February 28, 2014

An Introvert's Guide to Having & Keeping Friends

What Mandy Thinks: "Words of Advice" post
My introverted self hasn't had or kept many real friends over the years.  Even if I had collected more friends than books and stuffed animals, I still would have keep my distance from most social norms and let them do their own thing.  My social circle can be counted on two hands max, yet my "acquaintance" list of those I rarely acknowledge is a few hundred from all the moving, schooling, and job-hopping.  I may not get invited to as many weddings or parties or whatever as most people, but I'm fine with that.  The few friends I have either are close-to or actually getting married, get their socialness out with others, or hang out with each other with the least party-like setting possible.  This doesn't mean I'm missing out on anything or anyone with the way I live my life around others.  I like being alone, but I'm not exactly lonely.

Are you an adult introvert who needs some pointers on acceptable friend-ing behavior since being surrounded by easy friend-making in school is over?  Do you feel bad that you don't spend "enough" time with the ones you have?  Do you want to weed people out of your social circle for sanity purposes?  Have you've lost so many over the years that new-friend-making is getting harder in practice?  These tips should help:

  • First off, keep your main focus on your REAL friends. Do you have 500 Facebook friends full of high school and college classmates that you never see or even care to hear from? Whittle that number down to your best yet smallest amount of people you surround yourself with on a fairly regular basis, or at least hide the ones that won't accept the dreaded "unfriend." If you're going to make some new friends, you're going to need to make some room. Weed out the old ones and hold onto the great ones.
  • Make sure these friends understand that you accept and enjoy your introverted ways.  Don't give them the opportunity to think you're lonely or depressed just because you would rather spend your weekend TV-binge-ing alone in your PJ's with a jar of Cookie Butter and zero connection to the outside world than socializing at a bar or concert or wherever "normal" people go.  Or if you're being quiet at a party and they keep asking what's wrong, reiterate that you're absorbing your environment where you don't need to chat the whole time.
  • Catch up on occasion with a quick note, text, or call. At least let them know you're still alive and care about them. Posting a status update online that they may or may not see doesn't count.  Try having lunch with some of them.
  • Join introvert-friendly groups (or start your own) with the help of the interweb. Meetup is the place to find like-minded people "meeting up" (wonder where they got the name) and doing fun stuff together. Start out with small, low-key ones that plan/sponsor events you feel comfortable attending.  As a writer, I occasionally go to writing meetups like one where all I do is sit in a coffee shop with fellow writers and not talk to each other for hours unless we want to during breaks.  Talk about an introvert's dream!
  • Realize that those who need you around all the time who do not understand your introverted ways are doing so for a reason, and it's not your fault.  Everybody's had or has a friend who craves constant attention with their only focus on themselves and getting ahead for themselves whether you're around or not.  If these friends end up falling by the wayside because they are mad that you don't "do anything with them anymore," that doesn't automatically mean you did something wrong by not keeping up with them.  If these friends expect more than the real you to please them, they're not worth your valuable time.  You're better off, I promise.
  • If you don't fully understand your introverted self, check out Susan Cain. Her book and TED talk on the power of introverts are delightful.  Your friends would benefit from knowing this lady's principles in introverted studies, too.
  • Be yourself. Whether you're around established friendships or attempting to make new ones, it's all about being your true self that brings out confidence. Own your quirks, interests, and passions. Those who own theirs too will find a natural connection to you.

Do I define myself by how many friends I have?  No sir-e-Bob.  Do I care about what the girl in my 10th grade English class posted about her baby today?  Usually no unless there's a freakin' adorable picture I can glance at and move on.  Do I care too much about my real friends and too little on those acquaintances?  Sure, and I own it as well as who I am!  Challenge yourself to re-think how you spend your life with yourself and the people around you whether they're new people who can see the real you from the start, or people who know you now and may or may not deserve to.  Make some potential friends and keep the best ones this year.  You, that introvert staring back at you in the mirror, may end up gettin' SOCIAL.  Go on and find out.

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