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This is probably the most embarrassing and stupid sounding question I’ve ever asked in my life; but it’s unfortunately one without whose answer I’m stuck. Before I start with my story, I’d just like to say that this is going to sound really weird and on some level, pathetic sounding, but I’d appreciate it if you stuck with me till the end of the story. I’m 20 years old and live in the UK. I’m currently attending university for my first year and am struggling to create friendships (I’m half way through the year). This isn’t something new; I’ve had the same problem for as long as I can remember. The only friendships I’ve ever had with people have always been initiated by the other party and have mostly been maintained by them. I’m quite shy, but have no difficulty going up to a fellow student I meet for the first time and introduce myself (I mostly struggle to talk in large group conversations and inviting someone to something would be the most socially taxing thing I may be able to do). Now, this is the pattern of my interactions with somebody I meet for the first time:

Say I meet someone in my dorm for the first time; we exchange names and talk for a few minutes. We then take off, going on about our day. We’ll almost certainly see each other once a day for the rest of the term. Every time we see each other we’ll say “Hi” and that’ll be it. We may sometimes say “Hey, how are you?” which leads to the same exchange every time; “I’m good, how about yourself?”, “I’m doing fine, thank you”, “well, I’ll see you later” , “see you”. My interactions with a person the second and the later times I see them will almost never deviate from what I depicted. This keeps going for a couple of weeks and then things start getting awkward. We both usually stop acknowledging each other’s existence and will start to ignore each other (it usually starts with the other person). Things have unfortunately reached a stage where my relationship with almost everyone at my dorm has reached this stage of awkwardness.

I don’t know what to do anymore; I spoke with a few people about this and they gave me a few suggestions as to what I could do to fix this broken dynamic in my relationship with people and pointed out some of the “mistakes” I keep making. However, I don’t know if it’s due to my lack of social experience or what, but I feel like most of the suggestions I received were things I find to be socially awkward or even inappropriate given my current situation. Some of them were:

  1. Go knock on one of your closer dormmates’ doors and give them something you made for them (like some home-made cookies); tell them you think that you guys don’t talk much and that you would like to know them better over some coffee or tea for example (I found this particularly useful but thought that inviting just 1 person to go get coffee with, or to my room to have some tea with sounded a bit awkward. To me, it sounds kind of like a date or something)

  2. When you see a group of people having a conversation and you only know one of them, (let’s call him Alex; keep in mind that things between you and him have already turned awkward as mentioned above) just join their conversation. (this, I thought, would be REALLY awkward. Alex and I have literally stopped acknowledging each other. Everybody in this group know each other and I’m like a stranger; I can’t just use Alex to make my way into the conversation. I could only do that if we were friends, I don’t think our relationship even counts as an acquaintanceship anymore)

  3. This is one of my own ideas which I wasn’t too sure about. This is in reference to point 1. I thought I could invite 2 people to my room for a tea break. I had 2 worries about this though. First, I wasn’t sure how to go about it as I’ve never really invited anyone to anything (I’m also worried that the 2 people I invite to my room may dislike each other or something). Also, this, to me, sounds like something you can only do if you’re on a reliable basis with the person you invite (I’m not sure if inviting someone you’ve been ignoring for weeks is a good idea)

Now, if you’ve read this far, I’d like to say Thank You; it means a lot! I’d appreciate it if you would let me know which of these ideas are reasonable (based on my current situation); and if you have any suggestions of your own, please share them!!

  • Welcome to Interpersonal Skills! Your question is almost a good fit for this site, but we do require questions to ask about achieving a specific goal, rather than simply asking what to do. I'd highly recommend that you edit the bottom paragraph to simply ask "how can I do [x]" rather than asking for which solution to execute, to make it more clear to others that your question is within the site's scope. See this model question that has a similar format as yours. – gparyani Jan 31 at 5:21
  • It would be good to explain what you're looking for in a friendship. A friendship is built on mutual trust and bonding over things, and this depends entirely on your interests and willingness to be mutually vulnerable. You also seem to not show curiosity about who exactly are you trying to be friends with, which may pose a problem. – lucasgcb Feb 26 at 22:51
  • Have you considered joining a society or club? This is a really good way (from my experience) of meeting new people and future friends (and potentially more than that) – Boolean Feb 28 at 18:33
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It feels to me like you're really good at greeting people, but you're not getting more involved than that. Sometimes people are lucky, and they're able to just greet people until someone asks them to get more involved with their life. But you apparently aren't that lucky - or haven't been, yet. Or maybe you were that lucky, but dismissed the invitation as something that you didn't think was interesting.

Friends are people that you spend time with and like, and who like you. You don't get that unless you actually spend time with them. Wanting to spend time with them isn't enough.

In my college dorm experience, there were quite a few opportunities to get involved with other students' activities. They would make open statements about going to the gym or going to eat, or various other things. These were generally implicit invitations, rather than just statements to announce that they were being active. Generally, people responded favorably to me if I asked if it was OK for me to accompany them, and the same for others who asked while I was around. They tended to respond less favorably to other dormmates who just accompanied them without asking.

Some of those opportunities were study sessions. While there are some people who use "studying" together as a romantic activity, it doesn't have to be, and in my limited experience, seemed to be relatively rare. Studying together, especially if it's in one of the public study rooms, can be quite a casual experience, but can lead to greater familiarity heading one towards friendship.

My school had a bunch of shared spaces where students could study various subjects together. We weren't required to use them, but if you went to one of the computer labs to study, and you were having trouble, you could ask for assistance and sometimes get some. Alternatively, you could go and listen for people needing assistance, and attempt to help them. Either of these methods would give you interaction time with another person, beyond just greeting them. Sometimes that results in annoyance and frustration, but other times it can result in friendship.

There were a lot more such facilities than just computer labs, I just mentioned what I knew because we're required to include personal background about how we know our answers are useful. I'm aware my school had other facilities for other subjects, in which the same sorts of interactions could take place. Some of my college friends befriended others through that same type of bonding, but in the student theater, or in the digital logic lab, or one of the many major specific libraries. Undoubtedly, there were other such possibilities that I'm not aware of.

Every school has many student organizations. The different organizations may seem silly to you, but if any of them are vaguely interesting, you can go and talk with people about what it is they're interested in doing, and if you find you are actually interested, you could have something in common that would eventually result in friends. For example, we had a medieval society group, which I thought sounded quite odd, but I was curious enough to investigate it, and found that it was a medieval-focused chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, which is much sillier than I had anticipated, but is also potentially fun.

The overall feeling I got from your question is that you're not going out and doing these extra things. You're not really spending time with people and getting involved. Friendship is, in large part, about spending time with people. Most of the time when I was in college, my inclination was to stay in my room and do my own thing. But instead I got out, I did things with people, and some friendships happened.

It's probably worth noting that it's important to set ones expectations appropriately. For any given encounter, a friendship is unlikely to result. However, there's usually at least a chance that it will. It's also a cumulative thing - spending more time with someone who isn't clearly annoyed with you will probably cause them to be a bit more disposed towards being your friend. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that not everyone would make a good friend. You do need to evaluate if the people you're spending time with are the sort of people you want to be friends with, and adjust how much time you spend with them accordingly.

You do need to get time to do your studies, but that doesn't mean you don't have time to do things with people. And, as mentioned above, studying doesn't have to be mutually exclusive with spending time with people.

If I'm only really allowed to weigh in on the three possibilities you suggested, I'll have to go with the third one, because it's yours. If you want to invite Alex and some other person, but minimize how awkward it is, I'd suggest adding a discussion topic to the event, rather than it just be tea. My recommended topic: how does one make friends?

I didn't discuss your three options more because, quite frankly, in over 40 years of interacting with people, I don't think I ever made a friend because I gave them something I made, nor did I become friends with someone because they gave me something they made. This could be because I'm just not that crafty, and I haven't met many crafty people. I also know stuff works differently in different places. I'm in the US. I've lived in the midwest and on the east coast.

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Ed Grimm's answer is really great, i would just like to add that at university there are a lot of casual opportunities to socialize.The easiest way to brake the ice with your fellow students is to make use of these opportunities, like:

  • Go for coffee together between classes
  • Go for beer, a concert, in the evening
  • Eat prepared sandwiches together at lunchtime

These activities are low-threshold, people can decline or leave early if not interested. At the same time these are opportunities to spend time together, get to know each other better and find people you connect with. Universities are populated by young people who need to make new friends in a new place, so people are mostly open to new acquaintances.

Once you get to know people better, and you find people who share your interests, you can invite them to do stuff together. Like you have discussed as a group how you liked the last Marvel movie, now you can say: "Hey, why don't we all go watch the next movie in the cinema this Friday?"

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There are a variety of ways to make friends at a university and while the other answers address quite a few of those scenarios, I'll give you a few that happened to occur for me in my experience at a US college that is most likely applicable to any school in the world.

At my school, we had 2 to 3 dorm buildings and they all had common areas. A lot of the people in my building were also quite (literally) open to people as they would leave their door open all the time. In passing you may see people doing something that is interesting to you. This could be anything from playing a video game you play, reading a book/genre that is interesting to you, playing a sport you play, etc. Having something in common with a person you are trying to befriend is not only a perfect icebreaker, but also a great way to justify meeting up and hanging out more often. I met quite a few people who had common interests to me just by talking to people in the common area/from outside their room about the things we had in common. I did not remain in close contact with them, but that's more about my personality than theirs.

Another great way to make friends is to talk with your classmates. You may have nothing else in common besides the fact that you are miserable together in some class with a horrible professor but the class is required for your major. These kinds of friends are great, especially if you are taking a similar curriculum, as you can spend a lot of time together without committing your free time to it (if that is an issue for you), choose classes together if you have the choice to, and have a known quantity for group projects if you are allowed the choice of who is in your group. The people you meet in your classes should at least be acquaintance level since you may have to work with them in the future, but could become friends if your interests align or you just get along with them. I met quite a few people in my classes and in some cases, we remained friends after the classes ended. It isn't the best way to make friends but is the easiest way to meet people with something in common with you.

Sometimes you will just get lucky and meet somebody through a misunderstanding. Most people who go to university do not have friends before going there. At my school, there were quite a few people who ate alone at the cafeteria and only so many small tables for them to eat at. There were large communal tables where large groups/spaced out individuals could eat. One day, a few weeks into my first semester, all the small tables were full and I had to sit at a communal table a few seats across from a guy I did not know. He happened to misunderstand my intentions, we started talking, and to make a long story short, he is probably my best friend that I made at school and we still playfully argue to this day about whether I sat 2 seats away or 1.

Another time, I saw a girl struggling with her train pass (which I did as well when I first got it) and knew that I was not going to be using the train any time soon so I swiped my pass to let her in. It was not a charitable action since our school provided us with an unlimited ride pass, but was just a kind gesture since she seemed to be in a hurry. A few days later, she saw me in the cafeteria and thanked me. Eventually, we exchanged numbers and would talk, hang out, and eat together. I know money is tight while in school, but if you see a way to help somebody out who is having a bad day without too much cost to yourself, it is a good way to break the ice and talk to somebody you may have never talked to.

The long and short of things is you are not going to make friends overnight and you cannot just pick a head out of the crowd and say you are going to be friends with them. Having something in common makes breaking the ice much easier but if you do not want to go out of your way to join a club, you do not have to. The thing you have in common with another person can be as trivial as living on the same floor, attending the same class, eating from the same place, etc. Anything that sparks a conversation can be used to become friends but more substantial commonalities help get you through the acquaintance stage to friends faster.

To address your points, I did have one of my neighbors that I did not know at all give me a "Sorry we are so noisy at 3 AM gift" which did spark conversation between us. I am still friends with them and still talk to them occasionally, but do not necessarily think it is a good way to make friends. You can think of this gesture as a forced icebreaker which does not guarantee you will become friends and can come off as strange (the only reason I did not find it strange was because they actually were quite noisy). In other words, the main reason we stayed friends was because we could talk to each other about things, not because they gave me a gift.

I, like you, am a little shy, clam up in group settings where I do not know many of the people, and do not like committing a lot of time to meeting people. I still happened to make a lot of friends at school and only lived on campus for 2 years. You do not have to commit a lot to trying to make friends and to some degree, people will probably approach you if you are doing something they are interested in. My one suggestion would be to be more open with your hobbies or join a club for a hobby of yours if you have the time for it. If you like playing video games, keep your door open (if you and your roommate are OK with it). If you like reading, read in the common area. If you're into a sport, hang out around there and practice on your own if possible. If you advertise yourself well, you do not need to be the initiator.

As you can see from my stories above, there are a plethora of ways to meet people at school and I can guarantee there are even more. If you are OK as you are right now, you do not need to go out of your way to make friends as you will eventually make some naturally. If you really hate having no friends, you are ultimately the one who will have to put yourself out there and talk to people, express your hobbies, or join a club. There is no surefire way to make a friend and no one person's experiences will be the same in that regard, but I hope my answer provides some sense of things you can do to help you out in your situation.

Good luck!

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First and foremost, it doesn't sound pathetic. Don't beat yourself up about it. Initiating a conversation can be very difficult. (I can totally relate!) But here's some tips I've picked up since beginning college that don't repeat what other users have said.

  1. Don't worry about feeling awkward. The way I see it, if you walk out of a conversation feeling awkward, the other person is also probably at least partially "responsible" for it, at least 99% of the time. It happens; some people don't vibe with each other, and it seems hard to brush off, but even social butterflies have "awkward" conversations. The difference is that they don't show that they feel bothered by it; they just move on. As you get to know someone better, a lot of that initial awkwardness (are we friends? are we pals? are we cordial?) will fade away.

  2. State why you'd like to get to know them. I made a new friend this year quite by accident; we'd chatted online for months, and I thought I knew her in real life. Turns out, we just had a lot of mutual friends but never met. We share a lot of hobbies, though. So, I messaged her saying more or less that I think we have a lot of interests in common (music, shows), and we should chat sometime. And now we're friends! This may or may not feel natural for you (it was out of character for me, honestly), but I think it works if you have a concrete reason for wanting to get to know someone better. Maybe stating where you know them from (e.g. "I see you on my floor a lot") or asking for a confirmation (e.g. "Hey, were you the one who made that cool poster for the acapella club?") would be similar.

Best of luck to you! You can do this!

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One "trick" I know is to find "common enemies" with someone. If a person starts talking with you, for example, about how annoying was the librarian because it took him half an hour to give people their library cards, agree with him it's annoying when it happens. Add a story of yours with a long queue, find some jokes about it. The purpose is to make that person think about you next time he enters a long queue, making him prepare some new jokes for when he'll meet you again.

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