• Making Friends

Guest post: Moving from small talk to friendship

Published: December 8, 2013 | Last Updated: June 15, 2015 By | 28 Replies Continue Reading
BYOL Lunch Bag (Photo Credit: Alexandra Wenzke)

BYOL Lunch Bag (Photo Credit: Alexandra Wenzke)

In this guest post, Alexandra Wenzke, talks about two strategies she’s personally used to move from small talk to friendship.

After ten moves in eleven years, I became an expert in starting over. I needed to make friends in each new city. I went out of my comfort zone and made small talk with everyone I encountered. The tricky part came next. How could I go from small talk to starting a real friendship?

Let me start by saying that I’m not as patient as I should be. Friendships take time, but sometimes I like to accelerate things. I don’t rush through building a friendship with one particular person. Instead, I try to start friendships with many people at the same time. It’s less intimidating than it sounds.

To make friends in a new city, I start with small talk and then I ask to meet again. I met one of my closest friends, Sarah, in an office lobby. She stood there smiling, but she looked lost. “Hi! My name is Alexandra. Are you looking for somebody? Maybe I could help.” In fact, Sarah needed directions. I happily walked her to her destination while we chatted. I gave her my contact information and told her, “Send me an email if you need any other help or if you want to meet for coffee.” We’ve been friends ever since and even became roommates for several years. Small talk can be very effective.

My mass email strategy

My goal from small talk is to collect contact information. Once I receive contact information from several people, I am ready to put friendships on the fast track. I keep up to date on events going on around town, whether it’s a book reading, a lecture, a new movie, or a restaurant opening. I then send out a mass email to all of my acquaintances inviting them to the event. Lectures, movies and concerts make good starting points for friendships. You can enjoy each other’s company without worrying about prolonged conversations. Your shared experience will provide conversational material for future discussions.

Mass email invitations provide many benefits. They allow you to make new friends without feeling exposed. It also makes it easier for the other person to turn down your offer. Why is that a good thing? Many people find it difficult to say “no” to others in person. If someone says “yes” begrudgingly, it could make for an awkward evening. Alternately, the person might not tactfully say “no” on the spot. A nicely worded “no” in an email is much easier to accept.

Two main downsides for mass email invitations: low response rates for large groups (10+ people) and feeling like a solicitor. Since mass emails allow people to say “no” easily, they often do. I would say my typical response rate is about 10-25%. However, the people who say “yes” vary, depending on their other commitments and level of interest in the activity. I am able to get to know many different people through these outings. As for feeling like a solicitor, it feels awkward at first. The overwhelming response, though, is that people like to be included. People will tell me, “I know I haven’t been able to join you yet, but please keep including me on the list.” Making new friends requires repeated interactions and shared experiences.

My BYOL lunch strategy

Once I feel comfortable enough with a group of people, I invite them into my home. There’s no place more personal. If you make it spur of the moment, people don’t expect much in terms of cleanliness or food. One day I spontaneously invited a group of friends and some of their kids for a BYOL lunch. I didn’t have enough food at home to feed fifteen people. I asked everyone to pack a lunch for their family and we would eat together at my house. I joked about my lack of hospitality, but nobody minded at all. We laughed, told stories, and shared a perfect afternoon together. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Martha Stewart.

In the end

Starting over so many times gave me a greater appreciation for friendship. I work to maintain current friendships and to create new ones. It seems obvious now, but I finally realized that everyone wants to feel liked and be included. This helps make small talk less scary for me. When I get nervous about talking to new people, I remember it’s my way of telling people I like them. If the small talk does not lead to friendship, that’s okay. There are many other people out there who might be a better match for me. I simply keep trying.

*Alexandra Wenzke is the president and founder of a company she started to help people connect when they move to a new city. You fill out an online form that asks about your hobbies and interests. Then, they’ll connect you with people in the area who would make a good friend match for you.

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Category: How to make friends, MAKING FRIENDS

Comments (28)

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  1. I have moved 5 times in 5 years and the most recent was a cross-country move (East Coast – West). Meetup groups and real estate agents have been my means of local access both while I was searching for a place in the US to live/buy a house and for the beginning of social contacts once I arrive. As well noted, it is a CONTINUUM.
    I had printed a very attractive “calling card” and hand it out to a few people at each event I attend. We none of us are going to connect with everyone. My most recent stepping-stones beyond acquaintance and toward friendship: other pet owners (I have dogs), other women at my age/stage of life, requests for the person’s “best” or “favorite” _________ (restaurant/bakery, masseuse, yoga class, preschool, veterinarian, etc). I found someone who offered to assist me with all the “contractors” I would need to find including doctor, dentist, locksmith, seamstress, dog walker, handy man. People are flattered to be asked for their recommendations. And making an effort to connect specifically: I need a walking buddy and when one woman and I began to connect at a meeting and we discovered we live close to each other, I asked, “are you a walker”? She said, “no, but I should be”.
    I suppose it depends in large part upon what *you* are looking for in friendships. These are all just starting point based upon something personal in common. Becoming friends with any of these individuals will develop over the coming months, but in the meantime I at least feel I have someone to call either to get together or to be responsive when I might need her.
    Best wishes to all as you build your strong friendships,
    Jane Dickinson, CZT (Certified Zentangle Teacher)

  2. Metamorphosis says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article and think I will muster up the effort and give it a try. Especially now that I realize that some of my flaws in my previous “limp” friendships was lack of reciprocity. Meaning, because I was new to an area I did not invite my new friends anywhere but would go where they suggested since they were showing me around. The hard part I guess would be dealing with feeling rejected lol. I once ran a Meetup group and would feel awful when 10 people RSVP’d and only one person would show (awkward) lol. So hopefully, this will give me a chance to practice reaching out since it gets more difficult the older I get and the more time passes by and the more opportunities slip away.

  3. Dalia says:

    Hi Jarod,
    It seems to me that you are asking the same question over and over. The ladies did answer you in every possible way and did try to cheer you up, but unless you open your mind and really hear what other people say to you, I don’t see why are you shearing and asking for advise. To me it looks more like you are playing the “poor me” game. Sorry, just had to be honest.
    Good luck!

    • Jarod says:

      Sorry you feel that way, but I actually wrote that two months ago and have moved on. I’m not sure why you’re writing about it now. Also, we are all here to express feelings and thoughts that we often neglect or hide in person. No where did I say any of the advice was bad, I only shared some negative experiences and found that other posters here agreed with me. I’m not sure you read the whole conversation through because your words don’t make sense.

      • Dalia says:

        Hi Jarod,
        I appologies for my coment! You are right, I should have to read the entire conversation before I jump and right my mean comment, for which I appologies one more time.
        I am glad you moved on and no longer worry about why other people are not responsive to your invitation. I read the whole thing now and I see that you are just wandering why do people give their contact information and when you try to reach them, they aren’t as exited and interested anymore. First thing that came to my mind is:
        Have you been to websites that you find very interesting and you think you will learn a lot reading them more often and then you sign up for updates? Then when they start sending you the updates that you signed up for, you never read them, instead you delete them. It happened to me very often.
        I guess some people act the same way when they meet new people.
        Don’t take it personal. This happens to everybody.

        • Jarod says:

          Thank you for the apology. Actually coming here helped me realize how this same thing happens to so many people. I thought it was just me. I guess I’m more normal than I thought.

  4. LadyV_69 says:

    Interesting article, but the mass e-mail thing is a deal breaker for me, especially when I’m trying to turn acquaintances into friends. It comes across as desperate to me. I usually only email or text one or two people at a time in the situation described in the article. Also, as a couple of previous posters mentioned, it’s easy to become part of somebody’s “collection,” or someone more interested in quantity than quality. Extroverts in particular are prone to this. I have gone to group events with some “collectors” in the past and I often found them awkward and unsatisfying. I didn’t learn anything more about the collector “friend” than I had before going to the event and they were sometimes insincere. I’m more discerning about accepting invitations from people like this now.

  5. Janet says:

    Moving from small talk to friendship almost always stumps me. I had many nice conversations with other mothers when my son was young – at the beach, shopping mall etc. and even exchanged numbers with some of these women. When I followed up, I got no response. It was always confusing to me as it was always the other mother who seemed to show more interest and suggested that we exchange numbers. I always wondered if some of these women asked for my contact information as a way to end their interaction with me and that they had no intention of getting together with me. The idea of a mass e-mail to arrange a get-together does not appeal to me. It makes one appear desperate and furthermore, doesn’t make the recipients of the e-mail feel special. I did not appreciate a former friend telling me on a camping trip many years ago that the reason she invited me and my family on the trip was because another one of her friends wasn’t able to go. There seems to be no tried and true way to initiate friendships. Both my mother and sister do/did it so effortlessly. One of the reasons that I feel it was easier for them is that they have always held jobs in environments where they had things in common with the people with whom they worked. I don’t have a job, so I don’t have regular interaction with people outside of my husband. I also am not well-acquainted with my son’s friends parents and my husband is self-employed. A mass e-mail might work if you were inviting people to a part,but that would work only if you had more interactions with them then simply a pleasant conversation at Panera.

  6. Ken says:

    This was very interesting advice.

    I would assume that this takes quite some time to learn for it to work effectively but I can definitely see the rewards that you can reap if you can actually get things to start rolling.

    Not sure how I feel about the mass-email thing though but then again if I had handed out my information to someone I would like to be contacted by them again so I might not mind that much.

  7. jacqueline says:

    People mean stuff they say “at the time”. It is nothing personal.

    I would not like it if someone new gave me their phone number, emailed me and started inviting me out to all kinds of activities so fast. For me, it makes them seem desperate.

  8. GraceW says:

    Okay, I’m going to step up and be the forum Cranky Pants for a moment. I agree with being proactive in building friendships. But I ABHOR receiving bulk email invitations. Just hate’em. If I already have a solid relationship with the sender, I don’t mind once in a while getting a “hey, let’s do a group thing” kind of invitation. But if it is someone seeking to start a new friendship with me, nothing will turn me off faster than being put on a bulk invite list. Probably it is just a personal quirk of mine, probably because of bad experiences I’ve had in the past. But my first thought tends to be “Oh no, she’s a Collector.” You know, somebody more interested in quantity than quality. More interested in the numbers game than getting to know someone. Because I’ve met those people. Even when I think of the positive experiences I’ve had in attending events from a bulk invitation, I always leave the event not knowing the person who invited me any better than when the night started.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Grace,

      Yes, I agree. After a few times, I realized that I was being “group invited” as the person just wanted another “seat filler” at a concert where their special friend was performing or at a club where their uncle was performing/singing. Those times, after the event/outing, everyone just left, rushed out to go home and I was left with a cold feeling, as I had rarely heard from those people , except when they needed a group of people to be “seat fillers”, etc. Now I take a long cool look at those group invites just to make sure that I am not being used by the inviter. Then I take time to decide if I really want to go or not, before I reply to the seldom heard from friend.

    • Sanda says:

      I like what you said about people being friend “collectors” … that’s exactly what Facebook is, in many cases. Rarely runs deeper than that.

    • GraceW says:

      I’m relieved to see I’m not the only one who doesn’t like bulk invites. Unlike what others describe, though, I don’t view the bulk invites as desperate, but almost the opposite, as a sign that the sender doesn’t give a !@#$ who attends. I attended a potluck last weekend where the person invited 100+ people on Facebook. She’s the friend of a friend of a friend, but because I learned recently that she lives very nearby, I decided to go. Six of us (out of 100), not including her boyfriend, actually showed up. Half were 2+ hours late. I stayed about 3-4 hours and thanked her for inviting me, but meh, I don’t feel any closer to her than when I first met her. I did learn that she cooks a tasty turkey.

      Want to move from small talk to friendship with me? Invite me to do stuff with you. Just you. Not you and your entourage. Otherwise, I am happy to go to your house and eat your awesomely cooked turkey and still not consider you a friend. Not sure what that says about me, lol.

  9. Lauren says:

    Hi Jarod,

    Sorry to hear about your disappointing experiences. Sometimes, life is just like that.

    Regarding those people who gave you their contact info, and then declined your invitations, I have come to realize that many people like the IDEA of friendship much better than the actual experience of friendship.

    When they say, let’s get together sometime, perhaps they actually mean it, but when it comes right down to getting together with a new friend, they freeze up, and decline.

    Once when I took it upon myself to arrange a dinner after work one Friday evening,with about 14 or so others, who all agreed enthusiastically to the evening out. Well, after I had made reservations at a restaurant , which incidentally everyone said was a good location, good restaurant etc, the e-mails and texts to me started literally pouring in!!! Can’t make it , too tired, busy that evening etc etc!!! Only ONE other person came out to dinner with me that evening. I was stuck apologizing to the restaurant staff and cancelling about 12 reservations, at the last minute. Luckily , the restaurant did not charge me a cancellation fee.

    Sometimes I think that people watch those old reruns on TV like Friends, SATC, and they think that they would like friendships just like that, (forgetting that those shows are pure fiction), but when it comes right down to it, they cannot make the effort to be a committed and dependable friend. In other words, they like the IDEA of friendship, but in reality, it is too much effort for them.

    I also believe that social media has changed the face of friendship. It makes it so easy for certain people to say “Yes” to an invitation , then flake out at the last minute by text. It is also so easy for them to have FaceBook friends, rather than real, in person, actual friends.

    Anyway, Jarod, I guess we have to just keep trying!
    Best, Lauren

    • Jarod says:

      Lauren, I thought those kind of experiences only happened to me. At the very least, I feel a little more…normal because of your post.

      When I am out at events by myself, I am sometimes envious of men who came as a group or couples who came together. Whatever magic it takes to make friends has eluded me most of my life.

      I agree that the idea of friendship is sometimes more appealing than the actual friendship itself.

      Also, if you give someone your number and tell them it’s ok to call anytime, how would you feel if they don’t reciprocate by giving you their number as well? I took it as a sign that they aren’t interested.

      I have tried to make about a dozen or more friendships this year, and so far, I’ve batted zero.

      • Lauren says:

        Hello Jarod,

        Yes,I also have given out my email address etc and phone number like you did, only to feel mortified when they don’t give me their number!! Yes, it is a sign that they are….. not interested,can’t be bothered , too lazy…take your pick. Those people, I just give them a wide berth if I bump into them again. Stay positive, and who knows what good things are around the next corner! Lauren

        • Jarod says:

          Thanks very much, Lauren. I always thought that these things only happened to me. I sometimes wonder if I’m just not very likeable, fun or socially inept.

        • Jarod says:


          While I have your ear, let me pass this one by you. I have recently tried to invite a couple guys places. One of them always e-mails me back and–to my surprise–signs the e-mails: “Your friend, Eric.” He expressed some dismay about not being able to meet up at certain days/times, but insists that he wants to do other things soon.

          However, on other occassions he also doesn’t respond to my invitations AT ALL. I feel like I’m dealing with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Apathy.

          Despite his e-mails stating “It’s always great to see you,” it’s always by happenstance. All my attempts to make any actual planned fun have evaporated despite some very cordial rejections.

          I could understand if he either 1) Never responded or 2) Just said he was busy, but this mix of not responding and responding very politely leaves me cold and unsure of how to proceed.

          • Carol says:

            Jarrod, You will find out in time that guessing what someone means can drive you crazy. An old friend once helped me with this issue by sharing his wisdom; You can ask anyone anything as long as you are willing to hear yes or no. What you feel inside is what’s important. Being ready for either answer is means you can handle the reply.

          • Lauren says:

            Hi Jarod,

            That is really miserable when someone does not want to accept your invitations. It is also a mixed message when they do not try to reschedule, yet sign the email “your friend”.

            I think that people like this seems to like the thought of being friends, yet they cannot actually be friends in practical terms.

            They say things that they do not mean, as they think it is “polite” to do so. I actually have zero respect for that. When people mean “no”, they should find a polite way of actually saying it.

            The only thing that I can say in those two guys’ favor, is that at least they don’t say “yes” to your invitation then bail out at the very last minute or not show up at all.

            For those two, I’d just think of them as casual acquaintances, and leave it at that.

            The ball is in their court now. It is now up to either one of them to invite you to socialize somewhere with them. If they do not initiate an invitation, then it looks like the message is very clear. They say a vague “maybe, some time, some other time”, but the unspoken, real answer is “no”.

            Anyway, Jarod, we must stay hopeful, realistic, but positive. Who knows what new friends await around the next corner.

            All the best to you, Lauren

  10. Sanda says:

    Alexandra, thank you for your fantastic suggestions. Every neighborhood/community could use a few more people like you. You seem to be a master of friendship, of knowing how to connect people. And you’re so right about the importance of reaching out in order to move from acquaintance to real friendship.

    In particular, I liked what you said here: “Making new friends requires repeated interactions and shared experiences.” This is so true, and it’s also the hardest part.

    There are times when I’ve found myself reaching out repeatedly to strike up (or deepen) friendships with neighbors and new people I meet — and they seem to appreciate the effort and enjoy the shared experiences. However, when they don’t reciprocate the effort in some way, or try to initiate a get-together or plan, I tend to give up and assume they aren’t interested in keeping the relationship going. Again, that’s the hardest part — finding people who respond back when the ball is in their court, so to speak. Thanks for a great post and many terrific ideas!

  11. Carol says:

    Hi Jarod, I have learned in experiencing the same from people in my life that just maybe others struggle with making friends too. It isn’t always an indication that somethings wrong with you or the fact that you are reaching out, quite possibly the other person has there own fears about meeting and experiencing a new friendship. I once would challenge people on not responding because I felt rebuffed. In time I have learned I must give others the choice to respond or not when I put myself out and ask for contact. I once was a pretty good baseball player as being raised with 6 brothers who were my first friends, I had little choice in the matter. I think the biggest lesson in playing was when I went up to bat, even when I used all my skills to hit the ball, I would sometimes strike out. When interacting with other human beings, we can use all of our social skills and still we may strike out. Hang in there because next attempt may just be your next best friend. I found mine and it took a lifetime to do. The other day she wrote me a email and said, “I’ll be your rock!” as she helps me through some health issues. Don’t give up Jarod.

    • Jarod says:

      Thanks, Carol. I appreciate your thoughts and support. It gets very frustrating to have so many invitations get rejected.

  12. Amy says:

    Thanks for the great article. I love your proactive ideas. As you say, even if they don’t ultimately lead to friendships, you’ve experienced some fun activities (book readings, lectures) and been out and about rather than sitting home feeling helpless and lonely. BYOL is particularly appealing as my cooking ability is more a dis-ability.

  13. carol says:

    Moving on….great share. I too have been a “mover…and a shaker” as well. Being raised in a working class family when landlords could tell you to move because they had found someone who would pay more, (no protective laws)our family moved often. It is where I learned the skills of moving to new places often. In my many years on the planet I have moved 48 times. I most likely have “friends” in many places, but don’t always keep contact with them. In moving away, I didn’t feel I lost a friend, but took with me the memories and the love they gave to me when we lived near each other. As the silence replaces the motion of a friendship left behind, I am learning it doesn’t mean those people don’t still love and care for me. Usually it’s the kids who had to move with their families often, who seem to gain the most life skills in my view. Believing you are a loved and cared about person when you are alone or without known friends near you, is a challenge for sure. I very much embrace the idea of learning to love and accept your Self, guarantees you will never be without love. It’s very challenging to start over in a new school, a new city or community, but it is not impossible. There comes a day as we grow up wherein we may long for the safe and familiar friends and family, and feel the pull away from such safety. If we know in our hearts that we are a “good and loyal friend,” then that is the person we take with us on a new adventure. As a hiker, I like to find new places where I can see the path ahead and wonder what’s around the next bend.

  14. Jarod says:

    Wow, interesting advice. I find moving people from acquaintanceship to friendship very difficult.

    The worst part is finding people who actually accept invitations. I agree that it’s easier to invite people over e-mail (or text) but 99.999% of the time, I don’t even get a response. The other percent is a “No thank you, but maybe other time.” And guess what? The other time never comes.

    Recently, I’ve had two guys I know give me their number as contact info, but when I called, they seemed surprised and put-off, both declined my invitations. I don’t understand why someone would give me their number if they didn’t want me to use it.

    • Kimberly says:

      This was quite an interesting conversation and I could relate quite well to many here. We have moved over 18 times and it was helpful in many ways, others it wasn’t. However sometimes you must do what you gotta do to grow a career in this world. Our next move in a few years will be our last as my husband will be retiring in 7 years from now. I have made friends with many people who I had regretted to know and it wasn’t easy to pull away as some of these people had some serious issues. I have learned to go very slow with people and after my late stage cancer, sometimes I just don’t bother. I have to watch my stress level;) I have a good husband and our daughter, and I enjoy my time with them. It would be nice to meet people who are safe, who go slow and who I have things in common with but I don’t seem to have much in common with anyone these days. Having been a survivor of late stage cancer, Makes you very selective. My husband is going through a change in his identity and that is very hard. My daughter has her issues and I have mine. Together we have a lot of issues. I don’t need to initiate friendships only for people to learn about my life and my problems and reject me, I need to protect myself. Past experience has proven that most aren’t worth it.

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