Sunday, August 10, 2008

You meet people everyday, but which ones stick with you?

One of the most common questions I get from my non-NYC resident friends is, "Is it hard to meet people in New York?" The answer is a resounding yes. I think there are several reasons why.

1 - We live in a small area physically and so we tend to separate ourselves mentally even when in crowds. We listen to our mp3 players and ignore whatever is happening right next to us. To give ourselves the illusion of privacy, we emotionally space ourselves out.

2 - We turn off our social faculties. I don't read body language or look for non-verbal cues as much in NYC. Think about how tourists say there is a lack of etiquette in this city. It's probably not on purpose; it's a result of constantly being surrounded by other people. Some hot guy could totally be flirting with me on the subway and I would never notice. Oblivious? Yes.

3 - We're so driven we tend to forget or forego our social needs. Socialites not withstanding, the young in NYC are here to make themselves and that usually means working really, really hard. I know I've spent the last 6 months working 60 hour weeks to try to get ahead of work. The last thing I have time for is spending 2 hours primping to wait in a 1 hour line to get into some club that I stay at until early the next morning. This could potentially mean I'm boring...not really sure.

4 - When we are social, we surprise each other and take away our comfort zones. We get so used to having this bubble around ourselves that when someone actually takes a chance, nods your way and says "Hey," we're so shocked that we don't know how to react. We get that deer-in-headlights look. We give a goofy smile. Sometimes we recover and are able to make a connection. Most times we have an awkward minute-long conversation before turning back to our respective circles.

5 - We're just rude; or it's just me. But please tell me this isn't it. I'm naive enough to think there must be another reason.

So whether it's friends or a date, NYC is tough. I admire those who have the skills to come here with nothing and build large social circles. I'd love to know their secrets (do they blog? probably not). Ever the eternal optimist I try to put myself out there as much as possible. But sometimes I just want to stay home and play Halo. Or check my favorite distractions for the upteenth time today.

I'm sure my independent nature has a lot to do with this. I remember what I was like in middle school...always on the phone with one of my three best friends, talking about nothing for hours on end. Movies and the mall every week. Rinse, repeat. But in high school I changed into a dreamer and adventurer and it was hard for my friends to keep up. New York City suits my nature well. But while it was easy to flip the switch to loner, it is harder to switch it back to social. In college I would go days without returning friends' calls. Not on purpose. I was just easily distracted. Eventually some of them gave up, and who can blame them? Even now I sometimes reject invites to go home and be alone. I don't know if that is normal, healthy or what. But after a day in a crowded city I sometimes just want to come home and think.

So what to do when no one around you is paying attention? Put yourself out there. Yeah, it's hard and you'll fail more than you'll succeed. But even if you knew you'd fail 9 times out of 10, at least you have that 1 time to pick yourself up and keep going towards. It takes a lot of effort and a ton of positive thinking. My top success story so far is my friend S, who I met at a happy hour when I bumped into him and spilled both of our drinks. I bought him a round and we ended up finding out we had a ton in common. Though we went on a terrible date, our friendship budded nicely and now he is my Ikea-handyman/wingman and I'm his movie-lover/winggal. I probably tried to kindle friendships with 5-10 peeps before that and it just didn't work out. And yeah, it sucks when you put forth an effort and don't get one back. But you have to be tough to make it in NYC. And you have to keep trying.

One of the great things about New York is that you can go places by yourself without feeling uncomfortable. Really, just getting out of the apartment is step No. 1. Common tales among my friends are meeting friends at work (and then cross-pollinating with your non-work circles, if you are willing to do that); joining a religious group and making friends there; joining a book club/sports club; and/or finding a local branch of a group you were in back home. I'm by no means an expert, but I think the key is staying open to new people.

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