Friendships are important—your social life, after all, is as critical as kale to your health (if not more so), and these platonic relationships can help you conquer stress, enjoy greater longevity, and even stay in shape.
They can also be difficult to make, particularly if you’re an introvert (like me!). If the thought of putting yourself out there to find a new friend makes you want to dive deeper beneath the covers for a night in with Netflix, Laurie Helgoe, PhD—psychologist, author of Introvert Power, and card-carrying introvert herself—offers some good news: You shouldn’t have to do it all that often. “Introverts need fewer friends generally because they do require a fair amount of time for themselves and because they also like friendships that have some depth,” she says. “So, I think they can only maintain so many real friendships.” Finding just a couple of confidantes doesn’t sound so daunting, right?
But sometimes—maybe you started a new job or moved to a new city—you’re going to have to look outside your OG crew for some fellow kindred spirits. Where to begin, when going out is rarely your idea of fun, small talk is your worst nightmare, and your TV buddies feel oh-so-comfortable in comparison to strangers? Dr. Helgoe offers four pro tips for expanding your social circle.
1. Adjust your expectations
Personally, I find it hard to get motivated to spend time with new people—and even more so to go out in hopes of meeting them—because I know that me and my rich inner life will have a great time at home alone. Whether or not the same is true once I leave the house is a big TBD (which often results in a solid “no”).
When I tell this to Dr. Helgoe, she offers a counterintuitive tip for psyching myself up. “Let go of the idea that it’s going to be fun right away,” she says. “For us [introverts], getting to know people is usually work—we want to be on the inside right away, but comfort is something that’s earned. Think of it as beginning a workout program—yes, it’s going to be a little painful at first, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
2. Go where your people are
The next step, Dr. Helgoe says, is to strategize around where your future besties might be…and actually go there. For this part of the program, she suggests you ditch the more typical meeting-people places, e.g. bars and parties. “We have this model where you’re supposed to go into a cramped social setting and strike up a conversation about the band and whatever and somehow move from that to this comfy fireside conversation,” she says. “But the people going to the social activity might not be the people who want to go to the fireside, so why not go to the fireside first?”
Dr. Helgoe tells me her “fireside” was a writing class, which she joined after moving to a new place with the goal of making friends. Those she met there are her closest confidantes to this day, 15 years later. “[If we approach making friends in this way], the prospect becomes less daunting,” she explains.
3. Make bigger small talk
Since small talk—a requisite part of the getting-to-know-you process—is difficult for introverts, Dr. Helgoe says the next step is to arm yourself with an arsenal of unusual conversation starters before heading out of the house. “If we put a little thought into it, we can ask better questions than ‘what do you do?’,” Dr. Helgoe says. “We can ask: ‘What have you been thinking about lately?’ ‘How do you like to express yourself creatively?’ ‘What are you reading?’ or ‘What do you like to do after work?'” This strategy, she says, can help you get deeper, and therefore more comfortable, faster.
4. Let the right ones in
I ask Dr. Helgoe if she thinks introverts should seek out other introverts to fill these limited slots rather than trying the whole opposites-attract strategy. (I’ve been burnt in the past by trying to keep up on the nightlife circuit with an extroverted bestie.) She tells me she believes that it is wise to stack the friendship deck with at least a few—hers, she tells me, help balance out the time she spends with her extroverted husband. “I would say that yes, introverts need introverts,” she says.
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