Several years ago, I met an interesting woman on a one-day work project. It instantly seemed as though we had been friends for years, so we decided to meet the following week for coffee. I couldn’t help but feel like I was going on a ‘Friend Date.’
Making new friends as an adult, when we are already trying to juggle our families, our careers and our existing circle of long-time friends, can sometimes seem as daunting as finding a romantic partner. A new friend has to be someone with whom you have that elusive spark, and you have to be willing to put yourself on the line (e.g., admitting your Glee addiction). In other words, it takes work. And it only gets harder as you get older, as you’re less willing to open yourself up to judgment.
Yet making the effort is usually worth it. ‘Women thrive when they engage with other women,’ says Lynn Pyke, a private counsellor in Toronto. Catherine Blyth, author of The Art of Conversation, agrees, and says women should seek new pals as their lives evolve. ‘When we go through transitions, new friends enrich and ease change.’
But how do you go about turning a casual acquaintance, such as the woman you chat with before every yoga class, into something more? ‘Try to extend the friendship in a way that feeds naturally from the situation in which you meet,’ says Blyth. For example, ask her if she wants to grab a bite to eat after class. ‘Make it something low-key, so there’s minimal embarrassment if she says no.’
And what if you get turned down? Pyke says not to take it personally. ‘There are many reasons someone may not be in a place to enter into ‘a friendship with you, and those reasons are about her and not about you.’ But Blyth recommends leaving the door open for the future. ‘I’d say something like, ‘Oh well, maybe another time.”
But don’t ever stop reaching out to build new friendships. ‘Lose practice and you’ll lose confidence,’ says Blyth. And when you do find the right friend to add to your social circle, Blyth suggests taking things slow. ‘You want the friendship to develop as a conversation would, gradually opening up.’
What if you’re the one being pursued by a potential friend who doesn’t interest you? You should be both kind and clear in your refusal. Thank them for their invitation, but explain how swamped you are with work and home, says Blyth. And focus on the reasons you don’t want the relationship and not on the qualities of the other person.
Sadly, my original friend-dating story ended as many attempted romantic relationships do’two coffee dates and we found ourselves with nothing to talk about. However, I went to a bookstore reading and started chatting with two women. When the event ended, we all wanted to continue the conversation. So out came the business cards and pens. I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Where to meet friends
• Enrol in an adult learning class. Learn that second language you’ve always wanted to!
• Volunteer for something that is close to your heart (for example, at an animal shelter).
• Join a book club. Or start your own.
• Get involved. If you love history, become a member of a local historical society.
• Got a green thumb? Start a community garden with other gardeners.
• Join a boot camp or recreational sports team. Friends can make exercise more fun.