It's difficult to figure out the expected norms, since I grew up as a third culture kid, so I used to withdraw completely in fear of making a mistake ... which was a mistake in itself. I can't read social situations very well. But I've learned I can be myself and honestly apologize if I make a mistake, and usually things work out in the end.
I gradually learned a few simple guidelines that help keep me sane. They're also useful for figuring out what sort of friendship is possible.
1. Go in trying to find out if they are "my sort of person." (Be yourself without apologizing!)
- There is a myth out there that it's possible to be liked by everybody, and far too many of us spend all our time trying to read situations and fulfill expectations instead of being ourselves. Give it up, please! How on earth can I know if I like you when you're trying so hard not to offend that I can't know who you are? You don't need to bring out the elements that seem certain to cause irritation, but certainly you have many interests and at least one will be useful for conversation.
- If you need someone to tell you it's okay to be you, then take my word for it. You'll be much happier if you find the people who like you for who you are right now. I certainly am. There are a lot of people who don't like me now ... but most of them don't bother to think about me. My friends, on the other hand, like me very much and think of me. (I wouldn't be who I am today without them, either.)
- This skill allows you to know if this person is capable of being civil. That's about it. But you'll want to practice it regularly because the rare kindred spirit makes it worth every moment of civil, social conversation.
2. Try to draw out the true personality of the person in front of you. (Be transparent first.)
- Being yourself frees other people to be themselves also. You might be surprised at the amazing character you find in them. Identify a character trait that makes you happy in everyone you meet and thank them for that quality if you have a chance. (This will help you make friends, too. People like to be appreciated. Just make sure you're being honest.)
- Tell the truth about your thoughts, feelings, preferences, etc. The truth is always more compelling than a lie. And give others the same freedom by asking questions. You don't have to agree with their answers, but if they are free to discuss their honest thoughts, you may find that you're not as different as you thought. Or you may even be on the same page.
- This skill helps you to find the people who will challenge your thinking so you can see the world from a new perspective, as well as those you can support and encourage and who might do the same for you.
3. Find out if you can communicate or see each other regularly. (Become friends.)
- I've made a fool of myself a few times over this one by assuming I could take the full weight of being the one who makes all the effort. Becoming friends only works if both sides actively choose to be part of the process and have room in their lives. As much as we may appreciate someone, life does what it does. Don't make huge promises and then feel guilty when you can't fulfill them, and don't judge others for this either. It happens.
- Do make the effort to plan to get to know each other if you're of the same mind. Become pen-pals, phone, meet up for a mutual hobby, or always take time for a chat if you happen to be in the same social circle. Accept that it might not last and appreciate what connection you do have.
- This skill helps you discover if a friendship is meant to grow. If not, you will eventually realize that the time is not now. You can leave the invitation open for a more convenient season of life ... and look forward to chance meetings. Knowing a variety of people is valuable for personal growth, so don't feel like it was a waste if it was only for a short while.
You can only control your own actions and responses. This is why I call being yourself a skill that can build friendship. You can't control their response and it's not worth the effort to try. People will naturally want to befriend you if they appreciate you in return. If not, you have a billion possibilities available to you. Get to know them!
I remember when it was horribly difficult to even talk to someone who seemed interesting, never mind asking to be friends. I still freeze up with complete strangers. It's easier to be introduced or to start with something in common after listening to them talk in a group setting.
Giving others mental permission to dislike me frees me from shyness and fear. Once I've faced the worst and accepted it, I can push past that dread and take a chance that it won't turn out that way. In my experience, we usually have a pleasant conversation and I walk away wondering why I was so nervous.
In fact, I make a practice of declaring to all my new most-hoped-for friends that they should feel free to turn me down rudely, if necessary, since I intend to treat them as good friends and that means they'll be hearing from me frequently.
None of them has tried to escape yet ... and they're my best friends now. *grin* It took me a long time to believe this ... but they never wanted to run away in the first place, as proven by the fact that they give me equal connection in response to my offer to them.
If they become busy it is obvious, but they always reconnect eventually. As should be expected, life-changes have altered our communication frequency many times. (Come to think of it, one of them is due for an "are you alive?" email soon.)
In the end, the connection of friendship isn't always so much about frequency or expectations, but about the depth of transparency and respect we have for each other. No matter what, both sides in the friendship know that the full depth of our relationship is always accessible whenever we interact, whether that is every day or a couple times a year.