If you’re like me, you’ve been in a bar all on your own late at night. In fact, I’m actually sat in a bar on my own right now. And like a lost puppy, it’s very easy to feel isolated, and somewhat frightened when faced with being in a full room of people you don’t know.
I’m currently working in a new town for the upcoming summer months. I hate to sound cliche, but I have ended up being all alone in the big city.
Burdened with these circumstances, I’m left with two choices:
a) Curl into a ball, isolate myself and spend my spare time on my own.
b) Put myself in uncomfortable positions, talk to strangers and meet new people.
I started off with option a for the first week or so. But I soon learnt that it wasn’t for me; sitting alone and watching the world pass is good from time to time, but it shouldn’t be your whole life.
The truth is, every person has unique stories and lives they have lived, and I hate the thought of not hearing them and creating some stories to tell for myself.
Take it from someone who has seen both sides: go out, form connections and friendships. Rather than restricting yourself to your own story, go out and learn other people’s.
Create your own stories with these people. Allowing yourself to do so will mean that your fond memories will be even more cherished because they have been shared with someone special.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t live in solitude from time to time. But there’s an important balance between the two that you should aim for, and forming connections with others falls within that middle ground (Aristotle called this middle ground a virtue between two vices).
If you’re reading this and do want to form a connection with strangers, then let me help you by talking you through my experiences; and breaking down things that typically hold people back from forming connections.
“I meet people and they become chapters in my stories.”
― Avijeet Das
Blaming present circumstances.
Psychologists have found that people usually blame their present circumstances for not meeting new people. And this is something I have witnessed, and fallen victim too myself.
“I’m never in a position to meet someone new” we say.
Think about that statement carefully.
You’re saying that you are literally never in an environment with new people; because if you were, you’d be in a position to meet someone new!
If the answer to these is no, then the solution to meeting new people is simple; go out and do these things; try something new outside of work, a new hobby, for example.
If the answer to these statements is yes, then the issue is something that you have caused yourself.
But as humans, we naturally mask this fact and tell ourselves we are not at fault. Instead, we blame external circumstances beyond our control for not meeting anyone new; like there being nobody in our proximity to talk to, even if we wanted to.
But like me sat in a bar on my own right now, you and me both know that’s not the reason you haven’t spoken to someone new: because there are people available to you.
But you have chosen not to take that opportunity.
The first step to meeting new people is admitting this to yourself. Circumstance isn’t the cause to your problem, you have caused this.
You’re holding yourself back and preventing yourself from experiencing something great. But you can fix this if you want to.
Only then you will be ready to move forward.
“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey.” — Vera Nazarian.
The illusion of common ground
Meeting someone new can be daunting, and we tend to tell ourselves that we can only form a connection with someone who already has a common interest with us.
This belief is false. Yet we tend to disregard some people as future friends on the basis that we have no common ground.
The truth is, it’s impossible to know whether you have a common ground with someone until you have taken the time to get to know them in the first place.
Every single person in the bar I am in right now has lived diverse and unique life for twenty, thirty, forty or more years. They all come with their own past experiences, aspirations, desires, opinions and so much more.
Chances are, in that period, there is at least some overlap in commonality in that time between their life and the twenty years of mine. It just takes a discussion to find out what that common ground is.
And if, after that discussion, it somehow turns out that you don’t have common ground, then at worst you should still have stable ground to start to form some common ground from. To give you an example, imagine me and you have nothing in common, but we learn that we both play a sport (even if they are different). By using this weak similarity, I could suggest that we both try out a new sport together.
We suddenly have a common ground for future discussion; the feelings surrounding trying it for the first time, for example.
So as you can see, your snap judgement that immediately dismisses you from talking to someone on the basis that you have no common ground is irrational; because chances are you, do have something in common. And even if you don’t; now’s your chance to start forming some ground.
And yes, I’ve used this technique to have half an hour conversations with people a similar age to me, and even people two or three times my age in bars before.
When trying to form connections with people, it can be quite easy to fall into the trap of adapting, and becoming someone you’re not to ensure that the person you’re talking to likes you.
I used to see it all the time at school, and I hate it. Doing this can easily make you lose your sense of self, and your worth and core values completely go out of the window.
For me, I don’t want everyone to like me. Everyone likes different things, and for everyone to like you would probably require you to adapt and act differently around each person.
Cut the social pressure bullshit. Be yourself, and strive to only form connections with people who like the real you.
With time, you’ll find that you’re naturally drawn to people like you anyway, and your relationships will be deeper as a result.
Be careful though, don’t use this as an excuse to not talk to people who don’t seem similar to you, because your initial judgements could easily be wrong. Take the time to talk to people regardless of your snap judgement, and only if you feel yourself having to be someone you are not should you step away from that person and move on.
“ To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Whether you are completely alone in a new city, or are just tired of solitude alone in your room; striving for a connection with strangers is an exciting way to open the door to someone else’s universe, and that comes with new opportunities, discussions and experiences.
If you are striving to form a connection with someone else:
- Stop blaming circumstance: You do have the opportunity to meet new people, you’re just passing up on the chance. Find out the reason why you are sabotaging yourself, such as a fear of rejection, rationally reflect and solve the problem before moving forward.
- The illusion of common ground: Stop making snap judgements and dismissing people on the basis that they don’t seem to have anything in common with you. Chances are, you do have something even if it’s not obvious straight away.
- Be yourself: Strive to form connections with people who like the real you, rather than adapting yourself and being someone you’re not.
Following these steps will ensure that you are open to meeting new people, take the chances when they arise, and will lead to them being deeper and more meaningful.
“Be genuinely interested in everyone you meet and everyone you meet will be genuinely interested in you”
― Rasheed Ogunlaru