How To Make Friends When You're Still Shy
First, I'll clarify what this article will be about. Often when someone asks, "How can I make friends when I'm shy?" they're asking two things at once. What they mean is, "I don't know how to make friends, how do I do that?" and "I'm shy too, so how can I get more comfortable around people as I'm trying to put together a social life?"
This site already has a ton of writing on how to make friends and how to work past shyness, social anxiety, and insecurities. This piece isn't going to rehash all that.
This article is about making friends when you're shy in the sense of:
- "I'd like some friends, but I don't have the time or motivation to work on reducing my shyness right now. Is there anything I can still do to meet people while I'm shy?", or...
- "I want to make friends. I'm working on my shyness as well, but I may not see any results for a while. Is there anything I still can try to maybe meet people in the meantime?"
The good news is there are some things you can do. Lots of shy people have friends, so it can be done. I'll share some general strategies below. I'll focus on making real-life friends, rather than forming online connections, where you may talk to over text, but never meet up. There's nothing wrong with those relationships, but that won't be covered here.
Of course, in the long run the best thing to do is address your shyness directly, but I get that not everyone is in a place in their lives where they can do that right this minute. If you try any of these suggestions realize they're a second-best alternative. There's an element of luck involved and they may not pay off. One of the problems shyness causes is that you have to leave more of your social life to chance, since you can't create as many opportunities yourself. This article may help you make friends in spite of your shyness, but you have to be realistic about how much it can hinder you.
How does shyness interfere with making friends?
Everyone varies in terms of how intense their shyness is, and in what situations give them trouble. In general though, here are the ways shy people have a harder time meeting friends:
- They're more hesitant to start conversations, especially with larger groups
- They aren't as smooth or at ease during the opening small talk / getting to know you stages of a conversation with someone new
- To combine the first two points, they're not as strong in settings where they're expected to mingle and work a room
- They're not good at standing out during rowdier group conversations where people are trying to capture the spotlight and be entertaining
- If they get along with someone, they're less likely to make the first move and ask them to hang out some other time
- Overall, it takes them longer to warm up to people and feel comfortable around them
The good news is that once they've gotten used to someone, the worst is over for many shy people. As hard as they are on themselves, their conversation skills and personality are actually fine. Their shyness just "blocks" their expression at first. Though if you're shy and also have less-developed people skills, you can fix that too.
Here are my suggestions for making friends while working around these limitations:
Still socialize to the best of your abilities
I'm giving advice on how to make friends while you're still shy, but that's not a permission slip to be utterly passive. Yeah, you're not as outgoing and confident as you'll hopefully be one day, but still do what you can. Being moderately shy doesn't mean you're utterly incapable of doing anything for yourself. So you can't go up a group of five people at a party and try to join their discussion. No problem. But you can approach a single friendly-looking person, albeit after needing five minutes to talk yourself into it? Still try to do that. When you're in a conversation accept the words may not come to you as easily, but do what you can to contribute and keep it going.
If nothing else, put yourself in social settings and hope someone else takes the lead
Obviously you can't make any friends if you're on your own, so the first step is to go out and be around people. After that, the minimum you can do is sit or stand around feeling shy and hope other people take the initiative. That is:
- Approach you and start a conversation
- Guide the conversation and help you open up
- Do little things to make you feel more comfortable
- Invite you to hang out
- Later on, introduce you to their friends and help you feel included in the group
Of course this approach is totally dependent on outside forces swinging in your favor. Like the section above says, it's not all I'm suggesting you do. But to be honest, plenty of shy people have made friends this way. They'll be quietly standing around the hall before the first day of a new college class, and some friendly person will start chatting to them, and before long they're saying, "My friends get together every Tuesday evening to watch movies. You should come." It may or may not happen for you, but it does happen.
You've got to remember that just because you're shy that doesn't mean you're a totally flawed, unappealing loser. Someone may see past your wallflower demeanor and think, "They seem like someone I want to get to know."
The "get out there, then hope someone else takes all the initiative" approach can even work if you're extremely shy. It takes a lot more time and luck to find them, but you may still stumble onto that one person who takes an interest in you, and who's good at making you feel relaxed around them. Some really nervous, inhibited people have friends because someone took a liking to them, and didn't care that they were on the quiet side.
To beat a dead horse, I'm not saying this should be your only strategy. On the other hand, know that just by getting out in social settings, you're still doing something. If you go to a meet up or public lecture and are too shy to talk to anyone, that's not the ideal way things could have gone, but maybe the next time you go out someone will chat to you.
Try to look as approachable as you can
If you're hoping people will come to you, do what you can to seem inviting to talk to.
- This is stating the obvious, but make sure your basic grooming, hygiene, and fashion sense is in order.
- Think about what message your clothes send to the crowd you'll be around. For the most part you won't have to worry about this, and will be fine as long as you dress half-decently. In some cases it can make a difference. For example, if you go to a small concert you'll be a little more likely to get into a conversation if you wear a shirt that shows you're a longtime fan of the band.
- If you have any unique accessories or pieces of clothing that people have complimented you on and started conversations over in the past, wear one of them (e.g., an interesting necklace or watch, a funny T-shirt).
- Ideally you'll have friendly, approachable body language, but it's okay if you look a bit shy or in lost your head. Just do your best not to look too tense, grouchy, or closed-off. That can chase some people away.
In some cases, seek out events and get togethers that will limit how much you'll get approached by the wrong type of person
Particularly if you're a young, decent-looking woman, you may get approached a lot if you go out, but not by people you'd want to be friends with. You probably already know to do this, but look for get togethers where overeager guys are scarce or the circumstances force them to be on better behavior. For example, a meet up group that's women-only; a casual mixed-sex sports league, where you'll mostly be interacting with everyone as a group as you play.
Look for settings where you'll see the same people more than once
This gives you more time for you to get comfortable around everyone. It also allows you to possibly grow on them. On the first meeting some people may overlook you since you're not saying much. The third time they see you they may think, "He's on the quiet side, but he seems alright. I'm going to go talk to him." Of course, work and school naturally let you get to know people gradually. That's why so many people make friends through them. Aside from that, focus on clubs, classes, teams, or volunteer positions that are longer-term, or that go for a few weeks at the very least.
That's not to say you can never go to one-off events. In the end it's still good to put yourself out there. Just realize they play more to the strengths of chatty types who can make a whizz bang first impression.
Look for clubs and events with some structured socializing built into them
For example, a book discussion group at a local library, or a drop-in night at a board game cafe. The activity starts the conversation for you and gives you something to talk about. Even if you just stick to the topic at hand, you'll still show bits of personality here and there and give people a sense of what you're about.
Ask yourself if there's a certain type of conversation that comes more easily to you
Just because you have a shyer side doesn't mean you're equally hesitant in every situation. Try to focus on events where you're more likely to have interactions you're comfortable with. For example:
- You know you feel lost at mingling free-for-all meet ups, but that you do well at book clubs where everyone gets a turn to give their opinions on what they've read.
- You know book clubs make you uncomfortable, because you feel like you're giving a class presentation when it's your time to speak, but that you do better at hiking meet ups where people casually chat here and there as they meander along the trail.
- You know you do better in more serious, intellectual conversations, not joking, rowdy, booze-fueled ones. You mostly steer clear of big meet ups in bars.
- You know you do well at smaller meet ups of three to four people, because the circumstances force everyone into one conversation, where they have to make at least some effort to include you.
- You don't like smaller meet ups, because if you don't click with the handful of people in them, you feel stuck. You like medium-sized get togethers that tend to split into two or three groups. You're not expected to approach a dozen different people over the course of the evening, but you can still jump to another conversation if the first isn't working out.
Look for events that seem like they'd be filled with nice, accepting people
Fortunately, most people are fairly nice, especially as they get older, but some groups are extra-likely to understand the concept that some of us are shyer than others, and that it's no big deal. I know it's relying on stereotypes, but anything related to a hobby known to attract cerebral, homebody, or alternative types is a decent bet.
At bigger clubs or events, see if you can find the people who would be the most friendly and sympathetic to you
Some people have no problem with having shyer friends. Others prefer to hang out with more boisterous, outgoing types. That's okay. No matter what traits you have, some people will be into them and others won't. Try to get a lay of the land and figure out who's more your crowd. For example, your rec softball league goes to a pub after games. Most of the team gets into one big, loud conversation. That's not your scene. Your homebase are the three more low-key teammates who always sit off to one side of the table and chat amongst themselves.
Like I said, this article was about a handful of ways you can adjust your friend-meeting approach to account for your shyness. It wasn't meant to completely explain how to get a social life or deal with every facet of being shy. These sections of the site go into more detail on those issues if you're interested: