Imagine this: you’re in a room full of people you don’t know. You’re trying really hard to remember names by muttering them to yourself when someone is talking or repeating mnemonic devices in your head. You really hope you don’t say one of these devices out loud. You’re a little bit nervous and slightly uncomfortable, even though everyone seems friendly and invested in getting to know you. You have some short-lived conversations about work or how long you’ve lived in the area, neither things about which you have much to say, but you try to be a good sport and present the facts of your life in a way you hope is interesting. You spend some time standing or sitting awkwardly outside of a semi-circle of conversation and pretend to half listen while also pretending to be very captivated by the drink/plate/phone you’re holding.

Does this situation sound familiar? Maybe I’m just describing my own introvert-ish experience when it comes to meeting new people, but there’s a good chance even the most outgoing person can relate to occasionally feeling like the odd man out. But first of all, kudos: you’re there! You showed up to an event or a gathering or a party because you said you would and believe it or not that counts for roughly half the hard part, right?

"Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you." - Kahlil Gibran

But once you’ve shown up to said event, now what? How do you force yourself out of your own way in order to forge a real connection? While I think some people are bound to hit it off from the get-go, the truth is this: relationships, on a real level, take time. Attending one gathering won’t be enough. (Do I hear an anti-social groan out there?) As a person who’s spent the last year in a new place meeting new people, I’ve tried really hard to put myself out there in ways I hadn’t before -- why? Because friendships make life more meaningful. Having someone to laugh with, confide in and relate to through different seasons of life is what makes it all bearable and beautiful. And while I’m definitely not a pro at making friends or navigating social situations with any sort of grace, I have learned a few things that have helped me and that may help you, too.

Everyone wants the same thing. More or less, at least. As a (new) friend said to me when I expressed the perils of navigating new relationships: “Everyone wants the same things: for someone to look at them and understand them and be interested in knowing who they are. Just do that and people will respond to it.” So if you think of it like that and approach everyone as if they are feeling just as nervous/weird/sweaty as you, it will probably go a lot better than you think.

Sometimes all you need to break the ice is a really good question. You’re probably thinking, Oh, is that all?! I know, I know. Ice-breaker questions are tough because a lot of the really common ones have lately gone taboo (don’t you dare ask someone what they do unless they seem like they REALLY, REALLY want to tell you in which case they probably love it and this is now a safe conversation topic, WHEW, that was close). It totally depends on the setting, of course, but a favorite Holstee conversation starter over the years has been Rose/Bud/Thorn. Each person shares something that’s going well in their life (rose), sometime that’s going not so well (thorn) and something that has potential (bud). It’s really interesting to see how this exercise immediately makes people vulnerable and willing to share what’s truly going on in their lives.

Show up. While trends like ghosting and canceling on people for better plans (or staying in bed) make sorta funny memes, the truth is that the real-life version of that behavior isn’t as cute. If I make a commitment to be somewhere, I go. Unless you’re sick or stuck at work, there really isn’t a good reason not to. Besides, you know what happens to people who cancel all the time? They stop getting asked.

Invest. Once you can add some thriving friendships to your list of life assets (yay, you did it!), dig deeper. Be there for these people when things are both wonderful and not easy. Help them do the stuff that no one likes doing (moving) and celebrate the moments everybody gets excited for (new milestones, promotions, relationships, etc.). Listen to what they say. Check in. Remember the important stuff that makes them who they are. Follow up. Listen some more.

What tips do you have on finding new friends and maintaining your strongest relationships? Share in the comments below.

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Helen Williams is a Colorado transplant who is passionate about vegan/vegetarian cooking, writing and sarcasm. She strives, every day, to be less sorry. When she's not in the kitchen or working on her new company Best One Yet (a vegan ice cream Vespa, coming soon to Longmont/Boulder, CO!) you can find her reading, getting outside as much as possible or trying to pet your dog.

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