Do you often find yourself saying “I’d like to go… but I don’t really know anyone and it might be awkward…” Yeah. Us too!
You’re not alone! This is a totally natural part of making new connections. And whilst it can feel really uncomfortable at times, we can learn to embrace the awkward!
The dread of feeling awkward is something so many of us share. In fact, it’s a fear that can actually hold us back from trying a new experience or getting through the door. As many as 1 in 4 Australians acknowledge that they regularly experience high levels of social anxiety when they’re meeting new people.
There isn’t really a clear definition or criteria for ‘feeling awkward’ but it’s a universal fear that we all experience in our lifetimes. Whether it’s through the process of making new friends, mingling at a party, attending a hobby group or club, networking, dating, meeting your in-laws for the first time… we all dread ‘getting something socially wrong’ and ‘not clicking’. It can become a serious phobia with devastating consequences, causing high levels of distress, racing thoughts, sweaty palms, muscle tension, panic and anxiety. Over a sustained period of time, that fear of being so uncomfortable in the moment can cause us to socially withdraw and stop trying new things altogether.
But here’s the thing. We believe wholeheartedly that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of socialising. There’s no ‘succeeding’ and ‘failing’ at trying to make new friends. There’s just a bunch of strangers sharing some kind of experience and trying to spark a conversation, hoping that it flows and deep, deep down, hoping that we won’t feel rejected at the end of it. Fear of rejection is one of the biggest barriers to cultivating deep human connection.
We’ve been community building for over 12 years so trust us when we say that ’embracing the awkward’ is a natural, healthy and endearing part of trying something new in community. It shows our authenticity because building relationships isn’t a performance, and we’re not always going to have the perfect words to say. The trick is to not let it define you, to keep on practicing and keep showing up, and to remember that you, just like everyone else in the room, is worthy of being there.
Here are some tips to help you when you next hear yourself thinking “that sounds good, but I don’t know anyone there and it might be awkward…”
If you’ve spotted a gathering you’d love to go to but you start talking yourself out of it, try gently challenging that thought. Recognise that your mind is just trying to protect you from feeling rejected or embarrassed in the moment, but acknowledge that you’re also excited by this opportunity to do something fun and you’re curious about who you could meet there! Remind yourself that you are so worthy of friendship, that you can always go at your own pace and volume, and that you can excuse yourself to step outside any time you need to.
Message the organiser of the group
If there’s a key person organising the gathering you’re hoping to go to, try getting in touch with them and just explaining that you’re a bit worried about not knowing anyone. They will know how to welcome you in warmly and can help introduce you to others. One of the many lovely things community members do for each other across the Befriend Social Network is actually introduce people together who have shared interests, or who are confident chatters and curious questioners!
Ask someone you know to accompany you for the first few times
Being around a familiar face helps us feel safe and secure. Try asking a friend, family member or carer to accompany you for the first few times, just until you find your feet. They can help support the conversation whilst you gather your thoughts. Befriend Dungeons and Dragons Host, Harrison, remembered his first time hosting the group.
“My partner was just supposed to drop me off because I couldn’t drive at the time. Like, I didn’t beg… but I definitely just said please, please, please, please, please come in with me! Mostly, I just needed someone there that I knew. Once I got in, the fear didn’t go away, but it faded into the background a lot.”
Prepare some easy conversation starters
You would not be the first person – or indeed the last – to have a list of conversational prompts stored in the notes of your phone. Having some reliable icebreakers under your hat can help get the conversation flowing a little so you can find common interests. You can use your environment to guide some curious questions (how long have you been doing [this activity]? Do you live locally?), or focus on light-hearted things such as book recommendations, favourite bands, movies and TV shows. You may not need this list, but having it available to you may enable you to relax more.
It’s totally okay to admit out loud that you’re a bit nervous, and that you can’t think of anything to say. People respond well to vulnerability and humour, especially when it’s something we can all relate to in different ways. Chances are you’ll all have a chuckle over it and it may even break the ice a little.
Keep on turning up… it might get easier!
We’re not going to say that ‘practice makes perfect‘ because after all, what even is a ‘perfect’ conversation with someone? What we will say is that having the courage to keep turning up is how connection happens. Your presence matters; it makes a difference in the room, to you, and to others. Over time, you might be able to push past it and get to know someone, or, hey, you might just learn to become more comfortable with the occasional social faux pas (which is never as bad as you think it is!).
D&D Host Harrison offers this advice;
“If your goal is to meet new people that have a shared interest, you need to go to the places where that interest is expressed. And just, try, try to… try to just get into the building. If it helps, chances are, there is someone else in that building who’s thinking ‘I’m terrified, why am I here?’, and you might click and realise it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
You have the potential to make a big difference to others!
This is a story from a local community member who, like so many of us, struggled with meeting new people. They found the courage to come along to a few Befriend groups and over time, things started to get just a tiny bit easier. With that, came a new level of care and awareness that in turn, helps others.
“I am a naturally shy and introverted person. In social situations my default setting is to not talk. I find it hard to say hi…how are you? What’s your name? Or just to talk with people that I [don’t] know very well. While I was out and about on the street going to the shops or whatever, I would make a point not to really talk to the people who were serving me food or putting my groceries in a bag or whatever. After coming and being involved with Befriend, I started to feel more comfortable in social situations. I feel less nervous interacting with people, I am better able to interact with people in a way that makes them feel included and happy and welcome. Those skills and that awareness came about as a result of attending Befriend events. Just to be clear…I still find it difficult but I find it much easier now than I did before.”
We actually see this a lot – that attending something regularly and routinely not only helps someone strengthen their self confidence in different social situations, but actually helps them become better connectors for others! There’s a shared experience in feeling vulnerable that helps us recognise one another. If you’re looking for a safe space to be your authentic self (awkward warts ‘n’ all!), then you’re always welcome at any gathering in the Befriend Social Network. Groups are hosted and attended by local people all over Perth, and it’s an open invitation for you to embrace the awkward knowing you have a safe, friendly place to land. You can download our “conversation cards” to your mobile phone and lean on to them spark a chat!
That being said, if you find that your fear of experiencing awkward moments is really preventing you from meeting new people, then it may be worth chatting to your GP or sharing how you feel with someone who cares about you. Social anxiety can have a devastating impact on our individual and collective health and there are some great support avenues out there to help you take the steps you need at the pace that is right for you.