Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of Making New Friends



My high school posse then.
Making new friends has always been difficult for me. I’ve long suffered from a crippling social anxiety that makes it difficult for me to enter into unfamiliar social situations. Close friends say that once I relax I’m bubbly and enthusiastic, but getting there is like pulling teeth – especially when it comes to meeting men. Going to parties can be hell for me. All that small talk is torture. I really want to launch into discussions of philosophy, art, literature and anthropology, but I am forced to feign interest in what you do or where you grew up. And I’m sure that people can see through the mask. I mean, no one is that enthusiastic about presidential airplane pilots, or Bavaria. That’s why I drink!

Over the last few years I’ve been through a series of personal misfortunes: I lost my job, moved to a new country, my income fell (drastically) and I went through a painful break-up. The resulting depression was awful, and I used it as an excuse to simply stay home. Not only was I socially awkward, I was socially awkward and mildly suicidal – not a good combination for lively conversation.

My high school posse now.
Recently I’ve been feeling good enough to try and get back in the game. Had some lunches, met for a few drinks and attended a few parties. I’ve met a couple of interesting people, but I haven’t really found the connection I’ve been looking for. Until recently I thought I had some sort of social deficiency – and don’t get me wrong I’m awkward as hell. I laugh inappropriately, I often drop the ball in conversations because I can never think of the next “small talk” topic quickly enough, and I often forget what’s just been said (partly because I’m too busy worrying about how awkward I am) – but thankfully, I’m not the only one having problems making friends.


Last month, Alex William’s New York Times piece highlighted just how difficult it was making friends once you’re out of college.
As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.
He has a point. As my values have become clearer to me, I realise that I don’t want to spend my time with people who don’t fully share them. I have friends from high school and college who have vastly different beliefs from mine and I can call them up tomorrow and laugh like time never passed – but if I met them for the first time today, the chances that we could even have a civil conversation would be slim indeed.

Of course other articles pointed out that Williams’ view of friendship in middle age was actually quite narrow. He neglected to point out how single people might actually buck his trend. As writer Jen Doll puts it: Friendships never come easy, but single people tend to put themselves out there and take risks.” Hanna Rosin also points out that she makes friends frequently and easily because she’s “learned that really deep friendships can form in other ways, by living in parallel day after day.”

Both Rosin and Doll make good points. As a single person, I’ve got more time on my hands to attend events and hang out afterwards for a chat. That’s why I’m a member of a film group, a play reading group and a feminist circle. I even – on rare occasion – show up for meetings of the local running and hiking club. And there ought to be plenty of opportunities to make friends in my neighbourhood. But there aren’t.

I happen to live in a very odd city. Abuja is the only planned city in Nigeria and when you look it from the outside, the smooth roads, wide boulevards and high walls that surround all those massive houses are very beautiful. But living in it can be a deadening. More than in other parts of the country people in Abuja are strictly divided along class lines. It affects where people live, where they shop, where they go to school and where (and how) they socialise. Everyone operates in their own restrictive social bubbles so it’s very difficult to make the kind of friendships “by living in parallel” that Hanna Rosin describes.

Jen Doll’s argument that singles make more friends because they are more socially available is true only if there are a wide range of activities for singles to do. And where I live, that just isn’t true. What you can do in Abuja is determined by how much money is in your pocket – and in Abuja, unlike many other cities in the country – it has to be a lot of money.

I suppose one could make the argument that I should try to mix outside of my closed class circle, but anyone who knows anything about the social hierarchy in Nigeria knows that that’s not easy to do. Wide disparities in education, access and leisure can make inter-class friendships very difficult. I’m not making excuses, I’m just sayin’. I could also lower my standards and try to make friends with people who don’t necessarily share my values. It would certainly be a chance to learn anger management. But I’m awkward enough as it is, do I really need these added challenges?

Regardless, I’ve committed myself to meeting more people. It won’t be easy, but I’m convinced that my next new BFF is out there. And if I fail? Well, I suppose I could always fall back on the amazing, incredible friends I already have. Or just stay home and read a good book. Or write silly blog posts.

7 comments:

  1. Environment matters too. As you grow older, rat race and all, you find yourself doing a lot more things not because you love them but because you want to stay afloat. I've felt that as reasoning develops and matures, the pool of people you consider cool diminishes and sadly a lot more people make you choke and their presence makes you feel your IQ is diminishing. I'm sorry.

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    1. Oh yeah, definitely environment is key. But since friendships are so important to who we are and how we live, we have to grit our teeth and find some way around the hurdles.

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  2. It's like you were describing me in some bits. Thanks for sharing. It's nice to know I'm not the only one out there - thought the worse thing in the world was being a (socially) awkward Nigerian girl.

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  4. Wow!!! Love this post and I thought I was the only one with that problem of making friends and social awkwardness. I've tried on numerous occasions to put myself out there but it neva quite works out. I especially find it hard to make friends with fellow women bcos in all honesty I think they would think I'm weird with my quirky jokes, love of cartoons, anime and action movies hehehehehe.
    I'm still trying though when I can get my lazy ass out or have more cash as u amply put it bcos Abuja is not designed for ppl with minimal income.
    On another note I just checked out a new restaurant and had a cheesecake which was pretty awesome but cost 900 naira for just a tiny portion. Anywhoo that will be the last time I'm dining there. My income cannot support such luxury :D

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