April 28, 2021

Together Again

Hi there!

We’ve been apart for over a year now, and as more people get vaccinated, we’re (thankfully!) starting to see more of each other. As amazing as it is to reconnect, many of us are feeling anxiety over it: Will they think I’m a bad friend because I haven’t texted them in months? How do I reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in so long? Do I even remember how to socialize with people? 

This week, we talked to friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson to help answer some of the questions we’re afraid to ask. She spoke about the important roles friends play in our lives, and shared advice on how to socialize after being isolated for over a year. We’re so inspired by Danielle, and we’re sure this interview will spark some important musings and discussions for you, just as it did for us. Read on for easy-to-use tips on making new friends and nurturing longstanding relationships, and let us know which parts resonate with you most! 

Courtesy of Danielle Bayard Jackson

Lessons in Friendship

PEOPLEHOOD: As a friendship coach, what is the number one question or problem that people seek your help for?

DANIELLE BAYARD JACKSON: Hands down, how to make friends. Typically it includes some kind of qualifier, like: How do I make friends as a mom? How do I make friends as a girl who’s just broken up with her boyfriend? How do I make friends as a new student or person in a new city? 80% of the strategies I recommend can be applied to any situation. 


What sorts of tools or strategies do you recommend for people with social anxiety (which may be more prevalent now that we’ve all been isolated for so long)? 

Some of us deal with anxiety everyday on an ongoing basis, so this ain’t nothin’ new. But a lot of people who have never really had that as a major issue are certainly experiencing it now. So, I think a lot of us are going into post-pandemic friendships with this shadow of anxiety following us. 


The first thing I like to offer, to kind of settle us, is that we’re all in the same boat. We all want to be connected. We all want to have meaningful friendships. That hopefully helps to provide that baseline that you’re not the only one. 


I also like to encourage people with anxiety to try your very best to be present. I know that’s easier said than done, but a lot of our worry comes from borrowing troubles that are unlikely to even happen. So remind yourself to stay focused. Approach people with a spirit of curiosity — I wanna learn about them, I wanna know about them. If we can keep those things in mind, it can help us to approach a new friendship situation with a little more confidence. 

What advice do you have for people who are struggling with a loss of structure or routine, and maybe don't know how to make friends outside of a school or work setting?

I want to assure them that it’s not just in their head. Research shows us that our friendship circle grows exponentially until the age of about 25, at which point it begins to decrease. And it’s for all the reasons you might think — we’ve been removed from the social backdrop of school and sitting next to classmates and being in a space saturated with our peers. And because of proximity and frequency, we make friends with these people. This is why we make friends with our classmates, our neighbors, and our coworkers, because we simply see them all the time. 


Once our social backgrounds are totally snatched away, we think: Where did my people go? Where are my friends? When before this, we have never had to practice making friends. We’ve never had to figure it out. We’ve never had to create our own spaces for connection opportunities. If you’re struggling with that, you are not alone. 


First: Making new friends and meeting new people aren’t necessarily synonymous. I have people come to me and say, “I need to meet new people, I need to make new friends. Where do I go to meet all these strangers so I can start to make friends?” The phrase “making friends” refers to the art of cultivating something very meaningful with another person — and who says that it has to start from scratch? Start with who you know. Are there people you see all the time — associates or friends of friends that you have encounters with — where you can extend the conversation by two more minutes? Or can you entertain the possibility that they could be a friend? Observe how that redirects your behavior. 

Photos courtesy of Danielle Bayard Jackson

The second thing is, sometimes joining interest groups — even if we think they’re cheesy — can really benefit us. The reason I love them so much is because everybody is there for the same reason, and they tend to meet regularly. Part of growing a friendship is repeated exposure, so I encourage clients that if they’re gonna do this, I need them to commit to doing it at least two times. Because often we’ll go one time and think, “I don’t know, I just wasn’t vibing with people. It was weird.” And then we leave! But going even just once more gives you a chance to connect with someone you saw the first time, and you can make some kind of reference to meeting them. “Oh yeah, last time I saw you, you mentioned your dog was sick. Is everything ok with that? How did that work out?” So now you’ve got something to work with. 


Finally, I really like the idea of taking advantage of your super-connecter friends. Some of us thrive off of being together. I’m the girl at the party who’s like, “Maria, come over here! You have to meet Shailene, she’s amazing!” We all know people who have that spirit. So why not reach out to them and say “Listen, I’m trying to get more plugged in, and I feel like you’re always with people; you always know what’s going on. Is there anything that you think is worth me checking out this weekend? Or can I tag along with you to the next thing you do?” I think we’d be surprised by people’s willingness to help us, but we feel so self-conscious about admitting that we desire connection. 

What is your advice for nurturing or building friendships with people who are unlike you (whether you’re different in age, race, sexuality, range of interests and hobbies, etc.)?

Let’s be real, sometimes it’s hard to separate a person from the only surface thing that you can identify them as. It almost operates unintentionally or subconsciously as this lens through which we have conversations with them, instead of us reminding ourselves “hold on — they’re a full, whole person.” We tend to reference the things that make them different a lot in conversation, or we bring up interests we think they’ll like because of their identity. And sometimes we have to push back against our nature and say, “Hold on, she’s a normal person just like me. What can we find as common ground that’s not necessarily tied to this identity marker, or to this one key differentiator that I can’t stop staring at?” So allowing ourselves to push back against our nature of trying to put people in boxes, and reminding ourselves that they’re people just like us. 

There’s so much beauty in relationships with people who are different from ourselves. Bring some curiosity to the situation and see what you might discover about yourself and this person by bringing them into your life and allowing yourself to entertain a new worldview through their eyes. 

How do we catch up with people that we’ve missed over the past year, but haven’t necessarily kept in contact with? Maybe we don’t have their number, or we used to see them at the gym every day, but we haven’t been to the gym in a year. How do we reconnect with those people?

I always like to advise leading with vulnerability when starting a conversation or reaching out to somebody. Ask yourself: What is the main reason that I’m reluctant to have this conversation? Whatever your response is should be your first sentence. 


So if I’m nervous that my friend is gonna feel like I haven’t been checking in, or that she’s gonna think I’m not a good friend, I lead with: “Hey! I know we haven’t talked in a while — I was actually reluctant to reach out, because I feel like such a bad friend and I haven’t connected with you in a long time. But you’ve really been on my mind. I would love to talk.” So, I’m saying the thing. I’m leading with the thing. Instead of running from it, lean into it. What are you terrified of? That your friend will call you out for being absent? Well, if she does, what can you say? “You’re right. I’ve had so much going on and then I felt guilty for letting so much time pass without reaching out. I’m so sorry. I’ve been thinking about you. I’d really like to see you.” 


And I think we have to remember that a lot of people welcome that. They’re happy to hear from us! So if you wanna rekindle with a friend and you’re nervous, I say lead with the thing that’s keeping you hesitant, because research shows that we actually like people more when they’re vulnerable with us. 

What is one thing you wish everyone knew about friendship?

When I began my journey to becoming a friendship coach, I was surprised to learn how much friendship impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health. We too often talk about friendship from a perspective of a nice-to-have: It’s nice to have people to go to brunch with. It’s nice to have people to go to happy hour with. But we don’t talk about it enough from a wellness perspective, like: I need my friends — I genuinely need my friends. Research is telling us that loneliness is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and hopefully that kind of information is a wake up call for us to work on our relational health.


What I wish everyone knew about friendship is that it’s never too late to form meaningful relationships, and that conflict is normal. One of the biggest lies that people believe is that it’s too late for them to make close friends. Or we think, “Once they learn the real me, people won’t wanna be friends with me anymore.” It’s never too late to form the kinds of satisfying friendships that you want for your life, EVER. 


Conflict is normal. Let’s not throw friendships away prematurely because something got weird, or someone said something we don’t like. We’ve gotta start normalizing working through conflict in our platonic relationships the same way we do in our romantic ones; we’ve gotta learn how to say things directly but compassionately, and move on. Because the secret is that closeness and platonic intimacy often lie on the other side of a little tension — because then we have conversations where we can understand each other better. 

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