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When you walk into college on your first day, you are just another one of the thousands of new faces. Most of them will be on their own, just like you, and filled with the same nervous excitement that you probably are; and with the same worry – How to make friends in college?
It can be overwhelming. But it’s also a great opportunity. Somewhere in that crowd could be your next love, maybe even your future husband/wife. You will almost certainly meet someone with who you be lifelong friends. And if nothing else, somewhere in the crowd are the people you will call friends and spend the most memorable period of your life with.
You just have to go find them. For which you need to start an interaction with them. Which… can be a bit tricky.
Before we start…
You can’t be friends with everyone
As the saying goes, it’s impossible to please everyone. There will be some situations where you do everything right and offer your best self to the person but it just doesn’t work out. In fact, you will have more dud conversations than ones that actually evolve into anything. It is important to not let it get to your head if an interaction doesn’t go the way you thought it would.
It’s about compatibility
Sometimes, two people just are not compatible and you can’t build a relationship between them no matter what. Think about a football player whose life revolves around the gym and sports and barely spends time in front of the TV. Imagine them talking to someone who is a Legend rank in Hearthstone and the only time he goes outside the house is to go to college. As you can imagine, there aren’t many topics they both can relate to simply due to the massively different lifestyles.
Get new hobbies
Found some friends with a love for the outdoors? Make a weekend out of it!
Nothing brings two people together like a shared passion for something. Think about some of your closest friends, and you will most likely notice that there is something that you both share a passion for. It doesn’t have to be something tangible – maybe you both love spending a Friday night just chilling with a beer or two and some food instead of going out clubbing. Maybe it’s your love for a sport, or even the same sports team.
With this in mind, it makes sense that the more hobbies you have, the better your chances of meeting new people and having something in common with them. This is why one of the first things you should do when you start college is to join any groups or clubs that you are interested in, because this will place you around a lot of like-minded people whom you already know you share a passion with.
Start with yourself – are you befriendable?
Think about what qualities you would want in a friend. Honesty, trustworthiness, kindness, a sense of humor, strong values, etc are some common examples. Now think about what would make you not befriend someone. Probably the exact opposite of the above.
For a moment, pretend you are someone else and they are meeting you for the first time. Which boxes from the above list do you check? Are you honest and trustworthy? Do you have a sense of humor and the ability to take things lightly? Or do you have a tendency to get pedantic?
One thing that’s important to understand is that friendship is a two-way relationship. It’s not just about you liking the other person – they need to like you as well. And it’s up to you to give them reasons to like you.
How to make yourself likeable?
Becoming a likeable person is a lot easier than it is made out to be. The truth is, by default, people want to like other people. It’s a part of being a social species. It’s human nature. As long as you possess some of the qualities below, you’ll give people very little reason to dislike you. That’s a very solid place to start.
I believe this is the most important part of any social interaction. Everything you say and do has to come from a genuine place. The more you stray and try to emulate someone else, the deeper the hole you dig yourself. If you are a quiet and subdued person by nature, that’s perfectly fine. If you start copying someone who’s loud and outgoing, people will see right through the facade. People can usually smell fake from miles away, and if they suspect you of not being genuine, it’s very difficult to come back.
When I say be honest, I don’t mean you need to spill out your darkest secrets simply because someone asked you. I mean do not try to lie and cheat your way into anything. Deceit is one thing that is universally despised. Honestly grows trust, and once trust is broken, it is pretty much game over. Sure, you might mend some of the relationship that you had but it will never be the same as it was with genuine trust.
This is an accurate analogy.
I also want to take time to address another misconception. Being honest does NOT mean you go around telling people exactly what you think of them. Yes, to an extent you want to give honest feedback when asked, but there is a right and a wrong way to do it. If a friend asks you if you like their new shirt, which you don’t, it’s not necessary to say “yeah nah it’s shit”. “I’m not really a fan of it, just not my style” is a much better response. You’re still being honest and still giving genuine feedback, you just don’t sound like an asshole.
Show Respect to others
Personally, this is what I look for in a person before I develop any sort of relationship with them. Are they respectful of others, regardless of their social stature? You’ve heard of the classic “whistle at the waiter” type of disrespect. That’s an extreme case and if you’re with someone that whistles at waiters you might want to reconsider being around that person at all.
The more common signs of disrespect are way less obvious. Not looking at a person when talking to them, not acknowledging their presence, dismissing their opinions, failing to greet them appropriately, etc can easily be translated as a show of disrespect. Your body language does 55% of the communication so regardless of what your words are, you need to show respect with body language as well.
Have Self Respect
Along with respecting other people, you must have a certain level of respect for yourself, because this is what people will use to determine how much respect they need to show you. Just like how you can’t sell an item you don’t believe in, you can’t expect people to respect you if don’t respect yourself. Your level of self respect will show itself in many ways, but the most obvious one is through your looks. People with low self respect tend to not look after themselves. The message that this gives to other people is “I’m not worth putting any effort into”.
It starts with self-respect
Make sure to look after yourself at all times. Take care of your body and your mind. You are the most important person in your life, so it makes sense that you spend the most time and energy making sure that you are in the best condition possible, both mentally and physically. Look after your hygiene, stay healthy, read books, entertain yourself and spend some time by yourself if you want. As mentioned above, it will show in every aspect of your life and will help you command a certain level of respect from others.
In the ideal world maybe people don’t judge each other based on their looks, but the reality is, they do. People will look at you and within a couple of seconds form a persona based on how look. If you are dressed in non-fitting clothes, have your hair in a mess and look like you just walked out of a zombie apocalypse, very few people are going to be open for a conversation with you. It’s important to change your habits and adjust your personality to be more friendly, but that’s irrelevant if you can’t even get anyone to look at you twice.
Dressing well basically comes down to wearing clothes that fit, wearing matching colors, wearing the right shoes and using appropriate accessories.
Time to interact!
So now you are an overall nice person to be around, and you also look pretty decent. It’s finally time to talk about talking to people. The most important thing to remember here is that you’re not talking to people to impress them. It’s not a sales pitch. If you’ve followed the article so far, you have already done your part in presenting the best version of you.
The purpose of a conversation is to find out if you find the other person interesting. Too many people get caught up in “I wonder if s/he likes me” instead of “s/he seems like an interesting person, I would like to get to know them a bit better”.
Unfortunately, some people don’t even make it that far. In fact, one of the most difficult parts about making new friends is the very first step – breaking the ice.
Breaking the ice – how to start conversations
The best icebreaker
That is literally how almost all of your conversations will start. You make eye contact, flash a smile and say hello. It really is that simple, and for the most part, there isn’t a better way to start a conversation. Besides, this isn’t that important. It’s what you say after the introduction that will set the tone of the conversation.
Maintain positive body language
As I mentioned above, 55% of your communication is done through your body. Regardless of what you are saying, it is important that you have a friendly and open body language. The best way to have an open body language is to literally open your body. Shoulders back, chest out, arms along your side and legs shoulder width apart. This is the best posture to have and as long as you’re doing this with a friendly smile on your face, you should be good for the most part.
Use the situation
If you are talking about making friends in college, this becomes very easy. If it is the first day, talk about the new experience. If in class, talk about the content. At the cafeteria, the food. In the hallways, you can just ask where they are headed. The fact that there are so many opportunities for conversation is one of the main reasons college is the best time and place to make friends.
Keep it light hearted
When talking to someone for the first time, it is very important to keep the mood and the topics of the conversation very light hearted. Avoid controversial topics at all costs. Politics and religion are two great examples that are very easy to accidentally slip into. There is a reason people talk about the weather – if it’s hot, and you say that it’s hot, it’s hardly going to cause any controversy. Keep the conversation to simple things like the weather, food, sports, music, movies, games, etc.
Keep it positive
There is no better way to paint yourself in a negative light than to start complaining in your very first interaction with someone. Using the example of the weather from earlier, it is ok to mention that it is hot and that you’re not a fan of it. But if you mention it the second or third time, it just makes you seem like someone that loves to complain. Not how you want to start any kind of a relationship.
Instead, lead the conversation into more positive tones. If you don’t like the hot weather, talk about the nice cool weather, and maybe that one time you went skiing in the swiss alps. People respond to emotions more than anything, and if you constantly talk about positive things and plant good thoughts, they start to associate you with that positive energy and will want to spend time with you.
Building the friendship
No matter how well your first interaction goes, you aren’t going to start calling someone your “friend” after one conversation. At this stage you’re just acquaintances. It’s a base from where you can cultivate a friendship. This usually takes some time and happens naturally, but there are certain things that you can do to make it easy for both of you.
Start learning their values
The very first thing you need to do is learn what kind of person they are. You might have had a great first interaction, but you don’t really know them yet. For all you know, their favorite hobbies could be bullying people and torturing animals. That’s not someone you want to associate with.
The best way to know a person well is to understand where their values lie. If you skip this part and brew a friendship, and later on find out you two don’t agree with each other at a fundamental level on certain topics, it could end the friendship abruptly. For example, let’s say you value personal relationships and won’t do anything at the expense of family or friend.
You meet someone who values money over everything and is not hesitant in taking advantage of someone for his monetary gain. At some point, these two will clash and the later down the track this happens, the worse the fall out. It’s essential to know what people’s values are, and for them to know your values so you have a strong foundation to build your friendship on.
Spend time in different settings
If you meet someone in a lecture, until you spend time with them outside the lecture (or immediately after it), it’s not really a friendship. As long as your interactions happen during, just before or after class, you will forever be “this guy/girl from my class”. Just spending time with them doesn’t fix it either.
I’ve known people who have gone to the same class for the duration of the whole course (4 years) and they still refer to each other as “this guy I know from my class”, as opposed to “my friend/buddy/mate”. Since they have never met anyone outside of that one setting, it’s hard for them to not associate the two together.
A simple way to avoid this issue is to simply ask to meet up for lunch or coffee. Even better if it isn’t immediately before or after your class, because this means you have to actually make an effort just to meet up with each other as opposed to going just because you happened to be together.
As you get further in the friendship, you can go to the gym together, to watch a sporting event or even invite him/her when you’re hanging out with your closer friends. If you both play games, invite a few friends over to spend a night on the PS4/Xbox. Nothing like a late night gaming session with some a whole bunch of fast food. If you haven’t already, make sure your place is comfortable and inviting.
Spend solo time
This is almost as important as the point above, but is much more difficult. Because there is no one to chime in and contribute to the conversation, there can be some pressure to keep it going smoothly. Here are some tips to make it a bit easier:
What do I talk about?
This might be one of the most frequently asked questions on the planet, but the answer is simpler than you might think. If you’re hanging out with someone one on one, you know at least something about them. You may not know each other inside out, but you have at least an idea of what they are into. Use that topic to start off with, and go off on tangents from there. This means you will need to actively listen to what the other person is saying, instead being busy in your own head trying to think of the next thing to say.
Don’t try to read their mind, listen to what they are saying
But you’re only going to talk about the same topic for so long. If you feel a topic dying out, don’t force it. Instead, think about what you want to know about the person, and start drifting towards those topics. At this point you’re both just trying to get to know each other, so it’s the perfect time to ask any questions you may have. Remember not to go too serious though, and it’s still not time to bring up any controversial topics.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of silence
When you’re hanging out with your best friend, how often are you really talking? I’m willing to guess that there are a lot of moments when you don’t say anything and that’s fine. It’s the same when hanging out with someone new. You’re not a news reporter or a horse racing commentator. You’re not expected to have something to say all the time. When the conversation does die off, don’t fidget and get nervous. Just sit back, look around and eventually something will come up.
Another advantage of allowing the silence is that after a certain point, the other person will start feeling pressure and say something. Remember, it’s only awkward of you make it awkward so when you’ve got nothing to say, just chill until something comes to mind, or the other person says something.
In order to get to know someone better, you need to know things about their past to get an idea of what sort of journey they have had. And the best way to make others open up to you is to share your stories first. People don’t normally go telling random people about themselves until they have built a certain level of trust. The fact that you are willing to show this level of trust eases their attitude towards you. This can lead to finding out some interesting things about the other person and at the very least, will give you things to talk about.
Friendships are built on shared memories
I’m not talking about memories that will last you a lifetime, we’re not that deep yet. When I say create memories, just small things that you can refer back to later on. If you had a great brownie with your coffee, share it with them and make a passing comment about how good it was. Now when you’re with a group and are trying to decide where you can go for coffee, you can say something like “let’s go to that place we went last time, had some bomb ass brownies. Remember?” This little memory between you two will create a “we” kind of mentality, the same as you have when you’re with your close friends.
Maintaining the relationship
Considering how how long it takes to build a good friendship, it’s almost unfair how quickly it can fall apart. Even without any issues with the relationship itself, some friendships just fade away over time. Having said that, there are certain steps you can take to make sure your friendships last long and remain strong.
This is the most obvious one but it’s easier said than done. When you’re in college, it’s easy to remain in contact because you’re always there and it’s just a matter of agreeing on a place to meet. Time usually isn’t an issue because people in general have same or similar schedules.
The issues arise when you’re outside of college and you want to maintain the friendship. It gets much harder to meet in person because people have to deal with their own life and any spare time is spent with family and some very close friends. When this starts to happen it’s important to keep in contact through other mediums until you’re able to meet in person. Now a days this has become much easier because you can just send them a quick snap or tag them in a meme on Facebook or Insta to spark a conversation.
Continue putting effort in
One of the main reasons that friendships start fading is when people start taking it for granted. No matter how long you’ve known someone for, you should continue to build the friendship. Continue creating memories, learning more of their values and getting to know them even better. People change all the time and keep growing, so you can never really know someone completely. Make the effort to keep the conversations engaging and when you spend time together, keep trying to create stronger memories. It should never get to a stage where it’s a chore to meet up with one another, or just plain boring.
Let some bridges burn
Not all friendships need salvaging. Sometimes two peoples’ paths separate from each other so much that it just isn’t practical to keep spending time and effort to bring it back to what was. As I said above, people change all the time. Maybe the person you met and became friends with is not even recognisable because the other person has changed so much. If a friend starts taking drugs and going down the wrong path, which is strongly against your values, cut that relationship off completely. Remember, you can’t force a friendship and if it’s causing you more stress than it is fun, it’s best to let go and move on.
Making and keeping friends isn’t as easy as we’d like it to be, but it isn’t as difficult as it is made out to be. You need to remember that even though there are other people involved, the most important person in all of this is you. The point of having friends is to provide you with the sense of belonging, and having people who you can spend quality time with and turn to in times of need.
The number of friends you have doesn’t say anything about you as a person, or your personality. Some people have hundreds or even thousands of people in their contact list whereas others have barely 50. However, chances are that out of the hundreds of contact, there probably are only a handful of genuine friends that they share a special bond with. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about.