Happy Birthday

It is my first best friend’s birthday.

Elementary school was hard — I was smart and weird, which is not the best combination for fitting in — and when I met my first best friend, it seemed like a gift.

There are ridiculous pictures of us dressing up like our American Girl dolls. We were both passionate about Jonathan Taylor Thomas (who is decidedly not my type — I think I was just going along with the affections of the masses).

I remember her parents’ names. I remember her little brother. I remember the address of the house she lived in when we were friends, how neat she kept her room (in contrast to my tornado), her first dog and her fondness for Mariah Carey and Amy Grant.

In time, we grew apart, as childhood friends often do. We wound up at the same college, and I emailed her when I found out. She didn’t respond. I probably sent her a Facebook friend request, and she didn’t add me as a friend. In a non-answer, you have an answer.

But today is her birthday, and I remember. 

Eventually, I guess I stopped learning people’s birthdays. I still struggle to remember the birthdays of people who are very important to me. But there are some birthdays that I’m probably going to remember forever.

A middle school crush who taught me to play chess. A sweet college boyfriend who did a lot of really crazy things because he said he wanted me to have positive memories to look back on someday. The friend of my soul whom I met on Halloween while wearing a Viking helmet.

I haven’t seen some of these people in many years. But when their birthdays come along, I remember.

There should be a greeting card for this.

I know we don’t talk now, and there are reasons for that, but I remember, and I want to celebrate you anyway. Happy birthday.

But there are social rules, aren’t there? You begin to ask yourself: Why am I still writing on this person’s Facebook wall, 10 years later? You question what coming back into someone’s life would mean. You worry about what you might discover. You might not get along anymore. You might come face to face with all the little things that annoyed you. You might notice how much you have grown apart — how very many things have changed since the time you two shared.

Sometimes, it’s better to stay gone.

Instead of a greeting, I sometimes send people a happy birthday wish. Happy birthday energy.

I am thinking of you today. I hope you are well.

I hope that you have dreams and are working toward them.

That there is a dream you once had that came true.

That people treat you well.

That the decisions you make are right for you.

That you can name five things that bring you joy.

That you have been surprised with goodness. 

I’m told that when you send someone energy, they always receive it. I have no proof of this, but it seems like it could be true. 

Happy birthday, first best friend. Happy belated birthday, those who have been important to me. Happy one more day of what I hope is a blessedly happy existence. May your journey be long and your heart be at ease.

How to Make Friends After College

How to Make Friends After CollegeIn college, social opportunities are everywhere you look: you meet people in your classes or at club meetings, and if you hit it off, there are clear paths for continuing the friendship: you can study together, go to the bars, or grab coffee.

But then you graduate and all the rules fly out the window. Suddenly people are too busy for coffee dates. The significant others and full-time jobs that come with life after college change the rules of the friendship game, and it’s easy to start feeling lonely.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here are my tips on how to make friends after college (even if you’re an introvert).

Are you even meeting people?
Let’s face it: you can’t make friends if you’re not meeting anyone. This can be a very real problem if you move to a new city or if you work from home or don’t have a job.

If that’s the case, or if you’re feeling really rusty and like your friendship skills have deteriorated, then you can practice on cashiers at stores and at Starbucks. Just practice being pleasant. Thank them. Smile. Look in their eyes. Enjoy connecting with another human.

You can meet people at any shared social activity, but one place where I’ve had success is in group exercise classes at the gym. The shared experience leaves room for connecting, and you’re getting healthier and meeting people at the same time. But once you’ve found someone who looks like they might be cool, how do you break the ice?

It starts with little things. Ask what kind of equipment you need for this class. Say it’s your first time here, and smile. Your future friendship is a seed or a tiny little plant, and with each interaction, you’re watering it. Maybe in the next class, you say something about the weather.

Read how the other person receives these tiny gestures. Some people will continue the conversation, and that’s a great sign. But if they look at you funny, don’t worry — maybe they’re just shy.

Change your thoughts
If you’re thinking, “I am so awkward,” it’s unlikely that you’re going to come across as the cool, charming person that you probably are. This is also true of other things you might be thinking about, like wondering when you can leave, worrying about a fight you had with your boyfriend, or thinking about things you need to do at work. When you’re trying to connect with someone, be present and focus on getting to know the person in front of you. News flash: If you’re worried about seeming like a weirdo, you are 10,000 times more likely to seem like a weirdo.

Ask questions
For the most part, people like to talk about themselves. There is so much you don’t know. A great question to start with is, “How is your day going?” If they say, “Fine,” you can say, “What was the best part about it?”

As the conversation continues, you can ask about pets, their job, their hobbies, where they grew up, and then build from there. (Side note: I have sometimes been guilty of asking people so many questions that they feel like they’re being interviewed, so make sure you share a little about yourself, too. Most people don’t have this problem, but some of us do. Introvert power!)

Flex your social muscles
I often tell people who are looking to make more friends to accept every social invitation they get. I know that this advice is tough for my introvert friends, but accepting social invitations means meeting more people, and saying yes means that people will keep inviting you to things, instead of thinking, “She never accepts my invitations,” and gradually letting you fall of their lists. If you put yourself in more social settings, you’ll learn to flex your conversational muscles and you’ll start to feel more comfortable in groups. Plus, you never know who you’re going to meet.

Be friendly with everyone, because you never know who will bring you connections later
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the past decade is that time is very weird, and you can’t really predict anything. People you thought you’d never see again resurface all the time in unexpected ways. I’ve ended up working closely with acquaintances from years past, being interviewed for a job by someone I studied abroad with and chatting for half an hour at a party with a girl who unfriended me on Facebook years ago. (P.S. After the party, she sent me a new friend request.)

What this means is that you don’t know when people are going to show up again in your life. Even if you think you have nothing in common, be pleasant, because you don’t know what will happen later. You can’t be friends with everyone (and for good reason), but you never know what the future will bring, or who the person in question might introduce you to in the future.

Keep trying
The bottom line is that you’re looking for someone who meets two categories: Currently Accepting Friends and compatible with you. You may have to meet more than a few people before you can check both boxes. Sometimes this seems like a tough chore, but really, it’s a numbers game.

Think about where your future friends could be hanging out, and go there. Try new things. Look on Meetup.com for cool interest groups in your area. Try kayaking and farmer’s markets. Go thrifting. You just have to find your people — it’s really a game of trial and error. I know that you may be struggling for friends now, but if you make it a priority, you’ll definitely be able to meet new people.

Have any strategies for making friends? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. How to Get Over A Breakup.