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How to: meet new people

July 29, 2010

There is a woman who works in my office who asked, when I told her that I pretty much never have a problem meeting men when I’m about town, whether I have some kind of man magic.

Of course I told her I do. She didn’t look as surprised as I thought she might have.

But really, there’s no magic to it. In fact, it’s really, really, ridiculously easy to turn people you don’t know into acquaintances and from there, well, the possibilities are open. Here’s how:

1. Forget what your momma told you. Not all of it, but that part about not talking to strangers has got to go. If you can’t talk to strangers, you’re hosed in the meeting new people department. Sorry, very sorry, to the anxious and uber-self-concious, who deserve to meet folks as much as the outgoing girls, but I can’t help you. Try therapy.

For everyone else, this is easy math. You already know all the people you know, and everyone else is a stranger. I have been striking up conversations with what amounts to randos in the street for literally years. Not one has ever turned out to be a psycho axe-murderer.  Actually, not one has ever turned out to be anything more dangerous than mildly annoying, and that seems like saying something in downtown Phoenix. But seriously, strangers are just like the people you know already, only new. Obviously, talking to new folks is much easier said than actually done, but I promise it isn’t anything to be afraid of, and that the more you do it, the easier it gets.

2. Do fun stuff. The idea is to have something in common with folks, but you’re also going to have an easier time talking to new people if you’re doing something you enjoy. Plus, since other people there are likely doing something they enjoy, too, you have a built-in, completely uncreepy, conversation starter (in the form of fun thing you are doing). It helps to have a hobby or an interest of some kind. Art and live music are my picks, but classes, meetup groups, book clubs or professional associations are also great for finding fun stuff to do.

3. Be approachable (aka, cheating at strangers). Approachable seems like a vague concept, but all you have to do is look pleasant rather than like you enjoy eating children. The simplest way is to smile, as long as it’s not a fake smile. Once when I was overseas, a guy tried to caution me about my frequent smiling. He said “a smile is like an invitation,” implying that I might attract the wrong sort of person. Maybe it’s not very worldly, but I went ahead and smiled anyway. At strangers. And now I have friends in foreign lands.

I call being approachable cheating because it makes meeting people way easier — they’ll come to you. There is a downside, though. By being approachable in general you don’t get to be as selective about who you’re meeting. But we are meeting new people, here. It’s all a bit of a gamble.

4. Bring a friend. I always prefer to have a wingwoman, but especially if you’re on the shy side or just starting out with meeting new people it’s a necessity. The right wingwoman should also be open to meeting new people, and contrary to what teen tv has tried to tell you, it’s actually a great thing if she’s really pretty. Pretty girls attract all sorts of people, who will also talk to you. The thing you really want in a wingwoman though, is help screening folks. The ideal wingwoman can help keep a conversation with someone interesting from getting soggy, but even more importantly, is great at politely shooing away people you aren’t interested in.

I actually have the best wingwoman ever: she knows the types of people I like, warns me when she sees creepers giving me the eye, and she’s a valley native, which means she knows all the cool places (and many of the cool people) already. But you can’t have her.

5. Use good judgement. You’re aiming for friendly, not doormat. I’m pretty pro stranger in general, but don’t follow these steps everywhere in your life. For example, if you’re visiting a vagrant magnet like, say, the Burton Barr during the day midweek, go ahead and look unapproachable. In fact, feel free tell lies like “My husband is a boxer and he gets very jealous,” if that’s what it takes. And for the non vagrants, just because you have a nice conversation some strangers doesn’t mean you have to invite them home with you, or even give them your phone number.

Go forth and meet people, and if you see Lily around, come say hi.

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