask yourself if you have tried to reach out. If your overtures are not reciprocated, then they might not be the right fit, and you can move onto befriending others. However, if you haven’t approached them, don’t wait for them to initiate contact.
Franco offers one more suggestion that can help you get through the awkward initial phase when people don’t know each other. A study found that familiarity breeds affinity, even when participants don’t interact. If you keep meeting the same people regularly, chances are that with time they will grow to like you, and vice versa. However, ensure that you aren’t emitting negative or hostile signals, either explicit or implicit. To guard against this, reframe cynical thoughts with more salubrious ones. Reassure yourself that making friends takes time. Finally, give others the benefit of the doubt, especially when you are unsure of how to read a situation.
The writer is the author of the forthcoming book Zero Limits: THings Every 20 Something should know. She blogs at www.arunasankaranaryanan.com