Socializing and making friends, especially when you’re in college, is a lot like ice skating. Both involve people going in literal or figurative circles with smiles that become more forced the longer they do it. Half the people doing it were dragged there against their will by the louder, more vocal other half who thought it would be fun. Both include people clinging to significant others and people clinging to a wall. Both are risky activities, where even the smallest misstep can leave you feeling not only embarrassed, but also like you’ve been body slammed against a block of ice.
Last of all (and the one that personally irritates me the most), half of the people who claim to be bad at it are lying. When a group arrives at a skating rink, each individual can be heard boasting as to their lack of skill, making bold claims and bets on how many times they’ll inevitably fall. But the moment they step onto the ice, half of them take off like Russian Olympians, leaving the rest to unstick their jaws from the floor and inch forward while holding on to the wall for dear life. Likewise, it seems as though a lot of people claim to be shy, but the moment they show up to a college party, they become Oprah and end up making five new friends. But the others, no matter how much they want or need to make friends, spend Friday nights alone simply because they’re too shy to even try and make a friend.
My point in going through this is to hopefully connect with the right people. This advice is for people who are actually bad at ice skating—I mean, actually shy. Just because you can’t do tricks doesn’t mean you’re bad at ice skating, and if you can stand, you definitely aren’t. Likewise, just because you’re only made a few friends doesn’t mean you’re shy, and if you can have a conversation with someone new without freaking out, you definitely aren’t. This advice is for the people who can’t even stand on the ice—the people who dread making friends and socializing in college with every fiber of their being. These tips are basically what I learned about making friends in college, as someone who is shy and can’t stand on ice.
1. Figure out if you’re really shy or if you’re just introverted.
I know this may seem redundant, but there’s a difference. Remember, being introverted means that you regain energy by being alone. I’ve met shy extroverts and confident introverts. Some people are both shy and introverted. How to go about making friends depends on what your mix is. As someone who’s both shy and introverted, I noticed that as I become more emotionally and mentally drained from socializing, my shyness increases. If you’re more the introverted type, give yourself some time to be alone and fully recharge before going out to try and make friends. You’ll most likely find that socializing is a bit easier when you’re full of energy.
2. Leave yourself open and be nice.
If you’re introverted it’s especially easy to hide in the back corner of the classroom, where there’s no risk of anybody bothering you. But unfortunately, if you’re hoping to overcome shyness and make friends, this is where you need to start. Aside from your roommates and people in your complex, these are the people you will see the most frequently. There’s no way to get around the fact that overcoming shyness requires talking to people, so you might as well start with the people you see every day. I’m not saying you need to initiate the conversations, especially at first. You can rely on the extroverts to do that. But you need to at least give them an opportunity to do it. Let them talk to you.
Now, this begs the question of how to respond when they talk to you. Again, the answer’s unfortunate, but it’s pretty simple. Be nice. Don’t worry about asking questions until you’re ready. Don’t worry about being funny or relatable. Don’t worry about anything else besides being nice. At first that may simply mean smiling when you tell them your name and keeping your voice pleasant. Keep being nice as you answer their questions. If there’s one consistent thing that makes people fond of you, it’s being nice. It’s not being smooth or funny—to make friends, you need to be friendly. Additionally, shyness can actually be endearing, but only if it’s a nice person. Let “be nice” be your motto.
3. Get out of the apartment.
Most of articles you’ll find will suggest joining a club or something like that. It’s a good idea, but if you’re like me, you’d rather die. The best place to start is just leaving your apartment. If your roommates invite you to go with them somewhere, say yes. Go to the party, play whatever sport they’re playing, just go with them. Again, you don’t need to worry about initiating any talking. You can keep to yourself as much as you want. But just go. In order to make friends, you need people to recognize you. Even if they know nothing about you, they’ll recognize that you’re someone that’s always there. Some of the greatest friendships are formed not because you formally introduced yourselves to each other, but simply because you kept seeing each other all the time. But that will never happen if you never leave your apartment—in fact, if you never leave, something worse will happen: you’ll stop being invited. So just go.
4. Go easy on yourself.
Shyness stems from the fear of looking stupid and not having any friends and dying alone. But during my college years I had a huge newsflash: looking stupid, believe it or not, doesn’t drive people away. It’s being annoying, obnoxious, or rude that drives people away. As you start talking to people, you’ll inevitably say stupid stuff. But everyone does—the only one who cares is you. When you say something dumb, you panic, and it gets only harder from there. So just breathe. Move on. Accept the fact that it’s not the first dumb thing you’ve said, it won’t be the last, and nobody cares.
4½: Be patient.
This is a half tip because it’s cliché and everyone says it. And it kind of sucks. But it takes time. You’ll have to put up with a lot of awkward conversations and endure a lot of struggles before you start making friends that stick. You’ll inevitably spend some Friday nights alone. Maybe your entire first year or two will feel a bit lonely, with only a few new acquaintances on your list. But I promise you’re not alone. So many people are in the same place—the only problem is that the only ones you’ll ever see are the social ones. So be patient. I don’t need to tell you that it requires being brave and stepping out of your comfort zone. Just remember that it won’t happen overnight. But I promise it doesn’t last forever.
So there you go. Leave yourself open. Get out of your apartment. Be nice. Be patient. I promise shy people do make friends—but you need to do your part.
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