Kathleen writes: I have some social issues. I only have one friend, and would like to be more social, but I am uncomfortable doing so. I am moving out this August for the very first time in my life to attend graduate school, and while I won’t be far away from my family/friend, I do not want to just sit in my apartment and not be social, meet people etc. However, there is a catch 22 in my issue, because I do not mind being by myself. I enjoy it. It does not bother me. I prefer to be by myself (at times - about 90% of the time), but I would like to know how to be more social when I move. I am not the type of person to approach people, as I have had issues with friends in the past. Any advice you can offer would be wonderful.
When I was in my first few weeks of university, I made a commitment to strike up a conversation with every person I sat next to in a lecture or tutorial. Plenty of those conversations went nowhere – either I never saw the person again, or we sat with each other in class a couple of times before figuring out we had nothing in common, but I’m still good friends with at least two of those people a decade later, so on the whole I’d say it was a decent strategy.
Not the advice you’re probably after, but the point is that if you want to meet people, you need to talk to them. And the more people you talk to, the more likely you are to come in contact with some you’ll grow to love.
It’s scary, I know; especially if you’ve experienced a lot of bulling or rejection in the past. But the thing to remember is that almost everyone finds walking into that room full of strangers scary, worrying they’ll say the wrong thing, have no one to talk to, or have nothing to say at all. Or at least, I’ve had all those worries (nay, have them on the regular), and I’m also the kind of person who does public speaking for the fun of it. So I assume lots of other people must have them, too.
So, how do you find those people that you might grow to love? I think you’ve got some massive advantages on your side in the fact that you’re going to grad school, which theoretically means you’ll be in classes with a bunch of people who are interested in the same things you are. If a simple “hi, my name’s Kathleen” is a bit too naff for you, you could try making a comment about something in the class discussion that got you particularly excited or riled up. I’m also a big advocate of joining student societies: either going along to meetings and sitting quietly if you’d rather not speak up, or (perhaps counter intuitively) putting up your hand to help run one. Again, it may be scary, but I’ve found taking on leadership roles actually helps to soothe any shyness I have – it gives me something to do, and a reason to talk to people.
A couple of other things to keep in mind. If your goal is simply not to spend the next couple of years sitting alone in your apartment, you don’t necessarily need to be socializing with other people in order to do that. You could try going for walks, checking out an art gallery, going to the theatre, working from a café, or volunteering – most of which can be done alone. And even when you’re actively making new friends, you should still respect your need for alone time. Learning to differentiate when you want to be alone out of fear, and when you want to be alone for pleasure/relaxation/rejuvenation can be tricky, but it’s also totally worth it.