Before I left for Spain, I’d written, “I hope I find a reason to not come home…. But I’m also terrified that I’ll find that reason.” It seems I was feeling stagnant, ready for change, wanting something big to show up in my life and blow me away, but also deep down I knew that I wasn’t the type of person to leap into the unknown or to take chances. An interesting dichotomy that I was aware of, and yet unable or unwilling to fully address. Yet.
It’s November 2008, I’m barely a week into my third decade, and I’m alone in a foreign country. More than alone, I’m lonely. Making my way through Spain I’d seen and done some amazing things, but without someone to share those moments and memories with, there was a spark that was lacking and the novelty of travel was wearing off.
I got off the bus in Lisbon, Portugal, too disoriented to be charmed by the cobblestone streets. I didn’t speak a single word of Portuguese, and I didn’t know which direction to head to find my hostel. Also, my last few hostel experiences had been less than ideal – they were cold, both physically and emotionally. I was tired, a little under the weather, and missing human connection. I’d come up with a plan to stay a couple nights at the hostel in Lisbon, then head north to Porto where I was looking forward to staying in a home with a local CouchSurfing host.
I arrived at the hostel, thanks to a kind man who saw I was lost and walked me all the way to the door, and quickly realized that things were going to be different. As I entered the lobby there was someone coming down a stairwell, who took one look at me and disappeared back up the stairs. Odd. I checked in and as I turned around the guy from the stairs handed me a drink – my first caipirinha – and said, “Follow me.” He showed me to a room with an open bunk, “Leave your bag here, come on!”
He took me to the common area, and a dozen other travelers all looked our way: “Hey! What’s your name? Where are you from? Come join us!” This. This was what traveling was meant to look like.
I dipped a cup into the communal vat of sangria, joined the massage train, and a couple hours later found myself laughing in the streets as we explored Lisbon’s night life.
A very young backpacker who’d been staying at the hostel for a while was our unofficial guide through the narrow streets. He was impish and impulsive, too much of an open book to be charming, but still intriguing. I quickly learned that he was the type of guy who didn’t think twice before jumping in with both feet. By the end of the night he’d asked me to marry him, and I had no doubt that if I agreed he would have immediately swept me into his joyous whirlwind, which would have blown us to the nearest chaplain’s office, then off onto some wild adventure.
I was awestruck. I’ve always been overly cautious and yet I’d been yearning to break free, do something wild. I didn’t accept his proposal that night, or the next few nights when he continued to ask. I did spend more time with him, more curious than anything, and he truly lived his life immersed in each moment. It was fascinating, and totally foreign. However, I soon realized this usually meant he was doing what felt best for him, regardless of the people around him. He was open and caring, but totally unfazed by most social norms or potential consequences, and that made me uncomfortable.
I realized that I didn’t, in fact, want to live my life like that. I’m rational, and sensitive to people and situations around me, which I (eventually) decided are strengths, not weaknesses. Sure, I still wanted to learn to open up and embrace opportunities, but in hopes that it would bring more connection and intimacy into my life. Despite this guy’s fascination with me, I felt in no way connected to him. Apparently a willingness to make sweeping split second decisions was not synonymous with commitment. I no longer envied his carefree being. It’s funny how much relief you can feel, when you realize that you actually like yourself the way you are.
There were others in our makeshift group of new friends who were just as interesting: a couple of American girls with hippie names, a sweet Australian girl traveling solo, a Portuguese guy and girl who it was unclear whether they worked at the hostel or just enjoyed the atmosphere, a trio of Aussie guys who were traipsing through Europe, and a handful of other fellow nomads.
I never made it to Porto. My couple of nights in Lisbon stretched to over a week, and I didn’t leave until I was in danger of missing my flight from Barcelona back to Calgary. Even then I didn’t want to go – by that point there was a very specific reason why.by McKinnley
There’s a direct correlation between the people you spend the most time with and your own life. If you’re surrounded by optimistic friends and family, you’re much more likely to be positive. If most of your besties are overweight, studies indicate that it’s highly likely you will also be carrying extra pounds. If the majority of people you interact with are motivated and successful, chances are very good that you will have similar drive and success.
For better or for worse, consciously or not, your friends have a major impact on who you are and what you do. So if we’re in the business of making friends, shouldn’t we set our sights on the best and the brightest? What kind of people do you want influencing your life? What characteristics do you want to build in yourself? Those are the types of friends you want to draw into your circle, are they not?
My sister and I took a painting class a couple of years ago. ** Turned out that the teacher was this uber foxy Brazilian gal. As the course progressed I learned that not only was my teacher beautiful, but she was talented, driven, generous, motivated, kind, smart, successful and really REALLY cool. Plus, she was born exactly one day before me! I decided that she and I absolutely needed to be friends.
But I was a little intimidated. She was so beautiful and so cool and seemed to have her life so together. Did she really need a new friend? And would she even want to be friends with someone who was her student? How on earth do you go about asking your teacher to hang out with you?!
I decided to assume that she would indeed want to be friends with me, and to just go for it. So I invited her to a house party I was having. Her reaction was The Best: “You want ME to come to your party?!” She enthusiastically agreed to come, although when the night arrived she was unable to attend. I was a bit disappointed, but that didn’t stop me from inviting her when I had some of my girl friends over a few weeks later. That time she showed up, and we found out we had all sorts of things in common. She also “confessed” how during class she kept thinking how cool me and my sister were, and how she wished she could be friends with us! But she didn’t think it would be appropriate for her to try and hang out with her students, which is why she seemed a bit reserved, and also why she was so thrilled when I invited her out.
Fast forward through coffee dates, art gallery viewings, cooking classes, lots of wandering around town, and a couple of years: Lucky me, I now consider her one of my best friends.
So our fifth and final lesson in making friends, now that we know how to recognize the friendship sparks and how to fan them into flames, is to Be Choosy. It’s not about going all highschool cheerleader on potential friend candidates. It’s about intentionally drawing only the best, brightest, happiest and most supportive people into your life circle, so that through their influence you can become Your best, brightest and happiest! And THAT is what friends are for.
** If you are interested in taking an awesome Fearless Abstract Painting class, or want to purchase some one-of-a-kind artwork, please visit: www.samanthadasilva.comby McKinnley
So there I was, 28 years old, leaving my boyfriend, my job, my hopes of being an actor, to drive across the country in my ’88 Nissan Stanza packed with all my worldly belongings, to a city I swore I’d never live in again, to share a 2 bedroom apartment with my (very generous) sister, go back to school, find a new job and, for all intents and purposes, start a new life.
Totally overwhelming, but for some weird reason I felt light. Hopeful. And I remember giving myself a very clear mental talking to: “McKinnley, if you’re going to be 28 and single and living in a new city and starting over again, you need to say yes. To jobs, to opportunities, to dates, to friends… Just say Yes.”
And so I did. I said yes to my first office job. I said yes to activities. I said yes to baby showers. I said yes to parties and hang outs and concerts and movies. I said yes to dates. I told myself I would go on a date with anyone who was nice, brave enough to ask, and who wasn’t totally creepy. I even said yes when it was -30C and it meant leaving my warm house, scraping ice off my windshield, bundling up in a zillion layers, and driving 25 minutes while scraping ice off the inside of my windshield! (The Stanz wasn’t the most comfortable of vehicles by that point in her life)… and then repeating the process later to return home.
Ok, so saying Yes may seem like the opposite of being proactive, but it’s really just another side of it. I realized that being near my sisters, going to school, being a new face in certain places and getting a new job would all inherently bring new people and situations into my life, I just needed to be both brave enough and open enough to say yes. To everything. Sure, someone else was doing the asking, but saying yes definitely required me to DO, because I had to follow up on whatever I’d agreed to! It would have been a heck of a lot easier and more comfortable to say No sometimes, but that wasn’t in the game plan.
Because I was saying yes so often, it wasn’t long before I started becoming a lot more confident in being the one to initiate.
Much to my surprise, I began hosting Sunday night dinner parties. It was surprising because it required me to make plans, invite people, make sure everyone got along and enjoyed themselves, and also cook! None of those were skills that I was inherently blessed with, in fact every single one of those tasks were things that at one point would have given me serious anxiety.
But my secret weapon was a really good friend I’d made. It turned out that she and I made a great team, which helped both of us meet a lot more people and do more cool things than either of us likely would have done on our own. She had a beautiful loft apartment that I never wanted to leave, so it only made sense to try and find excuses to spend more time in it – it was perfect for dinner parties. Plus I was meeting so many people from different areas, but I wanted to start hanging out with more than one person at a time – hello, dinner parties! And because I was inviting people that I truly enjoyed, it only made sense that they would also enjoy each other, so it became less about worlds colliding and more of a merger. Add to that the fact that my friend was a brilliant host, which left me free to scrape together the food and just enjoy myself, while she focused on the guests and their comfort. Her being there to smooth things over definitely made me feel a lot more comfortable and confident in having those Sunday dinners.
If you’ve never hosted a dinner party, it’s an adventure I suggest you try. There’s something about being in someone’s house, eating food they’ve prepared for you with their own hands, and sitting around their table with no distractions that really brings a quicker and stronger sense of connection.
So if you’re one for taking notes, Friend-Making Lessons Number 3 and 4 are as follows:
SAY YES!!! (Duh)
And Find Someone To Tag Team With. Maybe it’s someone you’ve known forever or perhaps it’s someone you’ve just been introduced to, but they’ve got a skill you’re a little bit jealous of. Utilize them and their skills, and pretty soon you’ll both have double the fun and double the friends!
I wish I could say that realizing such a grand lesson was immediately life changing. It wasn’t. Shortly thereafter I moved to Toronto, where I didn’t know a soul, and was presented with a whole host of opportunities to make friends. And I did make a few friends, but mostly I made acquaintances, a whole shwackload of them.
I lived and worked on Queen Street, so I walked up and down that street every single day. And I loved it. To me it was the heart of the city, a beautiful daily adventure, and everything I could possibly want. And because I spent so much time on Queen Street, it didn’t take long for myself and the other regular fixtures to start noticing each other. There was a guy at the Laundromat who told me which machines were the best, and who invited me to his friend’s place for Thanksgiving dinner one year (the most beautiful Thanksgiving I’d ever seen). There was the door man at the Bovine who would tell me all sorts of crazy stories when I stopped to chat with him on my way home. There were plenty of other faces that grew familiar, and who I’d swap a hello or a smile with.
There were my coworkers at HMV. There were all the same faces on the film sets I worked on, and who would often invite me into their Euchre games. There were the girls I did promotional work with. There was a rotating door of roommates, a handful of people my age at church (while I was attending), and the same 20-something, girl-next-doors who I’d share audition waiting rooms with. Just to be clear, I met a LOT of people in Toronto.
But knowing a lot of people and having a lot, or any, friends, are two entirely different things. Sure, I’d chat with my coworkers while on shift, then smile and wave at a bunch of Queen Streeters on my walk home, but once I was home I rarely went out again, I rarely received any phone calls, and I spent more time alone and lonely than even my Introverted self was comfortable with.
So why didn’t I take the friend-making lesson to heart? Why didn’t I reach out? I don’t know. I DID spend time with people that I enjoyed, but I also felt like most of the people I knew were exactly what they were: acquaintances. It was nice work with them, chat with them, and occasionally go to parties with them, but I didn’t feel like there was any connection, I didn’t think any of them would want to just come over and hang out with me, or meet up for coffee and a philosophical discussion about life.
How wrong I was.
To be fair, my time in Toronto wasn’t entirely devoid of close friends. When I first moved to the city I met this spunky blonde. She was in my circle of church acquaintances so we crossed paths here and there, but that was about it until one day she invited me to go see Blur with her at one of Toronto’s awesome little live music venues. I was baffled by her invitation because we didn’t seem to have a connection, but maybe all her friends were busy, or maybe she felt sorry for me? I dunno, but I went with her, we had a great time, and I’m sooooo glad she went out on a limb and took that first step towards making friends.
We clicked that night, we found common ground and made an incredible connection. It turned out that we were both new to the city, both actors working our way through the audition grind, and both living off savings and avoiding getting “real” jobs while we pursued our dream. Which meant that we spent an entire summer going to amazing live music gigs, seeing a lot of live comedy, dating the musicians we watched on stage, taking naps together, going on fast food dates (we’d share one combo, but each get our own dessert), occasionally working promotion jobs together and generally stomping up and down Queen West during long, warm, gorgeous, Toronto summer nights. That was a glorious time.
Maybe that’s why I forgot about my light-bulb moment, because I’d been lucky enough to be invited out instead of having to do the inviting, and then I had a friend – and one friend was clearly all I needed.
I was absolutely devastated when she moved away.
And by then, my acquaintances were so firmly in place as secondary players in my life that I had no idea how to invite them in and ask them to step up as friends. And so I was lonely, despite knowing the names and faces of dozens – possibly even hundreds – of Torontonians.
Four years later I decided that it was time for me to leave the city. As word got out that I was moving, suddenly I was inundated with a flood of people who were desperate to spend time together. I was blown away.
There were two reasons for this: The first is that Toronto can be true to its reputation of being business-like, cold and a little snobby. People are busy. And as such, you need to make plans, often weeks or months in advance. Want to grab a coffee with someone? Great! How does Thursday after next sound? Yikes. What I was reading as indifference was really just a bit of a cultural gap.
The second and much more compelling reason, was that somehow, unbeknownst to me, I’d made connections with way more people than I’d realized. Sure, it was just a spark in many cases, but there was enough between us that suddenly these acquaintances were desperate to see that spark fanned into a cozy fire before I traipsed off to the prairies.
I was so grateful for the attention as people flooded me with invitations to go out or meet for conversations or simply came by my house to spend time with me. But I was also sad, because had I known that people liked me and thought about me and genuinely wanted to get to know me better, maybe it would have changed how I interacted with them. Maybe I would have been more confident in calling them up and initiating the ability to further our connection, to check out whether that spark would lead to a lasting friendship. And I was sad that all these people were so “busy” that they didn’t take the time to seek out connections until the opportunity was almost lost to them.
And so, Lesson Number Two in How To Make Friends wasn’t too far flung from Lesson Number One, but obviously I’d failed to really learn that lesson the first time. Now I knew that not only did friend-making not magically happen by itself, but that I had to be willing to try and ignite even the smallest of sparks.by McKinnley
When I was young I don’t remember thinking all that much about making friends, they were just kind of there. Kids in my class who I’d been in school with for years. Kids my age at church who I saw on Sundays, during week day activities, and later on at teen dances. There were two sisters my age who lived two houses down from me, practically my entire life. We met when I was 5, our mothers had been friends for ages, and in spite of lots of differences and ups and downs, we remained constant fixtures in each other’s lives for the next 13 years while we were neighbours, and I’m still friends with both those girls today. There were a handful of girls that lived within walking distance of me as a teenager and we did lots of stuff together, and which meant we pretty much had 5x the closet between all our shared clothes! As I made my way through high school I still had my childhood and church friends, but my circle expanded to teens in neighbouring towns, as well as the skater kids, musicians and serious, artsy teens in my high school, most of whom I met through drama and acting. (For the record, acting is something I NEVER thought I would be into, and I still don’t know what possessed me to join that first drama class in grade 10, but I truly believe it changed my life.) I was never the most popular kid, but I always had friends around.
Of course as I grew up and moved away from my childhood friends, as I entered the working world and different college programs, things changed. Sure, there were people around and I would connect with a few of them, but it wasn’t quite the same. But it wasn’t until I was finishing my second college program that the first “How To Make Friends” shoe dropped.
My classmates and I were sitting around, reflecting on our year spent together in the program. One girl began sharing about how, while she’d enjoyed her time, she’d often felt lonely, so far away from her friends and family. She didn’t feel really connected to anyone and had often sat in her rented room, alone, wishing somebody – anybody – would phone and invite her to go out or hang out or just say hi. I was a little bit blown away because I’d had more than a few of those moments myself, just wishing that somebody would make the effort to see me and talk to me and want to connect with me.
And I suddenly realized that instead of sitting around waiting for a call, I could be the one to make that call! I told you these revelations were simple, but how life-changing it can be to understand that in order to feel connected you have to reach out for those moments, that they don’t always just happen of their own volition.
I didn’t know that girl too well, nor did I feel any particular connection to her, but how different would both of our college experiences have been if I’d picked up the phone and said, “Hey, I’m kind of bored and wondered if maybe you were bored too? I thought we could maybe be bored together, or else go find something to do so we’re not bored. What do you think?” Whether or not we became life-long friends doesn’t really matter, it would have been the thought and the effort and the Doing Something that mattered. And who knows where that may have led.
So I guess the first lesson I learned about how to make friends, was to stop expecting that it would magically happen by itself.by McKinnley
In spite of how my last couple of posts may have come across, I’m not actually that bad at making friends.
That being said, I have a confession to make, albeit a fairly obvious one: I’m an Introvert.
Being an Introvert, I was a painfully shy kid, an awkward teen, and a somewhat confused and frustrated young adult. But by the time I turned 30 I finally felt not only comfortable but confident in my own skin, and what a relief that was! Oh sure, I still feel shy, awkward and frustrated a good chunk of the time, but I’ve learned how to either get past it, or just be ok with it.
As a side note, I want to mention the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain and add a lot of exclamation points behind it!!!! HolyCrapBlewMyMind. Of course I relate to it in a way that brings me to tears, but the truly eye-opening part was learning about the physiological differences between Introverts and Extroverts, and how each personality type functions best under vastly different circumstances. Certain people in my life make soooooooo much more sense now! I’d love to elaborate on some of these ideas later on, but right now, back to the point of this post:
I’ve never been one of those bubbly, charismatic people who effortlessly draw others to them, like cats to a can of tuna. I’m not a big fan of large groups of people, and small talk makes me anxious. I’d much rather have a great, intimate, open-hearted conversation with one interesting person than introduce myself to 20 people at a party, thank you very much. Not that I don’t like parties, or don’t go to them, sometimes they’re the best thing ever, but I generally leave exhausted rather than invigorated. I also come across as an enigma or a mystery, and can be a bit of an acquired taste, or so I’ve been told. *shrug*
And all of that is ok, but it also means I’ve spent a lot of time being lonely. Sure, as an Introvert I love and need my alone time, but I also deeply crave connection, and that’s something you need other people for.
I had a few lightbulb moments in my 20’s, when it came to interacting with people and being lonely, and thankfully I’ve learned some tried and true techniques to making friends. Techniques that are deceptively simple, but often overlooked. Techniques that even this hard core Introvert has been able to utilize to draw some really cool people into my life.
Part Two of an upcoming How To Make Friends series coming up next, so stay tuned!by McKinnley