Making the first move

So you meet a nice person. Maybe it's a friend of a friend or someone from your exercise class or from church or even from work. You're hitting it off, you're making solid small talk, you feel like you could connect as friends more so than just people who have the same [fill in the blank] in common. You're into each other — as friends.

How do you go from that initial encounter into something, well, more? Enter: the friend date.

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This is not just a you problem.

We all have friend crushes, so why not friend dates?

As Urban Dictionary defines it: "a situation in which two friends partake in activities (such as movies, coffee, walk on the beach) that have the appearance of a regular date, but have no romantic intentions."

A.k.a, hanging out one-on-one and having a darn good time doing it. It's the next natural step in making a friend once you first begin chatting, but sometimes it can be the hump we get stuck on. It's awkward! It involves logistics! It could cost money! 

Alll fair points, but at the same time, if you want to make more friends, it helps to have a Step 2 in your back pocket. Here's a guide for crafting the successful friend date ("It’s okay to do a little bit of stalking first"), and here are some ideas for friend dates on the cheap, without alcohol, or just general suggestions for things to do (besides dinner!).

But there's still a certain art to it. And for that, I turned to Clara, who is renowned for finding events to do with different people and making time for her friends, even as she powered through college and is now at the front end of an M.D./Ph.D. program in St. Louis, a city where she had no roots when she moved there.

That's right. She will be in school for a while. When I asked her to share what she thinks makes a friendship works, she said, "Quality time is the only way to build a friendship." Time to get comfy — and to get friendly.

How did you prepare for meeting friends in college versus medical school?

You know how the freshmen always walk around campus in packs? I think I bought into the idea that it was important to have a large social circle. I met a lot of my first college friends going out. The following week, I’d meet their friends at a pre-game, and the cycle would continue. It was comforting to walk around campus and be able to engage in small talk with any of my new friends from the party last weekend. But, it was a very passive way of engaging in what I considered to be friendships. Following 2 years of intensely working and studying, I found that I had distanced myself from almost all of these friends. I was so used to expecting to see them on the weekends that when I stopped attending these parties, I no longer spent any time with them.

At this point, the beginning of my last year of college, I realized the importance of being an active participant in friendships. It is too easy to be passive and expect friendship out of convenience. Although it was scary at first, I started reaching out to a few old friends that I wanted to reconnect with. And that was it. For so many of my closest friends, all it took was me sending a text that first time to hang out. It’s a small gesture – one that takes a surprising amount of energy to act on, but on the receiving end feels like an affirmation of someone’s commitment to a relationship. Friendship is an act.

Entering medical school, I tried to stick with this mentality. My classmates are all in their twenties. They have childhood, high school, and college friends. Our schedules are packed with classes and studying. It’s even harder to find work-life balance. Even more so, it has been important to be active in making plans with friends. I feel like there is a lot more intention in how I spend my time, and who I spend my time with. Because of that, I am a lot more intentional in the events I attend (despite my FOMO), and reaching out to particular friends.

I’ve also tried to stay open to meeting new people outside my immediate social circle. Conveniently, one of the easiest ways to make new friends is through existing ones. Think about it. If I’ve already decided that my current friend is really cool, don’t you trust their taste in other people as well?

How do you go from meeting someone at a mutual friend’s party or in a rock climbing class or something to actually becoming friends with them?

Making new friends is so difficult because it takes one of the two people in the relationship to make “the first move.” In school, it can be easy to avoid this because you are regularly seeing other people in a setting that promotes interaction and communication. But, as an adult, not only is your social life irregular, but people also have friends from the past 20+ years of their life! For most people, there is no immediate need to befriend an acquaintance. Still, I’ve found myself self-conscious about rejection to send that first “hey, let’s hang out” message. This can spiral into an internal debate about whether this new person likes you. What I’ve realized, however, is (1) almost no one will say no to a new friend and fun activity, and (2) most likely, they don’t know you well enough to like or dislike you anyways. So, when I meet someone who I want to get to know better, instead of waiting for them to approach, it’s so much easier for me to make that move.

When I do initiate that first invitation, I like to engage with the friend in a 1-on-1 setting. I’ve found them to be a lot more meaningful than groups because you are can be focused on having those more personal conversations. As a student, the easiest is planning a “study date” – you both have to get work done anyways, so why not be in good company? I also tend to do a lot of cooking with friends – it is busy enough to avoid initial awkward silences but also offers a lot of time for natural conversation, while cooking or eating.

How do you find events to do with your different friends?

It’s so much easier for me to spend time with my friends than for my working friends. Since most of my friends are also medical students, it is as easy as a “study date,” with intermittent YouTube and meal breaks.

However, I definitely have different groups of friends for a variety of activities. For example, I have a group of friends that do weekly potlucks, a group that rock climbs, and a group that watches the Bachelor! At first, conversations might be limited to the activity at hand, but I’ve found that after a few times hanging out, friendships begin to develop beyond that single shared interest. These regular/weekly activities gave me a way to connect over a shared interest as well as a consistency in my social activities.

How do you know when a fledgling friendship isn’t working?

Maybe this is a given, but the most important part of a friendship is that there is effort on both sides. I’ve been talking a lot about the effort that I try to put forth in a relationship, and although it initially can feel one-sided, I ultimately expect the same effort and respect from the other person in the friendship. If a friend flakes a few times, I may be more hesitant to continue pursuing the relationship because I don’t feel the same dedication from the other person. In the same way, if the other person never offers their own ideas or events, I may question their investment in the friendship.

What’s the best way you’ve made a friend?

Someone once told me that the key to making friends (as an adult) is to engage in a weekly activity – maybe a book club, board game night, or workout sessions. At first, conversations might be limited to the activity at hand, but I’ve found that after a few times hanging out, friendships begin to develop beyond that single shared interest.

Go sow: Challenge for the week. 🎉

“If I murdered someone, she's the person I'd call to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor. She's my person.” — Cristina Yang, Grey's Anatomy

Schedule a friend date. Ask that coworker to lunch, invite your roommate to the museum, suggest a local event to go to together. And keep an eye out for a weekly event (trivia night? Monday margaritas? Zumba class? Volunteering at the animal shelter?) to go to either with a new friend or to meet new people.
Write back and let me know how it goes! And add these to your friendship toolkit:
  •  Beyond BFF: The New York Times has a touching piece about what we call our best friends/work wives/"person"s in adulthood: "The hospital is always like, 'Oh, are you two married?' 'Are you two dating' It's like 'No, but this is my person.'"
  • That piece was written by the author of Text Me When You Get Home, a new book about female grown-up friendships that is now on hold for me at my local library. Here's an excerpt: "I’ve realized that my girlfriends give me what I always thought I got from men: strength and reliability."
  • How to love where you live: Make a bucket list for your city/town/neighborhood. "Simply brainstorming the list recalibrates your relationship to your community, making you do a mental deep-dive into your city’s assets, strengths, and hidden gems. Basically, you’re creating a mass of positive, 'I’m happy here' feelings. Then, when you actually do the things, you create a trail of meaningful experiences all over your community."
  • Collecting meaningful friends throughout life in Greeneville, TN: "Some things have changed, of course. Instead of sitting around a table, eating pizza and drinking sodas at Pizza Hut on the boulevard, we sat around my dining room table, eating more salad than pizza."
  • Friends in volunteering and beyond: "The homeless are like one of those puzzles in which things are hidden in complicated drawings. Look at the tree and find a book, a pencil, a fishing pole and a tennis racquet. Once you see them, you can’t not see them. Shelly and Eva can’t not see their friends. That’s what they call the homeless men, women and children they have come to know: Friends."

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