What’s your social network like? Is it a truly social club? Or is it your real-life mastermind group? Are these people your greatest fans? Or is your main draw a good round of gossip?
It really doesn’t matter what it’s like. What matters is that you have one.
Whenever I think of our real-life social networks, it reminds me of forests. Some are better groomed than others. Some are pricklier than others. Some are more orderly and less crazy than others. Some have been ravaged by recent storms, and it’s up in the air whether they will make a comeback. Usually, they do, with careful grooming of the survivors.
Yet just like humans could survive without trees, they could survive without friends. But that would be it for most – survival.
To thrive, we needs friends like we need trees.
I know this first-hand.
When I first moved to New Mexico with my 4-month old son and my husband, I was a stay-at-home mom. We’d just moved across the world from my home, Estonia, to a place that at the time felt like “the middle of nowhere.”
With my husband travelling for work most of the time, and with no social or family network, solitude became my closest friend.
Sure, I didn’t land in New Mexico from outer space. I had friends and family in other parts of the planet, but the 7+ hour time difference with them accounted for a lot of missed calls, and not much more.
You see, I had never been in a situation as such before. Therefore, I had never taken notice as to what it takes to have and maintain a healthy forest of friends.
I am from a small country where distances are insignificant. In addition, I am from a big family where blood-bonds are significant. If my friends were not available, one of my multitude of cousins was there for me.
Like a low-grade headache that you didn’t know you had until you got rid of it, I didn’t know how blessed I was until I had no more.
In New Mexico, I had all the silence and aloneness to last me a lifetime, and my mind had plenty of space to race wild. I woke up one night with a horrifying thought: if someone decided to knock off my entire little family unit, and bury us in the desert, it would take months before anyone would start raising questions.
The thought of being forgotten by the world became my constant companion.
So you can trust me, I know what life is like when you have no friends near you, your extended family lives on the other side of the globe, and you are under the impression that no one is thinking of you.
IF NO ONE IS THINKING OF YOU
I looked into it.
Turns out, I’m not special. A clinical psychologist Karin Arndt says in Psychology Today that being alone is a common fear; that the older we get, the more likely we are to experience it. Furthermore, many studies have found that friends are key to our happiness. Carlin Flora has beautifully discussed the research in this field in her book Friendfluence. Me being alone, and freaking out about dying alone, were worries many, many people around the globe have.
And may I add, dying alone in the desert of New Mexico and no one knows! (How Breaking Bad is that!?)
For my wellbeing, I had to start making friends and creating a social network.
It was painfully awkward at first.
You see, when you meet someone you like, it doesn’t mean you are going to be friends. At least no right away. But you have to start somewhere.
Have you ever had those super-weird phone conversations where you call someone to make friends, and at first you need to explain to the other person how you met because by their first reaction you can tell that they have no clue who you are?
And then you try to make conversation that has nothing natural about it?
And when you hang up, your neck is sweating?
Yeah. Lots of those phone calls.
Many years, and much good advice and practice later, I have learned one simple and easy way to start, build, and maintain any relationship.
It takes less than a minute of your time, and all it takes is a note, a phone call, or a visit.
Here’s what you say:
I’M THINKING OF YOU
That’s it. No awkwardness, no expectations.
It works because it addresses one of the most common fears we have: that I’m alone, that no one’s thinking of me.
You’d be surprised how much happiness this simple phrase spreads in the world.
And when you get one of those super-weird phone calls, be patient. It might be someone like me – trying to make a friend. 🙂
Photo by Joseph Pearson