Many of us struggled in school to feel like we fit in. Try as we might, sometimes the challenge of making meaningful friendships can seem like it’s just impossible. And if that happens to be your experience, you are not alone, even though it may feel that way at times.
In recent years there’s been a push to stop talking about “fitting in” and to start talking about “belonging.” What’s the difference? Try to think of it this way: fitting in often means you’re trying to be like everyone else; belonging means finding friends that like you for all the ways you stand out, just as you are. It’s the difference between being your best impression of someone else, and being the best version of yourself.
Everyone wants to feel like they belong. Right now, as you’re searching for friends, they’re out there searching for you. And we hope you find each other! Read on for some of our thoughts on how you can put yourself out there to make new friends.
1. Speak up
We know you’ve heard it before, and we know it’s easier said than done, but to make new friends, eventually, you’ll have to say something. But what do I say? Where do I begin? What if I feel so awkward I want to run away? Well, first thing’s first: You probably will feel awkward, and that’s OK. Meeting new people usually feels awkward for all of us. Don’t let that awkward feeling discourage you. That feeling of discomfort means you’re putting yourself out there, and that’s the first step.
Even when you’re feeling awkward, try talking to new people as if you’re already friends. Be casual. Be yourself. Be kind. And just keep trying. Now let’s brainstorm some places to begin a conversation:
- Ask a question: Maybe this means asking a classmate about a teacher (“Hey, what have you guys heard about the teacher? Is he/she supposed to be difficult or what?”). Or maybe this means asking for help (“Hey, I missed a class last week; do you mind if I borrow your notes?” or “Hey, do you guys know where this classroom is at?”). Or maybe it’s just asking a question about someone else. Try to learn about your peers. Be curious.
- Give compliments: People love a good compliment, especially specific compliments that feel sincere. If someone says something sharp in class, go ahead and tell them that was a nice way to phrase it. If someone is trying out a new look, tell them they’re pulling it off. If you see someone doodling, tell them you like their drawing. If someone cracks a joke, tell them they’re funny. Compliments don’t cost anything to give, but they can be worth much to receive.
- Introduce yourself: Last, but not least, you have to introduce yourself. Don’t be afraid to say your name. And remember, a friendship rarely springs from a single conversation. This requires repetition and patience.
2. Join a club or social group
One of the easiest ways to make a new friend is by bonding over shared interests, hobbies, and sensibilities. And one of the easiest ways to find a shared interest is to join some sort of club or social group. Whatever you’re interested in, chances are your school has a club for it. Recreation leagues, book clubs, student council, theater, film, anime, chess, video games, charity clubs, study groups, language clubs—what are you into? Your school website should likely have a registry of all formal clubs and groups along with all the pertinent information. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
And if your school doesn’t have a club to match your interests, you can start your own. If you like something, chances are, there are plenty of other people who like it too; it’s just a question of finding them now. A club is a natural, welcoming place to foster new friendships and skills.
3. Work on you
Try to spend less time worrying about what others think of you, and instead just worry about how you think of yourself. Who do you want to be? What do you think is cool? Don’t try to be the best at someone else’s game; be the best at your game. The things that make you different are the things that make you, YOU. Those are the qualities that attract interest from others.
So practice new hobbies and skills that you enjoy. Dress the way you think is cool. Find your passions. Chase your curiosity. This is how you attract friends that will value you for the ways you stand out, rather than the ways you fit in.
4. Don’t put too much stock in social media
It’s easy to forget that nobody’s life really looks like their Instagram feed. It’s easy to think: Look how much fun everyone else is having without me. Look at how many friends, how many likes, how many parties, etc. But that’s not real life! These are just the cherry-picked highlights of a life. Behind the screens, everyone has their moments of boredom, of loneliness, of feeling left out. We just don’t post those pictures online.
Studies have shown that excessive social media use can lower self-esteem for just this reason. So be mindful of how much time you spend scrolling through social media. If you start to feel yourself spiraling in the Fear Of Missing Out, or if you feel yourself comparing your life unfavorably to your peers’ lives, give yourself a break.
5. Patience is a virtue
Finding “your people” takes time, and it’s best to be patient about it. Try not to be too disappointed if a hopeful candidate for friendship falls apart on you—it's not your fault and it's not their fault, it’s just the way it goes! A friendship, like any meaningful social relationship, requires some chemistry of personality and finding that chemistry takes luck, and requires trial and error. So don’t feel bad about yourself if you’re not meshing with one particular person or group; just keep looking. Your people are out there.
And while we’re talking about patience, let’s have a quick note on tempering expectations. Popularity often seems like the holy grail in high school. It will sometimes feel that way after high school too. But here’s the truth: having a few good friends is really as good as it gets. You don’t need everyone to love you; all you need is to love a few people yourself.
6. Think about others
When we spend all of our mental capacity worrying about ourselves (Am I fitting in? Are people judging me? Am I being weird?) we can get ourselves stuck in a mental loop. So try to give yourself a break from these anxieties by thinking about other people and how they’re doing. If you see someone who looks lonely, if you see someone sitting alone, if you see someone who’s missed class and may need some notes, this is your chance to be someone else’s silver lining. Say, Hi. Pay a compliment. Ask if you can take a seat. Offer to help.
Everyone worries about how they’re fitting in. Sometimes, when we help someone feel like they belong, we get to find our own belonging in the process.
We want to know how you’re doing as we enter the school year. Join the conversation online using the hashtags #BeWell, #BeHeard, and #BeThere. Or share your story at WellBeingTrust.org.
If you or someone you know is having a hard time and would like to talk to someone, there are teens who want to listen at Teen Line. Call 310-855-4673, or text TEEN to 839863. Teen Line is open for calls from 6-10 PM California time. Another contact is Oregon Youth Line – Call 877-968-8491 or text TEEN2TEEN to 839863.