If Only There Were Magic Words…

Yesterday I got this email from a reader:

“I’ve spied (stalked?) a few potential friends and I don’t know how to get past the smile and small-talk stage. Take the cool chick who works at the fish counter at my local grocery store. There is frequency and regularity—I buy fish at least once a week and ask her questions and engage in small talk (‘Wow, that heat wave, huh?’) but how do you get from that to, ‘We should grab coffee some time?’ without coming off as, um, weird? Any tips for even getting to the first girl-date?”

This is, without question, the hardest part of making new friends. I’ve struggled plenty with what to say to potential BFFs (remember my curly hair comrade?) in order to get from “how’s the weather?” to an actual friend-date. I’m still feeling it out. Still working up the nerve to ask out the salesgirl at my favorite boutique.

When I started here, I asked readers for advice. Four months later I have tips of my own. Progress!

The hardest people to befriend are often those who exist in a specific context—the girl at the gym, the coworker, the woman at the fish counter. Here’s my fabulous script for wooing the boutique owner: “I know this is super random, but would you maybe want to grab lunch sometime? I’m working from home today, so would love to get out of the house for a bit.”

Or maybe, “Do you want to grab a drink sometime? Even though I’ve lived here for three years I still feel sort of newish in town, and I basically feel like I know you, so…thought it might be fun?”

Eloquent, I know.

The key is acknowledging that “this may sound weird but…” It recognizes that you’re uncomfortable, but trying anyway. If she thinks it’s totally odd, so do you.

There are definitely people out there—better, braver people than I—who’d just say to the fish-counter girl, “You’re great! We should totally be friends.” She’d probably find that flattering. But it takes a specific kind of person (the not-at-all shy or self-conscious kind) to just come out with it so boldly. For me, being honest about ‘Okay, I know this may seem bizarre, but I don’t know that many people and you seem cool,’ eases the tension.

The other thing I’ve been known to do is give someone my card or ask for hers. I can write a better email than I can drop a pick up line.

Sometimes we just need to accept we might sound weird and go for it anyway. (If it goes horribly awry, you can always find another fish counter.) This is so cliché, but afterwards you’ll be glad you did it. We always feel stranger than we sound in these instances, anyway. So when all else fails, try “want to grab a coffee?” and hope she’s flattered.

What do you think of these ideas? Got any of your own? Sound off below!


Filed under The Search

18 responses to “If Only There Were Magic Words…

  1. I also think extending the context by which you know a person can help. For example, if you meet someone in a running group that only gets together on Mondays, why not suggest a run together on Wednesday. Or if you keep talking to that girl at the fish counter, why not have some sort of cookout involving fish … ask her for suggestions … and then extend an invite. Or, if you really like that book seller, why not ask him/her to your next book club as a special guest. For me, it seems to tone down the randomness of the invite and then gives you a social setting outside of the initial meeting by which to get to know the person better.

  2. Great advice from both you, Rachel, and Nilsa! The thing about “propositioning” someone is that the f/u will inevitably occur over e-mail or phone…if the “target” feels weird, she can always worm out of it later…and you can to if things take a weird turn. Maybe knowing that will help make the initial ask a littler easier? (and now we know why I don’t have a ton of friends in NYC).

  3. Dottie

    If you sign up for movie/tv extra work, you will go to a set and “work” for an hour and “do nothing” for 10 hours. In most big cities there are movie background/extra casting agencies. There are usually a lot of people there. Eventually everyone there gets tired of reading a book, texting on their phone or playing games on their laptop. Groups of people start talking, trading business cards and sharing comments about life. I love “working” when I can, because I always meet new people with really interesting lives. It is like a real life blog.

  4. san

    I believe being honest and saying something like “I am enjoying getting to know new people and I like you, let’s grab coffee” is always a good, straight-forward way to break the ice.

    But what do you do, if you feel someone is blowing you off – but without being straight with you?

  5. I am a life/goal setting coach and have been somewhat removed from social settings while I finish my book. What has worked for me in manifesting some amazing new friends is to look for ‘Goalmates’ aka people with goals similar to mine. I find I do meet plenty of people in the course of life but the keepers are the ones who have goals I can relate to. They don’t have to be identical to mine, just aligned (animal lovers, health minded, into personal growth, positive, ambitious, goal oriented). I typically meet these people at seminars or book stores and sometimes online through Facebook, Twitter and my blog.

    When I was 25 I made a concerted effort to create an entirely new peer group who met the above criteria. I went to seminars, workshops and book readings at least once a month and led me to some amazing people. My approach was focused more on quality over quantity.

    Give me a shout over at my blog and say hello!

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig
    Author and Goals Coach

  6. Ugh, this is definitely the hardest part about making new friends. It’s one thing if you work together or have a class together, it’s pretty easy to invite someone to lunch or to get a drink afterward (says I who have yet to actually do that with my potential work friend…. sigh) but I can’t imagine trying to friend someone at my favorite boutique, market, coffee shop, etc.

    I think what’s scary about it for me is the possibility of it being awkward. Like, if I wanted to friend someone at my neighborhood meat market, what if they were just totally weirded out by me? Then I’d have to find a new place to do my shopping. And, since it’s a small neighborhood, I could probably still bump into the potential friend.

    I do love Nilsa’s advice though…. in theory at least 🙂

    • I totally understand where you’re coming from, I had that same fear. And it does feel awkward, and it might BE awkward. But I truly believe–and have learned this from experience–that people are usually not weirded out. They’re flattered. Sure, sometimes they are taken aback, but not usually totally turned off. And if they do think you’re weird? Well, ok. I think it’s about building up the realization of “what’s the worst that can happen?” “They think I’m weird.” And when you think about it, that’s not the worst thing in the world. But really, more often than not WE think it’s super weird when we’re doing it, but the girl you’ve been talking to really isn’t freaked out.

  7. Rachael… Just discovered your site and LOVE it. As a broadcaster whose career has dragged me around the country, I can definitely relate! My super BFF & I met nearly 25 years ago when I moved from Chicago to the NYC area. I had just used Diane as a travel agent for the first time. When she found out I was on the radio, she listened …and a few weeks later when she heard me mention it was my birthday, I came home from work to find she’d sent flowers with a lovely note. You know anyone THAT nice is serious BFF material. She was and is still one of the very best people I’ve ever met….and even though I now live in SF and she’s in NYC, we talk several times a week and visit every year. Susan

  8. Joy

    I just found your site. I didn’t know so many people were in the same boat as me. I just got married, left my job, and moved to a place I don’t know anyone. The trouble I am finding is this- I don’t live in a big city so I don’t have a lot of the social outlets that I am used to, and allow you to meet others. Add that to the fact that I am kinda shy and quite frankly the thought of a girl date is scary. I need some help to start a newer fuller life with friends. I just gota find them! Maybe you can help?

  9. I want to know what the gals said when you asked them out. Did it work?

    • Almost always! More often than not, I go the email/Facebook message route. I recently sent a Facebook message that still hasn’t been returned. I’ll probably follow up once (I’ve thrown pride out the window, clearly) and then give up. But almost always people say — I’m so glad you wrote me!

      I wrote a note to a waitress on a receipt recently and she wrote me an email and we went to lunch! Speaking of feeling weird, that was totally embarrassing but worked out great.

    • Yes! The friends I’ve “asked out” have almost always been flattered and excited. Who doesn’t want to be told they’re cool and seem like a good friend? It’s scary, but worthwhile…

  10. I definitely don’t consider myself super outgoing or anything, but for some reason the ‘we should be best friends’ thing works better for me than the ‘this is weird but…’ thing. I think it is because I can play it off like a joke, sort of make it ironically high school and they can either laughingly dismiss it and I can pretend it wasn’t real, or they can play along and say “we totally should!” and I know I’ve found someone I can hang out with.

  11. Anonymous

    haha, I do the facebook route and then follow up with a message.

  12. I can totally relate to this!

    Long story short, my husband and I live in South Africa and while it did seem temporary, since we got married we’ve been feeling like we need to have roots here. And that means making real friends.

    I went to the physical therapist a few weeks ago, and totally hit it off with her. I tried everyday for a week to figure out how to ask her to hang out…I feel so bad for guys asking girls out–that’s what I felt like! I kept telling my husband I was friend-dating. So awkward. I never did end up saying anything.

    I was going to a store I knew she liked shortly after this, so I texted her to see if she wanted be to get her anything. And she did, so I dropped it off at her office, and was hoping that would be our “tipping point”. So far nothing…so I’m just waiting for her to reciprocate.

    It’s so weird. And I feel like guys have it easier, my husband had coffee with an acquaintance yesterday and he already asked my husband to be in his band. Really?!

    Sorry for the novel! 🙂

  13. Pingback: Making Friends at the Gym | MWF Seeking BFF

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