After moving to a new city, your to-do list probably looks a little something like: unpack literally everything you own, find *your* coffee shop, and…make some friends. Finding friendship as an adult is stress-inducing as is, but when you also consider yourself to be an introvert—you might unlock new levels of social anxiety.
In her new book,Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes, lifelong shy girl Jessica Pan goes to extremes in the hopes of discovering her outgoing alter ego: She moves across the world (more than once), speaks to strangers nonstop, and even goes to a friendship-making support group., lifelong shy girl Jessica Pan goes to extremes in the hopes of discovering her outgoing alter ego: She moves across the world (more than once), speaks to strangers nonstop, and even goes to a friendship-making support group.Between interviews with extroverted experts like comedians, psychologists, and even one of Obama’s former speechwriters, Pan chronicles her journey to becoming someone who actively and gracefully seeks out new connections. For a full year, she walks and talks like a true extrovert—AKA doing things that absolutely terrify her, *especially* making new friends as a sheepish AF adult.
Read an excerpt from her new book—and some legit advice about making friends as an introverted grown-up—before it drops on May 28.
“Is it a special date?” I pause, wincing in anticipation of the imminent, searing pain. She pauses, too, hovering over me, waiting for my answer.
“Sure,” I say. Accurate enough.
She rips out a chunk of pubic hair. I stifle my yelp into my hands. I’m not having a bikini wax because I’m going away to Ibiza or because I have a romantic weekend planned. I’m getting a wax because I have an imminent “friend-date” with a relative stranger, and it involves swimming, and I cannot let this potential best friend see me in my wild, natural state. Not yet. It’s too soon. I can’t scare her off.
Research says that we have the most friends we’ll ever have when we are twenty-nine, while other studies say we start to lose friends after the age of twenty-five. When we are in our thirties, our social circles decline and continue to do so for the rest of our lives. I had read this research before, but I didn’t realize that when I was in my thirties, I would be the poster girl for that statistic. (The poster reads: “Beware: this woman talks to strangers and is therefore a danger to herself and others.”)
Where do you go to make friends when you’re an adult?
No, honestly, I’m asking: where do you do this? There are no more late-night study sessions or college social events. And while meeting friends at work is the obvious answer, your options are very limited if you don’t click with your coworkers or if you’re self-employed. (Also, if you’re only friends with people at work, whom do you complain about your coworkers to?) I don’t volunteer. I don’t participate in organized religion. I don’t play team sports. Where do selfish, godless, lazy people go to make friends? That’s where I need to be. Nearly all of my closest friends have been assigned to me: via seating charts at school, college roommates, or desk buddies at work. After taking stock, I realize that nearly all of my friends were forced to sit one meter away from me for several hours at a time. I’ve never actively reached out to make a new friend who wasn’t within touching distance.
With no helpful administrators, just how do we go about making friends as adults? Is it possible to cultivate that intense closeness without the heady combination of naivety, endless hours of free time on hand, and lack of youthful inhibitions? Or is that lost forever after we hit thirty? Loneliness, on the other hand, has no age bracket. I used to think that exciting countries could keep you happy and warm on novelty alone. Now I know: you can move to Paris, delight in the city, drink your café au lait, but no matter how pretty the buildings and balconies are, eventually you’re going to find yourself hugging lamp posts for company like you’re in Les Misérables.
And so I would have to go out and find new friends.I feel embarrassed to want them. I don’t even want to say it aloud because it sounds desperate and sad. So I seek out a friendship mentor. Rachel Bertsche went on fifty-two friend-dates in one year and detailed it in her best- selling book, MWF Seeking BFF. She understands my fear of looking pathetic.
“I would say to people, ‘I’m looking for new friends,’ and people would hear, ‘I have no friends,’” Rachel B. tells me over the phone from Chicago. “I had friends—just none in my current city. We feel desperate or weird reaching out for friendship, but we shouldn’t. It’s important.” True. Friends listen to you, laugh with you, give you advice, encourage you, inspire you, fill your life with joy. A big source of my loneliness is not having a close friend I can call and meet for coffee at a moment’s notice and share everything that’s been happening in my life. Or a group of friends to go out with. Nothing big. Not too showy. A small coven I could count on to cast spells on my enemies. Brené Brown calls these friends “move a body” friends. You know. The people you call when you accidentally murder somebody. And all of mine were abroad.
Studies show that we’re spending more time online than ever before, scrolling through our social media accounts, liking photos of strangers’ cats and dinner plates, reading twenty-four-hour news, watching the latest Twitter meltdown of our world leaders unfold, but all of this connectivity is leaving us isolated.
While the internet creates a space for introverts to find like-minded people and online communities, it has its limits. It seems like everyone is relying so much on technology and social media for our interactions, and while we can write witty tweets or heartfelt Instagram comments, we don’t know how to say hello to the cashier at the grocery store without breaking into a sweat. We’re at risk of losing our ability to interact with other humans in person.
Social media is a huge part of the loneliness problem (we’ve stopped meeting up with our existing friends in person, we struggle to meaningfully talk with each other), but maybe technology can also be the solution. At least, that’s what Instagram keeps trying to tell me. Bumble, the dating app, now has a “BFF” feature, which matches you with new friends (or, new best friends forever). These days, it’s the norm to meet new romantic partners via apps on their phones. If people were finding love via matchmaking apps, could I use them to find my new best friend? And why stop at a new best friend? What about an entire squad? I wanted to be able to write things on Instagram like, “The gang’s all here!” and not just have it be a photo of me with a dozen blueberry muffins and a Sally Rooney novel.
I download Bumble BFF and Hey! VINA, two friendship apps, onto my phone. What if there are a bunch of weirdos out there? People who liked country music or were into ventriloquists. People who lined up to go to Madame Tussauds wax museum. People who liked dancing in public. People who say “lit.” And what am I supposed to put on my bio?
I chose my profile photos carefully. Something that said “fun” and “cute” but not too serious. Me, smiling, alone, in front of a food truck. Me, hiking with no makeup in very flattering sunset-y light on top of a mountain. Something that said, “Look how normal and fun I am.”
When you have a match, there’s a ding (such a rush), and the app encourages you to send a message to “your future BFF.” Crucially, after you’ve matched, you only have twenty-four hours to message each other before your potential friendship expires. And if they don’t reply to your message within twenty-four hours, they disappear forever. There are so many possibilities for rejection on this app.
And then it happens. Abigail, my very first friend-date, gets in touch and wants to hang out. We decide to go swimming in the Hampstead Heath ponds. And that’s how I end up getting a bikini wax. For Abigail. Because she’s worth it. A week later, me, with a freshly waxed bikini line and both of us in black one-piece swimsuits, stand on the pier. Abigail’s never swum here before. Because I had been here before with Jessica, who had talked me through getting into the cold water for the first time, I give Abigail the same advice: don’t jump in, as it might cause you to gasp for air and accidentally inhale water. Go slowly and breathe slowly and steadily. But keep going.
I know I’ll see Abigail again. In searching for that easy intimacy of youthful friendships, I’d discovered a more mature version. We aren’t likely to stay up all night talking, swap clothes, or spend every weekend together, because at this stage in our lives, we are too busy. But in a big, lonely city, knowing there’s another person out there, even just one, whom you can reach out to and say, “Want to grab a bite?” and you know they’ll show up, make you laugh, and listen to you, feels like a precious gift. Plus, Abigail had her shit together. Abigail would know how to get rid of a body.
Excerpted from the book Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yesby Jessica Pan. Reprinted with permission of Andrews McMeel Publishing. All rights reserved.