My husband is an extrovert. Everywhere we go, he is smiling and chit-chatting with friends and strangers alike. He has an endless well of energy and ignites a room to laughter whenever he enters it. No matter the venue, he is surrounded by people. And I…I am “Kevin’s wife” – an introverted, artist/counselor/intellectual (until menopause committed the unforgivable and entered my world by immediately dropping my IQ by 20 points or more).
I am the one who hides in the kitchen at parties and just wants to help so I don’t have to face the dreaded task of small talk. Unlike Kevin, my list of BFFs could fit on a post-it note with room to spare. And actually, I’m fine with that, I prefer friendships of great depth over a depth of friendships any day.
Though, no matter if you’re like Kevin or like me or somewhere in between, we all long for relationship. Something in our souls longs for meaningful connection with others. We long to know and be known, to be heart-connected, to be ourselves and to be accepted – warts and all. This longing makes things complicated for introverts because, while we are fiercely loyal to our friendships, we have trouble finding and making friends in the first place.
Introverts are wired to connect from the inside-out rather than from the more socially-accepted method of outside-in. We want to connect deeply from the start, to know your pains and passions, to understand your story and dreams…then we’ll care enough to ask you what you did last weekend. Until then, we don’t really care….we wish we cared, but we don’t.
And this all becomes even more complicated as we reach midlife. In our younger years, the circumstances of life created ideal situations for friendship making by providing a convenient pool of possible friends – school and clubs, college courses and activities, sports, work, our children’s school and activities – and then…nothing. Our kids are gone, our friendships have fallen away in the busyness of life, or by life transitions (moving, divorce, changing jobs, illness) and the opportunities for making friends slow down. It’s ironic because as we grow older we understand the real value of friendships and we know what we want in a friend, but making friends becomes more difficult.
That’s why I compiled these strategies to help midlife introverts make friends in this new season of life.
AN INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO MAKING FRIENDS IN MIDLIFE STARTS HERE:
1. Spend some time with yourself, figure out who you are and love yourself
I know this may seem counterintuitive when seeking to build friendships, but without first knowing, loving and accepting yourself, you will have trouble attracting friends. You’ve spent the last 20-30 years or so focusing on others, raising kids, building a career. Do you know who you are? Do you know who God created you to be?
That’s a big question! I suggest taking concerted time away from the stress and responsibilities of life to really get to know yourself (blog post on this is in the works), what makes you tick, who did God create you to be and what are you looking for in a friendship?
Additionally, many introverts see themselves as defective simply because they are introverts. They see themselves as a relational liability. That is a lie! When you embrace your authentic self, introversion and all, you will see the doors open to new relationships in all aspects of life. Authenticity and self-acceptance are sexy (in the purest form of the term).
If you’d like to practice getting to know yourself better by connecting to God’s heart for you – not just by being alone, but by being present with yourself and Him – click the pink link below to get your free printable Me Time Handbook!
And you might enjoy my previous blog post: How to be a Happier Human
2. Find your tribe
In know, right? Where are they?! Well, your tribe is probably hanging out doing things YOU like to do. Are you a reader, a photographer, a hiker?
(a) Join a group
Find a group meeting at your local church or community center or check out meetup.com and join a group in your area (I know, sstttrreeeettccchhhh) where there are like-minded folks hanging out. When you get together with a group that is task-focused or group discussion focused, you take the pressure off. If there is a task to complete, small talk falls by the wayside. (YAY!) If, in the process of ‘grouping,’ you find someone you think you’d like to be friends with, ask them to coffee or a drink after the group and get to the business of real talk.
(b) Join an online group
Now, if joining an in-person group feels impossible right now, maybe you could start by joining an online group first. There, you can meet people and get to know members from the comfort of your own home. Then, meet in person if there seems to be some mutuality. This tactic has the added benefit of providing a place for safe inside-out connecting – which is how we introverts operate.
Just a word of caution – it is easy for people to pretend to be someone they’re not when they’re online – don’t be afraid to do some checking around to be sure they are who they say they are. Then, when meeting, meet in a public place. Friending on Facebook will open a door to seeing the ‘real-self’ data behind the username – check posts, comments and photos to get a feel for your person. (No, this is not an invasion of privacy, it is wisdom. It is not stalking as everything you’re looking at is public. To ignore potential red flags would be unwise.)
I do recommend that you not let too much time pass before meeting so a false sense of intimacy doesn’t cloud your perception.
What are you passionate about? What makes you angry? What problem can you help solve? Ask yourself those questions and then find an organization that fits. When you volunteer, you remove the pressure of social expectations because, again, it is a task-oriented activity. This will give you a safe vantage point from which to observe others and learn if there might be someone who is friend-worthy. Then, take the next step and ask to meet outside of the volunteer setting.
3. Practice being a good friend
Be the kind of friend you would want. We all long for that person who will see us and meet us where we are, who will pursue us, call first, send a cute text, check up on us when we go silent…be her. Once you’ve found a potential friend, don’t expect her to do all the work. I know your self-concept sometimes says you’re bothering her when you send a text or ask her to hang out, but we took care of that in step #1, right? Because you are an authentic self, you aren’t being needy or ‘taking’ from your friend. You are giving by being present with her. You have something to offer by your friendship – each invitation, text or token of friendship is a gift, not an intrusion.
I really struggled with this when I was about 40ish, coming into my own and learning what true friendship was. My friend, Linda, taught me amazing lessons about authenticity when she said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m intruding when I send you a text, like you wish I would just leave you alone, like I’m extracting time and attention from you. Am I just making that up or is that how you feel?
Wait, what? Can people really ask those things?
Her question opened up a discussion about her self-concept and my ways of communicating. We both made some adjustments and it’s a beautiful friendship all these years later. In an authentic and safe friendship, you can ask tough questions – but only if you’re willing to hear the truth. If you’re seeking affirmation, then you aren’t asking authentically and the answer will not help you to grow. Check in with your own heart, first.
4. Take it slow
Real friendships develop over time. No matter our natural desire to connect on the spot, deep friendships don’t work like that. Invite your friend to join you in activities that have a time limit, giving you license to leave before you’re overwhelmed. Then, after some time has passed, venture out into more in-depth conversations and deeper intimacy. And don’t try to make too many friends at once, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and hiding away to recharge.
5. Don’t take rejection personally
So often, an introvert’s self-concept is wrapped up in “there’s something wrong with me.” And when friendships don’t work out we see that as confirmation of what we already believed to be true. In actuality, not everyone is going to like you – even though you’re awesome and a total rock star! The goal is to find the people who see you and recognize the beauty in your soul. When you find that a potential friend doesn’t see you or understand you, it’s ok to let that relationship drift away. It’s the natural order of things. Connect with people who get you – they’re out there.
Making friendships in midlife isn’t for suckers – it’s work. I’m not going to kid you in saying all you need to do is to put yourself out there and friends will flock to you. It just doesn’t work that way. You’re going to have to build up the stamina to work at it. For those of us who are introverts, it’s just going to take some time and tenacity. With a little gumption, you’ll get through that awkward “getting to know you” stage and into the sweet spot of a friendship that just flows…and it will be worth it.
Have you struggled with finding friendships in midlife or have you found a way to conquer this issue that worked for you? I’d love it if you would share your story in the comments below! You may find help for your situation or find that you’ve helped someone else in the process. Your story is important.
P.S. We (the Grace Over 50 community) would love to have you join us on this journey through midlife – to stay connected, just click the link below and I’ll send you a little gift to make life just a little sweeter.